David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Nottingham Forest’

A season of ups and downs

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Nottingham-Forest-FC-Pictures-Wallpaper3-640x480Nottingham Forest’s 2013-14 season was one of contrasting fortunes. It began with hopes of promotion and for the most part, it looked as if those hopes could come true, but it ultimately ended with a whimper and thoughts of what might have been.

The watershed moment in the campaign came on February 16, when Forest slumped to a disappointing, if somewhat unfortunate 3-1 defeat to Sheffield United in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Ahead of that match at Bramall Lane, optimism was high. The Reds were fifth in the Championship, six points adrift of second-placed Burnley with a game in hand and they had an eight-point cushion on seventh place.

Furthermore, they had gone their last 16 games unbeaten in all competitions, which fuelled expectation among Forest fans that the team could overcome their League One opponents to reach the last eight of the FA Cup for the first time since 1996.

Forest took the lead through Jamie Paterson, but a mistake from Dorus de Vries allowed United to equalise, before a dubious Chris Porter penalty and breakaway goal gave Nigel Clough’s side the victory.

The draw for the next round, which had taken place during the match, pitted Forest against either Charlton or Sheffield Wednesday if they had come through their fifth-round clash, which had only raised the hope further. The Reds had been given their best chance of reaching the semi-finals of the competition for the first time in 23 years.

However, the manner in which hope soon turned to disappointment on that Sunday afternoon was mirrored during the remainder of the season.

Manager Billy Davies was robbed of several first-choice players through injury, with Andy Reid, Henri Lansbury, Chris Cohen, Jack Hobbs, Kelvin Wilson, Eric Lichaj and David Vaughan all sidelined at the same time.

The Reds followed up their FA Cup exit with a credible 2-2 draw against league leaders Leicester City, in a match where Forest could feel aggrieved that they did not emerge with a victory. However, the extent of the injury crisis was exposed in the next two games, as Forest lost 2-1 at Burnley then 4-1 at home to Wigan Athletic.

A defeat and two draws followed, before Forest endured an embarrassing 5-0 defeat at rivals Derby County. Steve McClaren came back to haunt his former employers as his promotion-chasing side tore the Reds apart, which spelled the end for Davies’ second stint at The City Ground.

The Scot was sacked less than 48 hours after that defeat at Pride Park, with many Reds fans feeling that it was the right time for him to go. He was hailed as a returning hero when he was re-appointed manager in February 2013, but his ‘them against us’ attitude got the better of him and turned out to be a factor in his dismissal.

He imposed a media blackout and alienated many individuals who he felt had wronged him during his first spell in charge. On the football side he did have to cope without eight of his best players but despite this, performances were still not up to scratch, culminating in that forgettable afternoon at Pride Park. This, coupled with the off-field distractions proved to be the final straw.

Academy manager Gary Brazil was placed in temporary charge of the side until the end of the season, but he could not inspire a change in fortunes. Forest were still in contention for the playoff places when he took over, but the team failed to win their first five matches under his stewardship and slipped further down the table.

Forest looked like a side devoid of confidence and direction during Brazil’s first few matches in charge. However, back-to-back victories against Birmingham and Leeds followed, which moved them to within two points of sixth-placed Reading with two games of the season remaining.

Improved displays in those two wins restored some optimism to the Forest ranks, but their playoff dreams were ended as they succumbed to a 4-1 defeat at Bournemouth with another poor performance. Then, on the final day of the season, Forest fans watched Brighton secure their place in the playoffs thanks to a late 2-1 victory over the Reds at the City Ground, following another lacklustre performance from Brazil’s side.

Two wins from their last 15 matches of the season saw Forest drop from fifth place to their final position of 11th, and it was a relief when the campaign finally came to an end.

Brazil was exposed as being out of his depth tactically, but one positive from his short tenure is the emergence of young talent in the side. Ben Osborn was given his chance in the first-team and has not looked out of place, while Josh Rees and Jack Blake have bright futures ahead of them.

At the beginning of April, Forest announced that club legend Stuart Pearce would be returning as the new manager from July 1. The former left-back is a hero amongst the Forest faithful and his impending arrival gives us much to look forward to ahead of next season.

Despite choosing to not taking charge until the summer due to other commitments, Pearce has already begun to stamp his authority at the City Ground, with as many as 10 players expected to leave the club in the coming weeks. Guy Moussi and Marcus Tudgay have already confirmed their departures, Matt Derbyshire, Ishmael Miller, Jonathan Greening, Simon Gillett and Gonzalo Jara will reportedly not be offered new deals, while Lee Peltier, Rafik Djebbour and Kevin Gomis will return to their parent clubs following loan spells.

Forest have completed the permanent signing of left-back Danny Fox from Southampton following his loan spell, while David Vaughan will also make his loan move permanent during the summer.

This week Pearce held a meeting with every employee of the club, which was also attended by chairman and owner Fawaz Al Hasawi. In the meeting, Pearce expressed his desire to see Forest to emulate the achievements of Leicester and Burnley; this season’s promoted sides, by performing to high standards both on and off the pitch.

He may not have officially taken charge yet, but the early signs from Pearce are encouraging. He understands the football club, knows what the fans want to see and will be as determined as anyone to bring success back to Forest. There have been some reservations over his record in the management, though, following an average spell as Manchester City boss and six years as England Under-21 manager.

However, he has said all the right things since being confirmed as Forest’s new boss, speaking about playing football in the right way, building a strong team spirit and giving promising youth players a chance. Those who have questioned his credentials should look to the likes of Sean Dyche and Malky Mackay, who had never guided sides to promotion from the Championship before doing so at Burnley at Cardiff respectively. Pearce might not have a proven record at this level, but being back at Forest could inspire him to deliver success.

Pearce inherits the foundations of a very good squad, but the expected departures of 10 players will mean that he will have the opportunity to make new signings. Forest have been crying out for a clinical striker for years and the incoming manager has confirmed that a striker is at the top of his shopping list. The Reds drew 17 of their 46 league games this season, and it is clear that a lack of cutting edge played a role in their failure to finish in a playoff position or higher.

By the time the new the season starts the likes of Reid, Lansbury, Hobbs, Wilson and Cohen will be back to full fitness, which will only strengthen the team further. Forest are not far away from being a real force at this level and if Pearce can get the best out of the current crop of players they will definitely be in the promotion picture next season.

After a promising, but ultimately disappointing campaign for Forest, there is plenty to look forward to ahead of next season. The arrival of Stuart Pearce will lift the club and the mood of supporters as the Reds look to return to the top flight. 20 years ago Pearce captained Forest to promotion to the Premier League. Imagine how great it would be if he was to repeat that feat as a manager.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

Forest vs Reading: Infographic

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Fixture: Nottingham Forest vs Reading
Competition: Sky Bet Championship
Venue: City Ground
Date: Friday 29th November 2013 (KO 7.45pm)

Thanks to Sky Bet: http://www.skybet.com/football

Forest Reading Infographic

Forest make strong start

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Forest players at WatfordWith two months of the season already gone, Nottingham Forest can feel pleased with what they have achieved so far and feel encouraged as to what the remainder of the campaign could bring.

Six wins, four draws and just one defeat from their opening 11 games represents a good start for the team and manager Billy Davies, as the club has quickly established a place among the Championship’s front-runners.

