David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Sean O’Driscoll’

Pre-season optimism…

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013


Well, here we are, back in League One after relegation last season from the Championship and optimism seems high amongst the Ashton Gate faithful. What feels me with excitement though is the optimism seems realistic this time. Having shared and read many views on Twitter, most fans are tipping the club to make the play-offs, and with the business done in pre season, that’s a realistic expectation to have. The fact that the players have had most of pre season together is testament to the hard work Sean O’Driscoll did early in the summer in securing the signatures of his number one transfer targets.

Our shortcomings over the past three woeful seasons have unquestionably been in defence. The signing of Aden Flint has to be seen as a major coup for the club. The towering centre back more than played his part in Swindon’s play-off campaign and will bring the no nonsense defending that is needed in this division. Providing competition for the spot alongside him is the ever reliable and legendary Louis Carey, Derek Williams (who comes in with much promise) and Liam Fontaine who has the ability to be a dominant force at this level should he iron out his confidence insecurities. An experienced goalkeeper (at just 25) in Frank Fielding has been added to the back line which is completed by the consistently good full backs of Brendan Maloney and Greg Cunningham. Suddenly a defence has been established that gives hope of being a platform to build from.

As I have previously said, the club is in good hands now with Sean O’Driscoll at the helm. Not just settling for changes on the pitch, he has implemented a new structure off the pitch and got everyone buying into his philosophy. This is what the club needed before it got into even more financial difficulty.

With players like Jordan Wynter and Derek Williams turning down contracts at premier league clubs to join the club, the hope of a young and vibrant team taking to the team with a passion and energy is rife amongst the fan base. Academy products Bobby Reid, Joe Bryan and Wes Burns being in and around the first team have added to this belief.

With so many exciting signings, and the drop in the division, inevitably there will be departures. The most high profile of those is still yet to happen in the form of fans favourite Albert Adomah. If the winger is still a City player when the window has slammed shut come September 2nd, I am hopeful that his attitude will be right to produce his best for the club until the window reopens in January. Many players who want out of a club cause trouble if a move is not forthcoming, but City fans will be happy to know that this is simply not Albert’s style. He will knuckle down and work his socks off as he has always done. This should make it a win win situation for the boss.

Steven Davies has left the club, bringing in some much needed cash at the same time. Whilst many will look at his goals as a loss, and rightly so, I certainly questioned his fitness and ability to lead the line as a lone striker. In Ryan Taylor, Wes Burns and the on trial Marlon Harewood, this gap can be filled from within.

I’ll end with the most exciting prospect for fans at Ashton Gate this Saturday, the number 9 and 10. Sam Baldock and Jay Emmanuel Thomas will strike fear into every back line in the division. Both blessed with undoubted talent, now is the time for them to realise their potential and fire in the goals to help the club back into the Championship.

Written by Lee Molland, We Are Going Up’s Bristol City blogger

Lee tweets at @molls28

Relegation – Not such a bad thing

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

As the Play-Offs unfold around the country this week, fans of neutral clubs sit glued to TV sets enjoying the drama unfold. If you’re a fan of a club involved it can, and will, throw up every single emotion possible to human being throughout 90 minutes of 100mph football. Which leads me to this question, can Bristol City being back in League One and potentially playing a part in the Play-Off lottery next season be just what the struggling South West side need?

It’s clear that momentum plays at integral part of any clubs potential success. When players are confident they suddenly produce moments of brilliance and match winning performances on a more regular basis, and winning matches breeds this confidence. So my argument is this:

Despite dropping a division, the thought of winning more games than you lose should be some appeal to any City fan. Add a promotion push and talk of Swansea, Norwich and Stokes successes will start becoming the topic of conversation in the pubs around Ashton Gate. The before mentioned clubs certainly used their promotion from League One to mount their promotion to the Premier League. City fans will be hoping the same applies to them.

If this is to happen though, a lot has to change. Firstly, the appointment of Sean O’Driscoll and his philosophy on the game will help the clubs growing debt concerns. With owner Steve Lansdown looking to go a different route with the well-publicised recruitment plan, it is vital to have a manager (or Head Coach in O’Driscolls case) who agrees with that mantra.

The appointment of Keith Burt in the Director of Football role is also crucial to the clubs new recruitment plan. With wages thought to be amongst the highest in League One, and agents fees through the roof, the need for an experienced man to steady this outlay is as big a signing as any the club will make on the pitch. It will also allow the Head Coach to work more intensely with his players on the training ground.

