The appointment of Stuart Pearce as Nottingham Forest manager in the summer of 2014 appeared to be the perfect match. A legendary ex-player managing the club where he made over 500 appearances across a 12 year spell. He was arriving at a football club with high expectations and long unfulfilled ambitions of returning to the Premier League, but Pearce had a Chairman willing to back him and provide funds, and of course, the support of the Forest fans who marvelled at the prospect of Pearce triumphantly returning to the City Ground and guiding the club to the ‘promised land’.
Pearce spearheaded a turnover of players in the summer, with the likes of Britt Assombalonga, Michail Antonio, Michael Mancienne and Lars Veldwijk arriving for a combined sum of 9 million. Players like Matty Fryatt, Robert Tesche and Chris Burke also came in, adding that bit of invaluable experience to the squad. However, 13 senior players left in the same window, 10 of which were released. The most notable departures were Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow, who were sold to Newcastle United, however both were loaned back to Forest for the duration of the 2014/15 campaign.
The Season started extremely well for Pearce and his newly constructed squad. The month of August saw Forest pick up 6 wins and 1 draw from 7 games, scoring 14 and conceding just 3 in the process. Morale was high and there was already talk amongst the Forest faithful about an impending return to the Premiership. The fans idolised the man they referred to as ‘psycho’ and Pearce had obviously had the desired effect on his players who were playing with a swagger and confidence reminiscent to any side hopeful of achieving promotion.
This state of euphoria was short lived however and the month of September proved to be more humdrum with Forest picking up only a solitary win at home to a struggling Fulham side. Already, cracks were beginning to appear and Pearce’s plight was worsened by fresh long-term injuries to influential trio Andy Reid, Jack Hobbs and club captain, Chris Cohen.
Forest’s decline continued into October, with 2 points picked up from 4 matches, and an alarming game at home to Blackburn, which saw Pearce’s men take the lead before collapsing in the second half and ultimately being defeated 1-3. The month of November was slightly better for Forest with 6 points collected from 5 matches. However, this reprieve was once again cut short as Forest managed a meagre 2 points in December, and a transfer embargo was placed on them in the same month for failing to comply with Financial Fair Play rules.
The season was unravelling at an alarming rate for Pearce and the Forest board. The fans were now questioning Pearce’s ability to turn this wretched run of form around. Former England defender, Danny Mills, who had previously worked with Pearce, stated:
“Pearce is not a great coach, not a great tactician, or a great motivator.”
The writing appeared to be on the wall, and despite an exceptional win against high flying local rivals Derby, the slide was seemingly uncontrollable. The final nail in the coffin came at home against a Millwall side scrapping for survival. Forest missing several golden opportunities; eventually losing the game to Ricardo Fuller’s 83rd minute strike after a poor back header from Stephen McLaughlin, with Forest now just lying 7 points off the relegation zone.
Stuart Pearce was relieved of his duties the next day after a statement from Forest owner, Fawaz Al Hasawi, describing it as his ‘hardest footballing decision’. Pearce was swiftly replaced with ex-Bolton and Palace manager Dougie Freedman.
In hindsight, the Forest job was perhaps a step too far for a man who had no experience of managing in the Championship and who had only previously managed Manchester City when they were a mediocre Premiership side, before being dismissed. Freedman’s appointment is maybe more modest and perhaps more pragmatic than Pearce’s, and this may have been the problem to begin with. Fawaz arguably went with his heart rather than his brain, and now the club have paid the price.