Significantly, this is also the best start that Davies has made to any Championship season, whether with Forest or previous clubs Preston North End and Derby County. His sides are notorious slow starters and with Preston, Derby and Forest, the Scotsman had previously never managed to win more than one of the first five league matches of the season.

The last time Forest kicked off a full season under his tenure, in 2010-11, the club won only two of their first 11 league games. While a year before that, Forest managed only one win in eight, as they made another slow start to the campaign.

Davies’ sides tend to pick up form in late October and go on extended unbeaten runs – once they are in their stride they are a force to be reckoned with. For example, after the stuttering start to the 2009-10 campaign, Forest subsequently went four months – 19 games in total – without suffering defeat.

The run helped the Reds to surge the table and forged the backbone of a season that ended with a playoff appearance, which they also achieved the year after.

If he can coax a similar run of excellent form from his players this season, then Forest could potentially be occupying an automatic promotion position in a few months’ time.

Forest were busy in the summer transfer market and so far, most of their new additions have performed well. Jack Hobbs joined from Hull City on loan, with a permanent switch agreed at the end of the season and he has forged one of the best centre-back partnerships in the league alongside Kelvin Wilson, who has returned to the club after three years with Celtic.

Behind them, goalkeeper Karl Darlow has barely put a foot wrong after starting the campaign as the number one, despite the acquisition of the experienced Dorus de Vries, who has so far been limited to appearances in the League Cup. Darlow’s shot stopping ability and command of his area have been impressive and at the age of 23, he could be Forest’s first-choice keeper for many years to come.

Jamie Mackie has made a positive impact, playing either on the right or in a central striking role. The former Queens Park Rangers man seems to have become a favourite of Davies already and his willingness to work hard for the team is a key asset to the side. If he could add a few more goals to his game then he will become an even more important figure as the season goes on.

Djamel Abdoun, who signed from Olympiakos, has shown glimpses of his quality as he regains full fitness following injury. The Algerian is not afraid to take players on with his skilful play and he will be exciting to watch this season.

Following the sale of Adlene Guedioura to Crystal Palace – which seemed to split the Forest fan base with some believing he was not quite right for the team, others thinking that he was a key player – the club moved quickly to bring in a replacement, albeit on loan.

Nathaniel Chalobah has joined the club on loan from Chelsea until January at least and his capture is a real coup for the Reds. The 18-year-old England youth international impressed during a loan spell with Watford last season as he helped the Hornets to reach the playoff final and is widely regarded as one of the best young players in the country.

Watford were unable to afford the fees to sign Chalobah on loan and the fact that Forest have signed him is a sure sign that the club’s owners are backing the manager to provide the players he wants. Chalobah has looked a little off the pace in his first few Forest matches, which is understandable as he has played little football this season, but once he regains match sharpness he will make a big impact in defensive midfield.

For all the talk about the club’s new signings, it is Andy Reid who has been attracting the headlines so far thanks to some excellent performances. The 31-year-old midfielder has scored five goals in 13 games, with most of those being spectacular strikes from range. Reid has a terrific left foot and his creativity with the ball plays a huge role in the Forest side. His form has not gone unnoticed as Reid has earned a recall to the Republic of Ireland squad, which is great to see.

Forest have been strong at home so far, which was the case throughout Davies’ previous tenure. The Reds are unbeaten at the City Ground, winning four matches and drawing the other one. On the road they have not been quite as dominant but they still have a good record of two wins, three defeats and one loss, which came at Wigan Athletic.

The team are playing some good football in spells, with performances against Watford, Bolton Wanderers and the recent victory at Brighton & Hove Albion particular highlights. It is clear that Davies is trying to make the most of the creative talents at his disposal with Reid and Henri Lansbury in particular being given the platform to cause problems for the opposition.

If there is a slight concern, it is that Forest have not got a proven goalscorer in the squad. Many fans have looked at the likes of Charlie Austin at QPR and Danny Ings at Burnley as examples of players to sign, but such players come at a premium and clubs are unwilling to part with them unless they receive good sums of money.

A so-called ’20-goal-a-season man’ helps of course, but it is not a necessity to succeed in the Championship. Many sides have been promoted from this division with top scorers who have barely reached double figures and provided the goals are shared around the team, there is no problem.

Davies has always tended to rotate his strikeforce anyway, so even if Forest had a Charlie Austin in the squad there’s no guarantee that he’d play every week. The Reds have scored 19 goals in 11 games so far, with several players getting their names on the scoresheet, which suggests that they aren’t struggling to find the back of the net.

Overall, Forest have performed well in the opening stages of the season, serving up some entertaining football and good results, especially away at Brighton and with a 1-0 home win over rivals Derby County.

The team have enjoyed a good start to the campaign and there are signs that there’s a lot more to come from the team over the course of the season. If they can build on their good start and continue to improve as a side, Forest could well be celebrating promotion in May.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

Will Davies deliver second time around?

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Billy_DaviesWith the new season fast approaching, the question on the lips of most Nottingham Forest supporters is can the club finally end its 14-year exile from the Premier League?

Several managers have attempted to bring top flight football back to the City Ground in that time but one has come closest to doing so – Billy Davies.

The Scot was brought back to the club as manager by chairman Fawaz Al-Hasawi in February, 20 months after he was given the boot by the previous owners.  Davies led the Reds to two consecutive play-off semi-finals in 2010 and 2011, and there is hope that he can do even better second time around by guiding the club to promotion.

When Davies returned to Forest last season, the club was floundering after the 40-day, seven game tenure of Alex McLeish. He had been Forest’s second manager of the campaign following the sacking of Sean O’Driscoll and Davies felt like the right man to come in at that time.

The Reds went 10 games unbeaten after his re-appointment, hauling themselves into the play-off places in the process. That run showed just how good the side could be but one win, a draw and three defeats from the final five games saw them slip down to 8th place, and also prove that the team were not quite ready to win promotion.

Now that Davies has had a full pre-season to work with the squad and make a few additions, there is genuine optimism from Forest fans that the club will be serious challengers at the top of the table.

However, as anyone who follows the division regularly will testify, the Championship is a notoriously tight league and there will be supporters of at least ten clubs thinking exactly the same as Forest fans about their respective sides.

Billy Davies’ sides are also known to start seasons slowly, which he will be hoping to rectify when the new campaign begins. In the 2009-10 season, his first full campaign in charge, Forest won just one of their opening eight fixtures, while the season after they won two of their first 11 matches.

In both seasons, the club went on long unbeaten runs during the middle part of the campaign to rise rapidly up the table, but if Davies wants to deliver automatic promotion he will need to get his side firing on all cylinders from the off.

Forest have been busy in this summer’s transfer market, bringing in six new players, eight if you include Gonzalo Jara Reyes and Darius Henderson signing for the club following their spells at the City Ground last season.

Former Swansea City goalkeeper Dorus de Vries has joined on a free transfer from Wolverhampton Wanderers and provides experienced competition for Karl Darlow, who impressed after breaking into the first team last season.

In defence, Davies has strengthened with the captures of Jara, Eric Lichaj and Jack Hobbs. Full-backs Jara and Lichaj are no strangers to Championship football, while Hobbs is a very astute signing. The 24-year-old has joined on a season-long loan deal from Hull City, which will be made permanent in the summer for an undisclosed fee after the player pre-agreed a two year contract.

The former Leicester City man has experience of this division and helped Hull to win promotion from it last season, playing 22 times.