There is a big mess to clear up however. Two inexperienced managers have come and gone and when you add the turmoil in which Steve Coppell brought to the club, and then it’s pretty obvious to see why this club has struggled so much over the past three seasons.

For a club that has been down on its knees for the past three seasons, they have now come to a crossroads which could make or break their coming seasons. Indeed, the direction they turn won’t be decided on the pitch, it will be decided off the pitch over the most crucial summer in years in BS3.

The current crop of players is assembled from five different managers and for this reason alone the squad is far too unbalanced. With twelve players out of contract, and big earners on the books, there will undoubtedly be an immense volume of traffic going through the doors at Ashton Gate. Fans and media will speculate until the cows come home, but the fact remains that very few will be retained. Only Tom Heaton, Jon Stead and the evergreen Louis Carey are likely to be wanted by the fans, whilst clubs will pay big fees for the likes of Albert Adomah, Steven Davies and Sam Baldock. These are all quality players who could potentially tear League One defences apart, but money talks when offered in difficult times. I’d expect the club to keep hold of the hard working Baldock, whilst bringing in much needed revenue from the sales of the others. It’s likely these two big earners won’t be the only players out the door however.

Players who have served the club relatively well may find that O’Driscoll is ready to put his own stamp on the squad. This may see the likes of Liam Fontaine, Lewin Nyatanga, Marvin Elliott, Neil Kilkenny and Stephen Pearson moved on to pastures new, with the core of Heaton, Brendan Maloney, Greg Cunningham, Liam Kelly and Paul Anderson likely to be the platform for the potential promotion push, along with academy starlets Joe Bryan and Bobby Reid. With Burt probably being briefed to bring in some natural leaders too, proper men of the game and tough boys for League One, you can suddenly start seeing a decent squad assemble.

It’s worth noting that this month sees the ten year anniversary of Swansea City surviving relegation out of the football league all together. I wonder where Bristol City fans think they will be in ten years time? For their sake, Id be careful what I wish for. After relegation last time saw the Robins take eight years to bounce back, it’s clear that things are being run differently this time with everything being pre thought and pro active responses happening rather than the previous reactive panics. In O’Driscoll, Burt and the Lansdowns, the future may be about to get a whole lot brighter.

Written by Lee Molland, We Are Going Up’s Bristol City blogger

Lee tweets at @molls28

Changing the mentality to gain success

Friday, April 5th, 2013

If you support Bristol City then you are probably coming in for some banter from fellow football fans about the uncompromising position you currently hold at the bottom of the second tier. You should believe the future is in good hands though. Funny thing to say when the club is seven points adrift and staring relegation in the face? For some, yes. Those who are overly concerned of the direction the club is heading need to take a time to assess the cultural difference there is at BS3 now.

Since Gary Johnson took the club to a Wembley Play-Off Final, the club has fallen slowly down the Championship to the point where it looks it will culminate in finishing in the bottom three and restarting the process all over again in League One. The stark reality is that it is relegation in the history books that will forever be marked by the clubs name. A capital ‘R’. If truth be told though, its probably what the current crop need. Go down, rebuild with players who care about the club and understand the long term vision, and allow youth to prosper and blemish as the season unfolds. (A clever move getting talented youngsters Joe Bryan, Bobby Reid and Wesley Burns on loan at clubs with pressure on them at the business end of the season)

Owner Steve Lansdown has thrown millions at the club he loves in recent years in the hope of propelling it to the Promised Land of English football. With money being lost every year, the club can no longer be dependent on the riches of Mr Lansdown. And something has to change with financial fair play rules set to rock the English game, and City can take comfort in the changes they have made recently.

A view to signing younger players will enable the club to operate with hungry players. And players who will still demand a fee when their time at Ashton Gate is up. Having the right mentality within the squad is as important as having quality in it. You can be the best player in the world, but if you don’t work hard for the team, as a team player, you’ll merely be regarded as good player, not a great player.

We all think football is a physical game, played by men who wouldn’t have much in the way of prospects had they not been gifted with a round piece of leather. This is a notion I disagree with completely. Yes, the aspects of winning and losing is putting the ball in the back of the net, but it’s the components that get you to that position that are important. Managers who study every aspect of the game, and prepare accordingly for every eventuality, short and long term, will be the most successful. City fans are lucky that Sean O’Driscoll is one of those. He’s not at Ashton Gate for a quick fix, he’s a man who will stay at a club and watch his work be rewarded in way of success. Had he be instilled in October like his predecessor was the previous year (when Derek McIness replaced Keith Millen), City would be sitting comfortably in mid table now planning an assault on the Championship next season.

A man who is slightly unorthodox will always upset the odd the punter. That’s always going to happen in modern society. The way O’Driscoll comes across in the media can be slightly unearthing and awkward. A bit peculiar. I don’t believe it’s deliberate on his part. He just sees every game situation as a marker to measure the progress of the players he has worked with throughout the preceding week. Much like a school teacher after their pupils have sat the exams they have prepared them for.

The on goings at City can be argued for a considerable amount of time, much longer than you care to read about in this article, but the fact that there is so much happening to improve the fortunes of the club is the exact reason City fans should look forward with excitement and optimism.

There will be an overhaul of players, and like everyone, I have my thoughts on this and will discuss these in the summer months like all football fans do, but before we diverse into the personnel, just take a moment to think of the components that are coming together to take a club that looks like that they are going down, forward. Hearing your head coach talk of instilling an identity in the club, and changing behaviours and attitudes is a thought process that hasn’t been at the club since the departure of Gary Johnson. It is now encouraging to know there is a plan in place to go forward, with players playing with passion for the shirt that thousands of Bristolians care affectionately about.

Written by Lee Molland, We Are Going Up’s Bristol City blogger

Lee tweets at @molls28

Could the Great Escape really happen?

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

My oh my, what a turnaround we have seen at Ashton Gate. After looking dead and buried just a few weeks ago, Sean O’Driscoll has transformed the fortunes of the club and provided fans with genuine hope and belief that they will be playing Championship football again next season.

This weekend the Bristol outfit travel to Molineux for an old fashioned six pointer. With only goal difference separating the two clubs in the table, whoever comes out victorious on Saturday will be sensing survival.

Bristol City fans will remain cautious however. They will be aware how far their team has come in such a short time. It wasn’t long ago that confidence had shattered through the team, with players reluctant to accept even the minimum requirement that is possession of the football. Now is a whole new environment. Players are playing with a freedom, a discipline to work hard and keep their shape, but express themselves as footballers when the opportunity to do so presents itself.

O’Driscoll treats his players like adults. He has trust that if they perform as he asks, with each player doing the job essential for him, then ultimately the results will be positive. The more positive outcomes you get during the 90 minutes, the better the chance of a three point return. And who can argue with this? Since his arrival, the squad have displayed play off form. Three successive clean sheets have arrived for the first time since December 2010. That isn’t good luck. Anybody fortunate enough to know just a little about the game will understand that organisation, teamwork, communication and a resolve are key to earning clean sheets.

Going forward there is a wealth of options available, particularly as the gaffer is versatile to his chosen formation. With the work horse Jon Stead leading the line so well, Steven Davies has had to settle for a bit part role, but played the role perfectly, chipping in with goals to ease the strain. With Marvin Elliott back to somewhere near the form he displayed in 2008, Albert Adomah itching to prove his worth and Sam Baldock back from injury, there is certainly strength in depth to call upon.

This strength of depth will be tested to the full on Saturday when a hectic schedule reaches its temporary conclusion. With an international break to come, City go into the game off the back of a pressure-easing return of four points from six at home, almost perfect, and with confidence at a season time high.

A sell-out travelling contingent will be in attendance hoping to roar their heroes onto victory, although the meticulous thinker O’Driscoll may be happy to simply carry on the unbeaten run, knowing that all of a sudden, time is on his side to complete The Great Escape.

Written by Lee Molland, We Are Going Up’s Bristol City blogger

Lee tweets at @molls28

Can we play at home every week?

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Nottingham Forest loss has certainly been Bristol City’s gain with Sean O’Driscoll (And Greg Cunningham, Paul Anderson and Brendan Moloney). After leaving the club on Boxing Day after he had guided them to a 4-2 victory over Leeds and 1 point off the play-offs, many Forest fans were left bewildered by the decision. He mulled over other job offers, before declaring City to be “a good fit” and started work at BS3 5 games ago.

Those 5 games have yielded 2 away defeats, but more importantly 3 home victories. The fright of playing at Ashton Gate has disappeared from the playing staff, and the fans are enjoying their Saturday afternoons again. In many home games before O’Driscoll’s arrival, City were out of the game by half time. Leaking goals for fun, the shape of the team was nowhere to be seen, shipping goals left right and centre. Now 3 wins have brought 2 clean sheets with them, reward to goalkeeper Tom Heaton who has been largely blameless for the lack of clean sheets previously.