Forest were in need of width and the club addressed this, bringing in Walsall youngster Jamie Paterson, Djamel Abdoun from Olympiakos and Jamie Mackie from Queens Park Rangers.

Paterson’s pace and skill have stood out in pre-season and he has also showed an eye for goal, scoring a well-taken goal against Royal Antwerp two weeks ago. At the age of 21, he is an emerging talent who is hungry to develop as a player and just the kind of player that Forest should be looking to sign.

Abdoun is a more experienced acquisition, having played in the Champions League for Olympiakos last season and represented Algeria 11 times.  He is also a tricky customer who can trouble defences and Forest have done well to sign a player who had attracted interest from Premier League clubs and other European sides. He stated upon his arrival: “I had many clubs that wanted me but I give my word to the owner and I can’t go back and when I say something I do it.”

The signing of Jamie Mackie has gone down well amongst the Forest faithful.  The 27-year-old, who can play on the wing or up front, had performed admirably for QPR during their forgettable time in the Premier League and it was thought that Harry Redknapp would be keen to have him at his disposal in the Championship. However, Mackie was deemed surplus to requirements at Loftus Road and, after the player had handed in a transfer request, Forest moved quickly to sign the Scotland international for a fee reportedly in the region of £1m.  If the price reported is true then it is a great piece of business by the club and is a statement of intent to the rest of the division.

Forest’s spending is seemingly not over yet either. The club have made bids for former defenders Wes Morgan and Kelvin Wilson, who were key figures in Davies’ team during his last spell as manager. Leicester City have rejected several offers for Morgan, with the latest reportedly in the region of £2m, while Celtic have turned down a reported £1.5m bid for Wilson.

Forest have gone back in with another bid for Wilson according to several sources and it would be pleasing to see either one of them back at the City Ground, although Morgan has one year remaining on his Leicester contract, so it seems that Forest are unwilling to offer any more for the player.

After leaving Forest in 2011, Nottingham-born Wilson has become a regular fixture in Celtic’s defence, performing well as the Scottish club reached last year’s Champions League last-16, famously beating Barcelona 2-1 along the way. Wilson has improved as a player since leaving Forest and if the club can bring him back in particular it would be an excellent signing.

There has been much-clamour from certain sections of Forest’s support for the club to sign a ’20-goal-a-season’ striker. The club were linked with moves for Gary Hooper and Charlie Austin, but both have moved to Norwich City and QPR respectively.

If the Reds do fail to add a so called out-and-out goalscorer, there may be enough options in the squad to make up for this. Henri Lansbury, Adlene Guedioura and Andy Reid are capable of getting goals from midfield, while new signings Paterson, Abdoun and Mackie have proven in the past that they can chip in with 8-10 goals a season.

Davies has options up front with Simon Cox, Dexter Blackstock, Henderson, Marcus Tudgay, Matt Derbyshire and Ishmael Miller on the books. Cox and Blackstock can get into double figures with the correct service, while Henderson netted 15 in the Championship for Millwall two seasons ago.

The futures of Miller and Derbyshire continue to cause much speculation. Both were signed by Steve McClaren in the summer of 2011 during his short reign and neither have done much in a Forest shirt. Miller, who cost £1.6m from West Bromwich Albion, has struggled with injury and was loaned out to Middlesbrough last season to be re-united with former WBA boss Tony Mowbray.

Miller has shown in the past that he can be a handful at this level and, if Davies’ unique man-management style can get him firing again, Forest will have a great player on their hands.

Derbyshire was farmed out on loan to Blackpool and Oldham last season, with his Reds career looking to be over. However, Davies has given the former Blackburn Rovers frontman a chance during pre-season and he has taken it, scoring four times. He is the striker in form and is likely to keep his place in the starting XI when Forest open their Championship season at home to Huddersfield Town on Saturday.

If Derbyshire can continue his goalscoring form into the new season, it will be a very welcome bonus.

Ahead of the Huddersfield match Davies will face several selection dilemmas, most notably up front and in midfield, but also in goal where Darlow and De Vries are vying for a starting place. Darlow has made an impression since coming into the team in January after Lee Camp was told that he was free to leave the club.  The 22-year-old was thrown into the first team for a match away at Derby County and performed well for the remainder of the season, pulling off some excellent saves and providing a calming presence behind the back four.

At the age of 32, De Vries is an experienced stopper and has been successful at this level before, helping Swansea to promotion in 2011. However his move to Wolves did not work out as he found himself on the bench as the club slid from the Premier League to League One in the space of two seasons. He will be seeking regular first-team football, but Darlow currently has the jersey and it will be a little harsh on him if De Vries does start against Huddersfield.

The new season promises much for Forest, with a strong squad in place and an experienced Championship manager at the helm in Billy Davies.  The division will be tight with a host of sides also hopeful that they will be celebrating success come the end of the campaign, but Forest have got the tools to be right in the mix.

Since his return to the club, Davies has often spoken about having “unfinished business” at the City Ground. This could be the season in which he finally finishes it.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

Forest seek upturn in fortunes

Friday, April 19th, 2013

With the end of the Championship season in sight, the competitiveness of the division has come to the fore. 14 points separate the play-offs from the relegation places and teams have begun to experience ‘squeaky bum time.’ Just ask Nottingham Forest.

A month ago, Forest occupied fifth place in the table having secured an impressive 2-1 win away to Hull City, which was their sixth win in a row. That run hauled them up from mid-table into the play-off places and it seemed that they could go on and cement their place in the top six.

However, after a run of three draws and two defeats since that win at the KC Stadium, Billy Davies’ men have slipped to eighth, one point adrift of sixth-placed Leicester City. It has been a frustrating few weeks for all connected with the club. After the Hull game, some fans were dreaming of automatic promotion, even if back then that seemed a tall order. The season is hanging in the balance and the aim is to reclaim a top six place.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why Forest’s form has dipped recently. Perhaps they have been sussed out by other teams, maybe a bit of complacency has set in or the players could be feeling fatigued. Billy Davies believes that the latter is playing a part. This week he claimed that the players are mentally fatigued, following a season of upheaval at The City Ground which has seen three different managers at the helm.

Davies, through working with the players several days a week, is certainly the best judge of how they are both mentally and physically. What is important though, is that the manager can get a final push from the squad and guide them back to winning ways, starting with Saturday’s home game against Barnsley.

There has been a spark missing from Forest’s recent performances when compared to the displays they were putting in during the run of six consecutive victories. The personnel and formation have largely been the same throughout, but the results have changed.  The Reds have developed a habit of conceding goals first, putting themselves in a position where they have to come from behind to take something from games.

Against Brighton & Hove Albion, Forest were the better side in the first half but allowed the visitors to take the lead early in the second period. After equalising through substitute Lewis McGugan with seven minutes remaining, Will Buckley went straight down the other end to put Brighton back ahead, but thanks to an injury-time error from Seagulls goalkeeper Casper Ankergren, when he allowed Henri Lansbury’s shot to go through his legs, Forest salvaged a dramatic late point and kept their unbeaten record under Davies intact.

It was a similar story on Easter Monday against Burnley at Turf Moor, a place Forest struggle to get anything from. The Reds looked certain to lose following Junior Stanisalas’ 68th minute goal, but with the final kick of the game McGugan slotted home a 96th minute penalty to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat.

After the international break, Forest hosted Blackpool at The City Ground and again they had to come from behind to take a point. The visitors set up to frustrate Forest and get men behind the ball, which worked as Ludovic Sylvestre put them 1-0 ahead against the run of play in the first half. Despite continued pressure throughout the game, Forest needed another penalty from super sub McGugan to secure a 1-1 draw, the sixth game in a row in which he scored, most of them after coming off the bench.

That draw extended Forest’s unbeaten run to ten matches since Billy Davies’ return as boss, but it would eventually come to an end a week later against Cardiff City.

Forest travelled to South Wales feeling confident that they could upset the league leaders and they more than held their own in the first half, causing the home side problems. However the Reds couldn’t capitalise, with Darius Henderson missing a good opportunity from six yards out and Lewis McGugan’s effort being ruled out for offside.

Before the break, Forest found themselves harshly reduced to ten men after Henderson was shown a red card for a stray arm on Cardiff’s Heidar Helguson. Replays showed that an arm was out, but there was no intent from the Forest striker and the offence was a yellow card at worst. Cardiff capitalised on their extra man advantage in the second half to win the game 3-0. They have since gone on to secure promotion into the Premier League and look odds on to win the division, so on reflection there’s no shame in losing to the best side in the league.

On Tuesday evening Forest travelled to Middlesbrough, a side who have seen their promotion hopes fade after a terrible run of form since the New Year. However, Forest put in a lacklustre display and were beaten 1-0, dropping down to eighth place in the table. Despite a late fightback, which saw Chris Cohen nearly score an equaliser, the Reds came away with nothing and as a result, are a point adrift of the play-offs with three games remaining.

Luckily for Forest, other sides chasing top six places have faltered in recent weeks, hence why they find themselves just a point off the top six and three points adrift of fourth place. Crystal Palace have failed to win any of their last six games, Brighton have won one in five, while Leicester have just begun to get themselves out of a slump which saw them go nine games without victory.

Bolton Wanderers in seventh have embarked on a great run of form, at a similar time to Forest’s ten-game unbeaten streak, to become serious contenders for a play-off berth. They are currently ahead of Forest in the table by virtue of a better goal difference, which shows how tight the race for the play-offs has become.

All Forest can do now is focus on themselves and ensure that they take enough points from their final three games to secure a top six place. After Saturday’s game against Barnsley, they face a tricky trip to Millwall before hosting Leicester on the final day of the season, in what could potentially be a winner takes all clash.

Forest’s squad is lacking out-and-out wingers, which is why Davies has favoured a 4-4-2 diamond formation, which gets the best out of Andy Reid, Henri Lansbury, Radoslaw Majewski and Adlene Guedioura in the middle of the park. However this formation has seen goals dry up for the strikers, with Darius Henderson the only frontman to score since Davies’ return to the club.

The way Forest are set up to play allows their attacking midfielders to push on and have goalscoring chances. The strikers are required to work hard to create space and play the ball into them, which goes some way to explaining why the club’s frontmen are not hitting the back of the net regularly, whether it is Henderson, Dexter Blackstock, Simon Cox or Billy Sharp playing up front.

Up until recently Forest were not short of goals or an attacking threat, but it is difficult for them to change things without proper wingers playing down either flank. Had there been quick wide players in the squad, then the strikers would have scored more goals by now. At the moment, Forest have to make the best of the players they possess, which they did well during their unbeaten run

Despite the disappointment of dropping out of the top six, Forest’s current position is far from disastrous. The pressure is now on the teams above them to stay in the play-off places, while the pressure has been taken off Forest. Now they are one of the chasing pack, Forest can hopefully play with a bit more freedom and regain the kind of form which had taken them into the promotion picture in the first place.

Saturday’s game against Barnsley has taken on a greater significance as it presents a good opportunity to claim three points. The Tykes are fighting to avoid relegation and will provide tough opposition, but any side with serious hopes of reaching the play-offs have to beat struggling sides on their home turf. The playoff places have changed hands so often in recent weeks, so a victory may be enough to take Forest back into them.

I believe that Forest will overhaul the teams above them and finish in the top six, but what happens beyond that is harder to predict. There is a lot of quality in the squad, but I fear that their shortcomings may be found out in the pressure cooker of play-off football.

When you consider that the club was fighting relegation 12 months ago, or that it was languishing in mid-table when Davies took over, to be in with a shout of the play-offs with three games remaining is an excellent achievement. There is of course some disappointment at seeing them drop out of the top six in the past week, but there is still much to play for.

If Nottingham Forest do secure themselves a play-off spot, it will no doubt add further drama to an already eventful season.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

The Billy Davies effect

Friday, March 29th, 2013

When Billy Davies returned as Nottingham Forest manager at the start of February, few would have predicted the impact he has had at the club after a few weeks at the helm.

One draw and six straight wins from his first seven games in charge represent a dramatic turnaround in the club’s fortunes. The Scot began his second spell in charge with Forest 13th in the table and six points adrift of the playoff places. The unbeaten run that’s followed has moved the Reds up to fifth place, one point ahead of seventh placed Brighton & Hove Albion, who they face at The City Ground on Saturday.

When Alex McLeish left Forest on February 5th after just 40 days in charge, the club’s season looked as good as over. The former Aston Villa and Birmingham City boss had struggled to make an impact at Forest, winning only one of his seven games in charge and struggling to get the players performing to their full potential. The Reds had fallen away from the top six as a result.

Billy Davies has come in and got the team firing. He has not made any additions to the squad or made any noises about wishing to add to it, as he was prone to doing during his previous spell as boss, but he has managed to get a talented squad performing to their best, which the results back up.

After a 1-1 draw with Bolton Wanderers in his first match in charge – which arguably should have ended in a victory for Forest but for Adam Bogdan’s excellent performance in the Bolton goal – Davies’ first win came as Forest thrashed Huddersfield Town 6-1. Radoslaw Majewski netted a first half hat-trick against the Yorkshire side and then carried that goalscoring form into the following matches.

The midfielder netted in Forest’s next two games, the 2-0 win over Charlton Athletic and a 1-0 televised victory at Sheffield Wednesday. His improvement in form under Davies earned him a recall to the Poland national team, playing in their World Cup qualifiers against Ukraine and San Marino.

Another midfielder who has improved since Davies’ arrival is Henri Lansbury. The £1 million summer signing from Arsenal had initially struggled to make an impact at Forest due to injury, but since regaining full fitness and being given regular gametime by Davies he has put in some impressive performances. He netted the second goal at Charlton and also scored twice to help Forest beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-1 on March 9th, a result which took Forest into the playoff places.

Lewis McGugan has also upped his game since being reunited with Billy Davies. He has had to settle with coming off the bench but he has made an impact, scoring against Wolves and also netting the winning goals against Ipswich and Hull City. McGugan is a naturally gifted player, who has often been criticised for his attitude and application in the past. He enjoyed his best campaign under Davies in the 2010-11 season and even his teammates took to Twitter to joke that “dad” had come back to look after him.

McGugan’s strike at Hull was significant, as it secured victory for Forest against a genuine promotion contender. Despite going unbeaten for six games and winning five of them prior to the game, some observers had argued that Davies’ Forest were yet to face a side at the top end of the table and that the real test would come at the KC Stadium on March 16th.