The big difference in results has been how individuals are preparing for games. Mentally more than physically. When possession is lost to opponents, the whole team seem to know what their job is. It’s not rocket science either. Closest player puts pressure on the ball, whilst surrounding players get goal side and recover. Recovering goal side of the ball makes it so much harder for teams to play through you, meaning less goal scoring chances being created, simple hey?!

The thing that should be encouraging City fans most is the squad. O’Driscoll has lost key players to injury and international commitments, a strain on any side, let alone one currently occupying a place in the drop zone. Legendary stalwart Louis Carey came in to help his friend Liam Fontaine and suddenly there was a partnership in the centre of defence. When Carey was ruled out injured for the Forest game, many feared his replacement, Lewin Nyatanga, would fall into the bad habits of conceding goals and not adhering to the discipline of keeping your shape in a much structured team. There was no need to worry at all, Nyatanga fitted back in as snuggly as a glove on a cold winters day.

All players are deserving of a mention, but Jon Stead more than most. The much travelled Stead has now played more games for City than any of his previous clubs, testament to the love being afforded to him on the terraces of Ashton Gate. His hard working nature has made him a cult hero with the fans, but he is far more than just a workhorse. He leads the line and scores his share of goals, but encourages others in leading by example. The chant “Stead will tear you apart again” can be heard ringing around the East End every time he makes a dash into the opposition half, lifting the atmosphere inside a tense stadium. With Sam Baldock and Steven Davies nursing niggling on off injuries, Stead and the raw and promising Wes Burns will have their part to play over the coming months.

Lastly a shout out to Marvin Elliott. The big midfielder has had his critics this season, and like Nyatanga, fans were cautious when seeing his name on the team sheet in a depleted midfield. Big Marv rose to the occasion in fine fashion, a towering header was the all important game changer and he got around the pitch like his old self. All this is even more impressive when you consider he was playing in Mexico at 2:30am on Thursday morning for Jamaica. Quite an achievement one would think.

So can we play at home every week? I don’t think the footballing authorities would allow that sadly. With away games at runaway leaders Cardiff and promotion chasing Crystal Palace in the next two games, this would be a perfect time to prove that City can play away too.

Written by Lee Molland, We Are Going Up’s Bristol City Blogger

Lee tweets at @Molls28

The Resurgence…

Friday, February 1st, 2013

Well well well, football can change pretty quickly, cant it?

Just three games ago, City were reeling from a 4-0 home reverse to Leicester, with Ashton Gate an angry place to be. Fans were booing, and chanting for the manager’s head. That evening Derek McInnes was relieved of his duties and Sean O Driscoll, the man many fans wanted, was appointed as head coach just two days later. And what an appointment he had turned out to be thus far. A first match loss to Leeds showed progression in terms of performance and attitude from players, then a last minute winner from fans favourite Jon Stead in O’Driscoll’s first home match set them up for back to back victories. Throw in a first clean sheet of the season and it’s all smiles at Ashton Gate.

So what has changed?

The fans had questioned the desire and commitment of the players under the previous regime. It is highly thought of throughout the terraces that City has a decent squad at Championship level, one that certainly shouldn’t be at the bottom of the table. With no clean sheets all season, the confidence had been drained out of the back four quicker than Albert Adomah’s ‘Ferrari boots’ running down the wing. Under McInnes, the team wasn’t stable. Constant changes never allowed the side to gel or gain any pattern of play. Players were played out of position in a desperate ploy to win matches. O’Driscoll’s formula will be built solely around organisation.

Can we survive?

Well, within a week, the gap has been cut from 7 points adrift to 4 points. This goes without saying what a boost it has given everyone. It won’t be easy. There won’t be a run of 10 matches without defeat. We won’t start hammering every side 4-0. What there will be though is a run of 10 matches with a passionate performance, one that will give all it can to the football club, one that the supporters will go home happy and proud with. Fans are satisfied in defeat, if they know the players who have crossed the line to represent their badge have given everything that they can.

Key to success.