George Boyd, whose proposed deadline day move to Forest was reportedly cancelled due to a failed eye exam, opened the scoring for Hull and celebrated in front of the Forest fans by mimicking wearing glasses with his fingers. Despite this setback, Forest dug in and equalised through Darius Henderson early in the second half. With six minutes remaining McGugan latched onto Billy Sharp’s pass to fire home and secure an impressive 2-1 win against Steve Bruce’s second-placed outfit. The result will have made the clubs around Forest in the table stand up and take notice.

The team as a whole have improved under Davies’ guidance, which is a key factor behind Forest’s rapid rise up the table. The defence have stopped leaking goals and look far tougher to break down, the midfield is creating chances and the strikers, whilst not scoring many themselves, are working tirelessly to keep hold of the ball and create space for the attacking midfielders to utilise.

Chris Cohen has done well at left-back since being moved there by Davies. Cohen has spent the majority of his six-year Forest career playing in midfield, filling it at left-back on occasion, but he has adapted to the role in the past seven games admirably. Cohen always plays with great energy and it is this which allows him to bomb forward to support the attack, but also means he can get back to perform defensive duties when required.

During the side’s unbeaten run Darius Henderson is the only striker to have found the net, but the work-rate of the frontmen – whether it is Henderson, Dexter Blackstock, Simon Cox or Billy Sharp – have provided ample opportunities for the midfielders to score.

The Forest squad is lacking a winger or two who can provide pace and width, so Davies has opted for a 4-4-2 diamond formation, with Adlene Guedioura anchoring, Lansbury and Majewski ahead of him and Andy Reid playing behind the front two. This setup has got the best out of the midfielders currently at the club and allowed Forest to enjoy good spells of possession during games. Forest are playing some attractive passing football, much like they did during Davies’ previous tenure as boss.

Off the field, several changes have taken place in the past month. John Pemberton departed his role as performance development coach following Davies’ arrival as expected, while press officer Fraser Nicholson and other staff members have also lost their jobs. The club are yet to comment on these departures, presumably for legal reasons, but it looks like these exits are part of the restructuring of the club behind the scenes.

One positive move has been to bring back Ian McParland as the club’s Under-21 coach. McParland left Forest in 2007 after spending a decade at the club as coach, which included a spell as joint-caretaker manager in 2006. He was a popular figure at the City Ground and it is good to see him return. Hopefully in his new role he can help many of the club’s young players bridge the gap between the Academy and first-team in the future.

In recent years several clubs in the Championship have picked up form late in the campaign and gone on to win promotion, most notably Reading, Blackpool and Swansea City. Forest have put themselves in a great position to do something similar with their run of form, but considering where the club was at the beginning of February, to be fifth in the table as it stands is a tremendous achievement from the manager and players. The big task now facing them is to stay in the top six.

Forest will equal a club record of seven straight league victories – set in 1922 – if they beat fellow promotion contenders Brighton at the City Ground on Saturday afternoon. A bumper crowd is expected for the match, which could prove pivotal in deciding where the Reds finish this season. Victory would pull them further away from Gus Poyet’s side, who will no doubt provide stern opposition, while defeat would continue to leave the race for the playoffs wide open.

However, with confidence high on Trentside there’s no reason why Forest can’t collect all three points and equal that 91-year-old club record in the process.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

Billy’s back in town

Friday, February 8th, 2013

20 months after he last set foot inside The City Ground, Billy Davies is back in charge of Nottingham Forest.

A season of upheaval took another twist this week when the 48-year-old Scot was given the opportunity to manage the club for a second time by chairman Fawaz Al-Hasawi. It sets the seal on a quite remarkable comeback for Davies, who returns to Forest ready to complete what he calls “unfinished business.”

Since he was sacked by the club’s previous hierarchy in June 2011, his name has been mentioned every time the Forest managerial hot seat has been vacant, which has happened on many occasions in that time as Reds fans will testify. Davies was given his marching orders despite leading Forest to two consecutive Championship play-off finals and his dismissal came as a shock to many. On the field he was relatively successful, even if he fell just short in taking the club back to the Premier League.

However, his abrasive personality became too much for the board. Davies’ outspoken manner saw him criticise the powers-that-be for not bringing in more players to help achieve promotion. He also had a habit of attracting headlines onto himself to deflect pressure away from the team, but this was his management style. Like Marmite, you either love him or you hate him.

His them-against-us mentality he instilled into his players and his passionate persona endeared him to large sections of the Forest support, who are delighted to see him return. His achievements during his previous spell as boss are another reason why his re-appointment has gone down well.

He took over at the City Ground in January 2009, inheriting a young Forest side which was struggling to adapt to Championship life following promotion from League One the season before. He saved Forest from relegation and immediately transformed the club’s fortunes, guiding them to third place the following season before losing a pulsating play-off semi-final to Blackpool.

The following year he took Forest into the play-offs again, where they were beaten by eventual winners Swansea City in another dramatic semi-final. During his tenure Forest went 36 games unbeaten at home across an 18-month period and were firmly established as one of the best clubs in the division.

Davies appointment first time around was met with a mixed response as the former manager of rivals Derby County, whom he guided to promotion in 2007 and for playing a direct style of football. These fears were quickly dispelled as his Forest side played good passing football and were entertaining to watch, especially at the City Ground.

Away from home he tended to be more conservative, seeking to not lose games as opposed to win them, which led to some indifferent performances. However Forest did have some memorable away days under him, the 3-1 demolition of West Brom and 1-0 victory over Derby – the club’s first win at Pride Park – particular highlights.

Davies becomes the club’s third manager of this season and fourth of the Al-Hasawi family’s ownership, if you include the inherited Steve Cotterill, who was sacked in July 2012 a week after their takeover of the club.

Davies’ return to Nottingham was made possible following the exit of Alex McLeish after just 40 days in charge of the club. He departed on Tuesday morning by mutual consent, citing “a difference of understanding of the development strategy” as his reason.

McLeish’s exit was surprising and made headlines for all the wrong reasons. There had been rumours that he was considering his future after failing to be backed sufficiently by the club’s owners in the January transfer window. McLeish saw bids for Chris Burke and Michael Kightly fail, while a proposed move for Peterborough’s George Boyd was vetoed late on deadline day by the Forest chairman, for apparently failing an eye test.

That seemed to be the tipping point for McLeish and three days after his final match in charge, a 2-1 defeat at former club Birmingham City in which Burke ironically scored both goals, he was gone.

The Scot took over with Forest one point off the play-off places, but left with them six points adrift following just one win in his seven league matches. Even though McLeish was not a popular choice for manager when he replaced the sacked Sean O’Driscoll, his exit made Forest look like a circus with managers coming and going at an alarming rate.

Davies was installed as the bookies’ favourite for the job on Tuesday evening and his subsequent appointment has gone a long way to appeasing many Reds supporters, who took to Twitter, forums and a local radio phone-in to show their delight at his return.

There are some who are sceptical about him coming back to the City Ground. As well as the aforementioned disagreements out with the board, he was also criticised for ignoring the club’s youth academy and not giving young players the chance to break into the first team.

John Pemberton left Forest not long after Davies first arrived in 2009 but returned in the summer of 2012 to become Professional Development Coach, working with the club’s academy prospects in the development squad and helping them bridge the gap to the first team. There have been concerns voiced by some that Davies will disband this as he did previously.

With Sean O’Driscoll in charge, it seemed as if Forest were building for the future, ingraining an ethos of passing, possession football within the club and placing emphasis on the academy to nurture the players of tomorrow. By sacking O’Driscoll and appointing McLeish, Fawaz Al-Hasawi set out his stall clearly. Building the club steadily over a number of years is not his intention now, promotion is.

It is a shame to see O’Driscoll’s progressive methods so abruptly abandoned, but if the club’s hierarchy want to see Forest in the Premier League as soon as possible, there are few better managers out there than Billy Davies to achieve that. Given all the recent events at the club, he is arguably the best man for the job at this moment at time.

The last time Davies was in charge, he was expected to deliver promotion and repeatedly requested more money to fund this. This could explain his decision back then to concentrate funds on the first-team as opposed to the youth setup.

If the Al-Hasawi’s are willing to fund the academy as they previously claimed they will, this may not even be an issue. Davies threw 19-year-old Chris Gunter into a relegation battle in 2009 and had a young Ryan Bertrand on-loan from Chelsea, playing him at left-back for the first half of the 2010-11 season, so perhaps he will give Forest’s youngsters game time if they are good enough.

There have been many changes to the playing staff since Davies was last in charge, but he will be reunited with a few familiar faces such as Dexter Blackstock, Radoslaw Majewski, Chris Cohen and Lewis McGugan, who were all mainstays of the side which achieved back-to-back play-off finishes. McGugan had his best season in a Forest shirt under Davies in 2010-11 but has struggled for consistency since, so if Davies can get him firing again he’ll have a real player on his hands once more.

The current squad at the City Ground has the potential to be even better than the one he had previously. There is a strong strikeforce plus a midfield which has competition but is light on a winger or two. Davies got the best out of defenders such as Luke Chambers and Wes Morgan during his previous spell in charge, two players who had struggled to make an impact in the Championship before his arrival. If he can do the same with the likes of Greg Halford, Danny Collins, Daniel Ayala, Dan Harding and Gonzalo Jara then there is a good defence there in the making.

There are pros and cons to weight up when it comes to Davies, but I have to admit it has been good hearing him talk so passionately about coming back to Forest and his plans for the club second time around.

His trusted coaching staff comprising assistant manager Ned Kelly, first team coach Julian Darby and goalkeeping coach Pete Williams will return, with Davies set to start work on Monday. Rob Kelly takes caretaker charge of Forest’s visit to Bristol City – now managed by one Sean O’Driscoll – on Saturday, with Davies to watch on from the stands.

Davies takes over with Forest in 11th place, six points adrift of the play-off spots with 16 games left to play. Finishing in the top six is not impossible and if he can get the team firing, there’s every chance they can go on a run and be in the promotion shake up come the end of the campaign. I would expect him to get the club climbing the table, but promotion might just be out of reach for this season.

What Forest need more than anything is stability. Hopefully Davies will be here much longer than the four men who have occupied the manager’s role since his first spell in charge. He is a strong manager who will not want the club’s owners interfering in team affairs, something which Fawaz Al-Hasawi has been accused of with his previous managers.

The Al-Hasawi’s are still relatively new to English football and have made some mistakes as they get to grips with how the game works here. Hopefully they will learn from their errors and let Davies manage for a prolonged period of time, ideally for the duration of his three-and-a-half-year deal at least.

One thing is for sure, supporting Forest with Billy Davies back as manager will not be dull. His first game in charge is a home fixture against Bolton Wanderers on February 16th and the atmosphere at The City Ground that day promises to be electric.

Whatever you think of him, you cannot deny that his re-appointment has caused a buzz among Reds fans and brought back some excitement, which has arguably been missing during his time away from the club. If his “unfinished business” drives him on to better things this time around, we Forest fans will not be complaining.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

Winds of change sweep through Forest

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Nottingham Forest have had quite an eventful start to 2013, off the field at least. The past four weeks have seen a new manager arrive, three senior figures at the club relieved of their duties and the Reds’ first-choice goalkeeper released from his contract.

It had all been going so swimmingly since the Al-Hasawi family completed their takeover of the club last summer. They appointed the progressive Sean O’Driscoll as manager and funded the arrivals of 14 new players. They expressed their desire for the club to reach the Premier League, but were willing to give O’Driscoll the time to build a squad capable of promotion, or so it seemed.

Forest outclassed Neil Warnock’s Leeds United in a 4-2 Boxing Day victory at the City Ground to move within one point of the play-off spots in the Championship. However, a few hours after one of Forest’s best performances under O’Driscoll, the manager was sacked after just four months in the job.

This news was met with criticism from a large section of Forest supporters. O’Driscoll is well-known for getting his sides to play attractive passing football and seemed the right man for the job. Upon taking the role in July he was forced to hastily build a squad ready for the new season, with Forest having narrowly avoided relegation to League One the previous campaign.

The team had performed inconsistently during his tenure – understandably so with the number of new playing personnel added in the summer – and it was taking time for his footballing ethos to get across to the players, but it was nevertheless a shock when he was shown the door.

The following day Alex McLeish was appointed as Forest manager, a move again met with criticism from the Reds faithful. He arrived with a reputation for playing cagey, defensive football and with his recent struggle as Aston Villa manager fresh in the memory. On the surface it was hardly an appointment to inspire the fans.

However, it became clear that the Al-Hasawi’s priorities had changed over the last few months and promotion this season was now the goal. McLeish has proven success at this level, having guided Birmingham City to promotion in 2009, so for that reason it is clear to see why the Kuwaiti owners opted for the 53-year-old Scot.

His reign got off to a slow start, with a 2-2 home draw against Crystal Palace thanks to Billy Sharp’s last-minute equaliser followed by a 3-0 defeat at Blackburn Rovers. A week later, Forest were embarassed in the third round of the FA Cup by League One Oldham Athletic, with the Latics running out deserved 3-2 winners.

McLeish finally picked up his first Forest win at the fourth attempt as the Reds defeated Peterborough 2-1 at the City Ground to gain some ground on the top six, but the week prior to the match had been dominated by stories surrounding the future of goalkeeper Lee Camp.

Two days before the game, it was reported that McLeish had told Camp he could leave the club amid interest from Premier League sides Reading and Norwich City. Camp had been first choice since arriving from QPR in 2009 but he was criticised for some poor performances over the last 18 months, his form becoming patchy after Forest blocked a move to Swansea City in 2010.

With Camp free to find another club, Forest were linked with moves for former England goalkeepers Paul Robinson and Robert Green, but these failed to materialise and Camp’s deputy Karl Darlow was handed his full League debut against Peterborough.

Four days after that game, it was announced that Forest Chief Executive Mark Arthur, Head of Recruitment Keith Burt and club ambassador Frank Clark had all parted company with the club.

The axing of three senior club figures in one fell swoop raised eyebrows, but perhaps this was the Al-Hasawi’s finally stamping their mark on the club. Had they made these moves straight after their takeover, they would have been criticised for ‘rocking the boat’ too soon. Having been owners for a few months, perhaps they are now in a better position to bring in their own people.

Arthur had bore the brunt of criticism from a section of Forest fans who felt he had made poor decisions in the running of the club, particularly under the chairmanship of Nigel Doughty. One famous Arthur PR blunder was the “We’re serious about promotion, are you?” campaign ahead of the 2004-05 season. It was designed to justify a rise in season ticket prices to fund a promotion push ahead of a season which ultimately ended with Forest relegated to League One.

The timing of Keith Burt’s departure was surprising. To dispose of the club’s head of recruitment right in the middle of the January transfer window seemed a hasty decision, especially when Forest had transfer deals in the pipeline.