A solid and organised unit working together will be a start. In goal, Tom Heaton looks a class act, regularly making point blank saves. Greg Cunningham looks like he will continue the trend of having top drawer left backs at the club, carrying on from the days of Darren Barnard, Micky Bell and Jamie McAllister to name but 3. Maloney looks an assured signing at right back, with great positional sense and a touch of an early Bradley Orr about him. If Fontaine can hit the form we know he is capable of and form a partnership with club legend Louis Carey, hope will be renewed. Paul Anderson (why on earth he wasn’t playing until recently is beyond me), Steven Davies, Sam Baldock, Jon Stead and Albert Adomah can all win  matches, and if the defence can do their bit, we might just stay up. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be straightforward, but we’re a Championship club and belong there. In Sean O’Driscoll and Richard O’Kelly, we have the right leadership to ensure we fight til the end.

Written by Lee Molland, We Are Going Up’s Bristol City Blogger

Lee tweets at @Molls28


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

Over the Hill

Friday, January 4th, 2013

It may be an old cliché, but unfortunately it is very much the case in the football world that it is a results business and when the results are bad the manager is dismissed; but sometimes there may just need to be a bit more thought into it than that.

Moving to Barnsley from Rochdale was no easy decision for Keith Hill and his partner in crime David Flitcroft; they were loved at Spotland having brought unparalleled success to a club unaccustomed to it. Yes Barnsley were a step up in terms of division and club stature, but with no money to spend and every bookie in the land constantly backing the team for relegation it is not necessarily the most attractive prospect.

Hill took the leap of faith though knowing how tough it was going to be and in his first season he performed admirably, achieving his one and only goal of avoiding relegation, whilst making a very tidy profit for the club in selling Jacob Butterfield and Ricardo Vaz Te.

This time around his canny looking signings have not paid off and the likes of Mido, Jacob Mellis and Kelvin Etuhu are proving to be heavy burdens on the wage bill without having nearly as substantial an impact on the pitch. Whereas last season there were a few sources of goals, this campaign has seen the burden lie almost entirely with Craig Davies, and the defence, whilst never strong, has crumbled away completely.

So what of this was Keith Hill’s fault? Certainly the signings he made had to be viewed as a gamble in anyone’s book, and when managers gamble and lose, their heads are always going to be on the chopping block. In the same breath though, with next to no funds available, everything has to be a gamble; there are no sure-fire Championship hits that you can buy with the budget Barnsley offer. Vaz Te was a gamble last season and look what happened to him. However, the sheer volume of failures this time around, to which you can add Marlon Harewood and Ben Alnwick, have to be blamed on Hill.

The lack of goals from elsewhere is just an unfortunate acceptance that asking the likes of Tomasz Cywka and Chris Dagnall to fill in for Butterfield and Vaz Te is never going to work. This again comes back to the gambles the manager made and not being able to replace players like for like.

Hill’s biggest crime, undoubtedly though, is the defence which he has done little to remedy since joining the club but is consistently the team’s biggest problem. Starting the season and playing much of it to date with Scott Wiseman, who has only ever played down the flank, at centre-back is asking for trouble and whilst emergency loans have been shipped in to cover other positions, this gaping hole in the middle of defence has never been filled.

So it looks like Hill has plenty to answer for, but what he did do was instil a brand of football in the team not seen at Oakwell for some time: possession football. In Hill’s last two games in charge, Barnsley enjoyed 56% and 67% possession in the two home defeats to Blackburn and Birmingham. Obviously this bore no fruit as the games were lost but it does show that there is something to work on.

The question is then, where do the club go from here? Do they find a manager to completely overhaul this system of play Hill developed over 18 months, or do they simply find someone who can do it better? As mentioned there is no money to spend and nearly every player at the club was brought in by Hill to fit his style of play so the first option looks unfeasible. The Barnsley board then must find someone to do it better.

Now who has a reputation of playing good passing football on a tight budget and keeping a small South Yorkshire club in the Championship? Sean O’Driscoll seems to fit the bill, and conveniently he has just become unemployed. His sacking from Nottingham Forest seemed harsh and premature and if Barnsley can snap him up before anyone else does then it will be great business for them.

The 55-year-old is currently the bookies favourite for the job and quite frankly, no other choice would make any sense at all. He has every credential that the Barnsley board could possibly be looking for, he won’t even cost that much. So if Barnsley want to be one of the very few clubs to hire a manager based on actual football tactics, O’Driscoll appears to be the man for them.

Written by Phil Haigh, We Are Going Up’s Barnsley blogger

Phil tweets at @philhaigh_

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