Frank Clark’s exit was arguably the most unexpected of all. The 69-year-old has a strong association with Forest, having won the European Cup as a player with the club in 1979. He also managed the club between 1993 and 1996 and acted as Chairman following the resignation of Nigel Doughty in 2011. Clark was working in an ambassadorial role before being placed on gardening leave, with local news outlets reporting that he had been told to ‘stay away’ from the club, which if true is a harsh way to treat such a well-liked figure.

On Saturday, Forest made the short trip down the A52 for the eagerly-anticipated meeting with local rivals Derby County. A good performance saw Forest earn a 1-1 draw at Pride Park, but it could have been more.

Forest performed well for the most part, taking the lead in the first half when Chris Cohen slotted home after miskicking his inital effort on goal, but sloppy play by Simon Gillett gave the ball to Derby forward Conor Sammon, who played in Jamie Ward for the equaliser early in the second period. Forest rallied, with Billy Sharp and Dexter Blackstock both going close to finding a winner but the point was a worthy return for a good showing in a fiercely competed local derby.

One of the biggest challenges facing McLeish is to get his squad performing consistently and pick up enough points to be in the promotion shake-up come the end of the season. With 18 games remaining Forest are currently 10th in the table, five points off the play-off spots

Forest possess a talented squad, with many players who are comfortable with the ball at their feet, so if McLeish can combine good passing football with some defensive steel then he will soon win over the doubters. The team’s defensive record is by no means the worst in the Championship, but it could be better and McLeish has begun to address this by bringing in Chile international Gonzalo Jara from West Brom and re-signing Elliot Ward from Norwich, both on loans until the end of the season.

Goalkeeper Darlow has looked assured during his first two Forest starts, particularly against Derby where he was unfazed by the intimidating atmosphere. He commanded his area, came for crosses and made saves when called upon. At the age of 22, he has the time and ability to become Forest number one for many years to come and it will be interesting to see how he develops with more games under his belt.

Forest fans love to see young players come through the ranks and break into the first team, so it is encouraging to see McLeish have faith in Darlow, especially after Lee Camp was finally released from his Forest contract this week.

Some good news followed Camp’s departure, with Dexter Blackstock putting pen to paper on a new four-and-a-half-year deal. There had been speculation over the striker’s future, so it is a boost to see the fans’ favourite commit his future to Forest. The club have also completed their third signing of the transfer window, with Darius Henderson joining from Millwall for an undisclosed fee. The 31-year-old striker provides a different option up front with his strength and physical presence and Forest know about what he can do after he scored in Millwall’s 4-1 win at the City Ground earlier this season.

McLeish has said he is looking to bring in a few more new faces before the transfer window shuts at the end of the month, with Birmingham winger Chris Burke linked with a move to Forest in the past week. The team is in need of more options out wide so it remains to be seen if a new winger is brought in. Forest did sign 22-year-old wideman Stephen McLaughlin from Derry City at the start of the month, but the Irishman is currently training with the club’s development squad and is not expected to make the step up to the first team yet.

If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that Forest need no more distractions as they aim for promotion in the final three months of the season. Hopefully things behind the scenes will settle from here, allowing Alex McLeish and the players to focus on reaching the Premier League.

A bit of stability is all we’re asking for!

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

Patience is key

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

In the aftermath of Nottingham Forest’s 2-1 defeat to Hull on Saturday, certain sections of the Forest support were not afraid to show their frustration and boo the team off the field.

When Sean O’Driscoll was appointed manager in July, there was great optimism at what he could do at the City Ground. Four months and 20 league games down the line, there are some Reds fans (a minority on forums and social media I must add) who believe he should go. Even some players were this week subjected to abuse by so-called ‘fans’ on Twitter.

Short termism is rife in football – just ask Roberto Di Matteo – but calling for the head of a manager so soon after hiring him is surprising to say the least.

Forest are currently 10th in the Championship, four points off the play-offs with 29 points from 20 games, a decent start for O’Driscoll as Reds boss. He inherited a threadbare squad upon taking the job and has brought in 14 new players, either permanently or on loan, just to have a side capable of competing this season. Things could be much worse.

The club is still stabilising after the events of last season, which saw Steve McClaren depart as manager, Steve Cotterill appointed in his place, chairman Nigel Doughty withdrawing his funding from the club before tragically passing away in January and Forest narrowly avoiding the drop into League One.

The Al-Hasawi family purchased the club during the summer and have brought some form of stability back behind the scenes. They are ambitious people and the plan is for Forest to reach the Premier League within the next few years.

Some of O’Driscoll’s signings have caught the eye, most notably Henri Lansbury, Simon Cox plus loanees Billy Sharp, Jermaine Jenas and Alan Hutton. There is a quality in the squad, but this does not mean Forest should be instantly top of the league and cruising to promotion as some seem to think.

O’Driscoll had to assemble a squad quickly and barely had a pre-season to get them prepared, and it shows. Forest have been excellent at times, most notably in games against Huddersfield and Charlton where they passed the opposition off the park. They have also been equally lacklustre, with last Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat away at struggling Ipswich a case in point.

Injuries and suspensions have seen Forest struggle to field a consistent starting eleven, with the likes of Radi Majewski, Sam Hutchinson, Daniel Ayala, Jenas and Cox all currently on the treatment table. Hutton and Elliott Ward have both been brought in on loan until the New Year to cover injuries in the back four, where O’Driscoll has been forced to chop and change throughout the season.

It is hard for a side to gain consistency when they cannot field a settled side, especially in defence. Having said that, Forest’s defensive record is far from being the worst in the division, so once key personnel are back to full fitness the side could concede even fewer goals.

Sean O’Driscoll is a manager known for getting his sides playing attractive, passing football and there have been signs of that so far this season. However he has been criticised by some for not adhering to ‘the Forest way’ of playing the game, with small pockets of fans jeering the players during Saturday’s defeat to Hull, prompting this response from the manager:

“Everyone wants the team to do well, I appreciate that. But there were times in the first half when the players were listening to the crowd and we started playing balls that we should not have been playing.

“I keep getting told we should be playing the Forest way. But the Forest way is to keep the ball. We were trying to keep the ball and we were getting booed.  What is the Forest way then?’ Do they want us to bang it forward? Because if we did that, they would be asking why we were not playing on the floor. ”

It will take time for O’Driscoll’s football philosophy to fully get through to the Forest players as they are coached to make the right decisions with and without the ball. It took time for his methods to get across to his Doncaster Rovers players, something which Glen Wilson explains in this piece for The Two Unfortunates. There were some bad performances in the early stages of his Rovers tenure, but once things clicked his team were not only successful but a joy to watch too.

This is the start of a whole new era for Forest under new ownership and new management, so I’m not expecting miracles straight away. As long as there are signs that the club is making progress on the field then I’m satisfied.

The January transfer window may be the time when Forest decide stick or twist, they could potentially bring in a few more players and have a tilt at promotion depending on their league position when the window opens. The squad is still lacking a wide player or two and more cover in defence, which is understandable given the speed with which it had to be assembled during the summer.

A play-off finish or higher would be an excellent achievement, but if Forest were to end up where they are now then it will represent some form of progress and be a good position upon which to build next season.

Most importantly, Sean O’Driscoll needs to be given time to mould the team in his image. There have been signs already of how good Forest could be and the vast majority of supporters are behind him. Fans pay their money and are entitled to air their feelings as they wish, but it is frustrating to see some of them hurling abuse at the players and manager. A bit of patience would not go amiss.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

A decent start all round

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Following Nottingham Forest’s 1-0 victory over Bristol City on the opening day of the campaign, Reds manager Sean O’Driscoll was asked by the local media how he felt about his team’s ‘good start to the season.’ O’Driscoll responded by saying one game does not represent a ‘start.’ Instead, we should see how the club are doing after ten games.

Having now played those ten games in the Championship, the international break has provided an opportunity to assess how the side is shaping up under new management.

Forest currently sit 12th in the league, three points off the top six with three wins, five draws and two defeats to their name. Having been in the manager’s job a matter of months and brought in twelve new players, O’Driscoll can be pleased with the work he’s doing and the start the team has made.

Forest enjoyed the longest unbeaten run in the division of six games, which was only brought to an end thanks to a 2-1 defeat against Neil Warnock’s Leeds at Elland Road. In the three games prior to that loss, Forest showed signs of how good they potentially could be, but also displayed the traits of a side which is still gelling.

A 2-1 home success over promoted Charlton saw Forest take the game to their opponents, dominating possession and playing some neat passing football, with Lewis McGugan’s free kick giving the Reds the lead and Chelsea loanee Sam Hutchinson scoring his first senior goal to double the advantage. A late Charlton response made for a nervy finish but Forest got the job done to move up to third in the table.

Birmingham City then visited the City Ground and set their stall out to frustrate Forest, with a disciplined display which prevented the Reds from replicating their successful passing football on show against Charlton. City went 2-0 ahead in the second half and it looked as if O’Driscoll would be tasting defeat for the first time as Forest manager. However a stirring fightback, including a brilliant individual goal from Simon Cox, saw Forest rescue a 2-2 draw.

Forest also had to come from behind in their next fixture away at Crystal Palace, where Dexter Blackstock’s late goal earned a valuable point following a battling display. O’Driscoll reverted to a 5-3-2 formation and Forest struggled to get going with Palace the better side. Frustration got the better of Adlene Guedioura, who was sent off for kicking out at an opponent, meaning Forest had to come from behind with ten men, which they did to secure a 1-1 draw and preserve their unbeaten run.

It was a similar story at Leeds, where Forest’s lacklustre first half display saw them two goals down at the break, a lack of cohesion going forward and some shaky defending gifting Leeds the initiative. Despite an improved second half from the Reds, with Dexter Blackstock scoring once more, they left themselves with too much to do and the unbeaten run was over.

The following Sunday saw the East Midlands Derby against rivals Derby County at the City Ground. The game is well-known for being a full-blooded encounter and the Sky cameras were there hoping to see something similar. Derby’s gameplan was to disrupt Forest with rough-house tactics and it paid off, helped by some poor refereeing by Robert Madley. The official allowed several late, robust Derby tackles to go unpunished in the first half before brandishing the first yellow to Forest’s Andy Reid.

Just forty seconds into the second half Dexter Blackstock, who had been on the receiving end of many of those bad challenges, rose with Richard Keogh for an aerial challenge. Blackstock’s elbow accidentally made contact with Keogh’s face but Madley deemed it worthy of a straight red card and Forest were down to ten men.

Derby began to get on top thanks to their numerical advantage and eventually won 1-0 with a Craig Bryson goal. The defeat on home soil was difficult to take for Forest fans, especially as the team struggled to create many chances against Nigel Clough’s robust side.

However things picked up in the final two games before the international break. Blackburn Rovers arrived on Trentside for a Tuesday night fixture and were fortunate to go away with a point, as Forest put in a much improved display. Steve Kean had recently left Rovers as manager but they are a team boasting considerable Premier League experience, plus plenty of goals with Jordan Rhodes and Nuno Gomes up front. Despite this Forest were much the better side, passing the ball around confidently and carving out several goalscoring opportunities, the best going to Billy Sharp who fired into the side netting from close range.

Four days later Forest travelled to Peterborough United, where their record has been good in recent years. They continued that thanks to an excellent solo goal from Andy Reid, who picked the ball up in his own half, carried it forward before hitting an angled shot into the far top corner from the edge of the penalty area. Forest were again the better side and had a second goal chalked off, with the ball being deemed to have gone out of play before Jermaine Jenas tapped home. The 1-0 success was enough to lift the Reds into the top half and make up for the Derby disappointment.

Forest’s squad has been strengthened even further in recent weeks, with striker Billy Sharp arriving on a deadline day loan deal from Southampton and former Reds midfielder Jermaine Jenas arriving from Tottenham on a month’s loan.

The signing of Sharp, who in recent seasons has been a prolific scorer at Championship level with Doncaster Rovers and Southampton, was a real statement of intent from Forest. The frontman knows O’Driscoll well from their days at Rovers and provides another option up top. He is yet to get off the mark in a Red shirt, but once he does his confidence will grow and more goals will come. It was surprising to see Saints let him go following their promotion to the Premier League, so Sharp will be out to prove a point during his stay at the City Ground.

Jermaine Jenas is another signing which has surprised and excited the fans in equal measure. The former England international, who is regarded as one of the best academy products Forest have ever produced, made his Reds breakthrough during the 2001-02 season as an eighteen year old, before being sold to Newcastle for £5 million in 2002. Since then he ‘s been a Premier League regular with Newcastle, Tottenham and Aston Villa whilst making 21 England appearances.

He brings undoubted quality to a midfield which is already blessed with options, but Jenas himself said he would only drop down to the Championship to rejoin Forest. He received a warm reception as he came off the bench to made his second bow as a Forest player in the 0-0 draw with Blackburn and it’s good to have him back, even if it is just for one month.

On Saturday table-topping Cardiff City come to The City Ground, looking to extend their impressive start to the campaign. The match will be a stern test for this Forest side and a good measure of where they are. Three days later they face a trip to Blackpool who are also aiming for promotion this season, but who have fallen away from the leaders in recent weeks. Last year Forest won 2-1 at Bloomfield Road and a similar result this time around will give the team confidence that they are capable of challenging at the right end of the table.

Over the international break the likes of Henri Lansbury and Billy Sharp have had two more weeks to find their feet at the club, which will hopefully stand them in good stead for the four games coming up in the next fortnight.

Sean O’Driscoll has a selection headache in midfield with Lansbury, Jenas, Lewis McGugan, Chris Cohen, Adlene Guedioura, Guy Moussi and Simon Gillett vying for central roles, along with Andy Reid. Forest boast the third meanest defence in the league with ten goals conceded. Despite some criticisms from certain sections of the support, Dan Harding and Daniel Ayala are steadily improving with each match. Greg Halford, Danny Collins and Sam Hutchinson have all impressed with their displays so far and there is a sense that this part of the team will only get better as the season progresses.

Simon Cox has also impressed up front, having scored some spectacular goals and been willing to work hard for the team. With Sharp, Dexter Blackstock and Marcus Tudgay also in the squad, there are plenty of striking options for the manager to pick from.

Overall it has been a good start from Forest, with signs that the team are moving in the right direction. The new owners, the Al-Hasawi family have said all the right things and seem willing to give Sean O’Driscoll the time to build the team he wants. With twelve new signings and a new manager in place, most Forest supporters would have been happy with a mid-table finish before the season began. The team looks capable of reaching that target but if they can find some consistency, they may even better it.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and Nottingham Forest blogger

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis