David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Simon Cox’

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

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

So far so good….

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

When appointed Nottingham Forest manager on July 19th, Sean O’Driscoll had a big task on his hands to get the club ready for a new campaign. Having inherited an imbalanced squad with one senior defender on the books, he had to bring in eight new players to have a team capable of competing in the Championship. Six weeks down the line Forest have enjoyed an unbeaten start to the season and played some good football in the process, which is a job well done by O’Driscoll and all concerned – so far.

After last year’s largely forgettable campaign there is a feel good factor returning at the City Ground thanks to the quick turnaround since the end of last season, when the club was looking for new owners, had a manager in place who divided the fans and saw several first-team players leave for nothing as their contracts expired.

Since the Al-Hasawi family completed their takeover of the club in July, they have said the right things and look to have a long-term plan they wish to see through. Despite talk of an ‘iconic’ name replacing Steve Cotterill following his sacking as Forest manager, the Al-Hasawi’s gave the job to O’Driscoll, which is already looking a shrewd move.

Backed by the new owners, O’Driscoll addressed the problems in defence by bringing in Danny Collins, Greg Halford, Dan Harding plus Daniel Ayala and Sam Hutchinson on loan. He also moved to bring back fan favourite Adlene Guedioura on a permanent deal alongside Simon Gillett and striker Simon Cox.

It is the speed with which Forest concluded their transfer business that is pleasing. We have been told by the Al-Hasawi’s that there is money to spend, but O’Driscoll has not broken the bank to bring in new faces.

On the pitch Forest overcame a spirited Fleetwood Town 1-0 in the first round of the Capital One Cup before league action got underway with a home meeting against Bristol City, which also ended 1-0 to the Reds thanks to an Adlene Guedioura strike midway through the second half. It was Forest’s first goal and first win on an opening day since 2006.

Sean O’Driscoll’s teams are well known for an attractive style of play and there were signs of that during the Bristol match, Forest putting together some good moves which were pleasing on the eye.

The Reds travelled north to face newly-promoted Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium on Tuesday and picked up where they left off against City, enjoying most of the possession for two thirds of the game, dominating their opponents in an impressive display of composed, passing football. Cox put Forest ahead in the second half and it should have been more, but Forest were to be punished for failing to take their chances when Jordan Rhodes converted a last minute penalty to salvage a point for the hosts.

A trip to relegated Bolton Wanderers on Friday was on paper Forest’s most difficult match of their opening three fixtures and a good chance to test themselves against a team boasting Premier League quality.

For the opening thirty minutes, Forest looked more like the side relegated from the top flight as they passed the ball around with confidence and didn’t give Bolton a sniff. Lewis McGugan gave the Reds the lead with a brilliant long-range drive which flew in off the bar from 25 yards out, but Bolton rallied and in the last fifteen minutes of the half got themselves back into the game.

Despite what looked like a two handed push by Kevin Davies on Danny Collins, Chris Eagles fired in an equaliser after Davies’ header came back out off the post with Collins on the floor. Davies then helped Bolton take the lead early in the second period as he seized on Greg Halford’s hesitance in defence to square for Marvin Sordell, who made it 2-1 with a guided finish off the far post.

Forest rode out the pressure and got themselves a deserved equaliser ten minutes later when Cox controlled Dexter Blackstock’s flick-on and laid the ball perfectly to Andy Reid, who curled it in off the inside of the post for 2-2. Both sides had their chances to win it, but the draw was a fair result and a good one for O’Driscoll’s side.

The draw puts Forest eighth in the Championship table with five points on the board and much to be optimistic about. O’Driscoll deserves much credit for getting the side performing and getting a new backline to settle quickly.

Danny Collins has had the captain’s armband and has been comfortable in the role, putting in some commanding displays. Greg Halford alongside him has been solid and his ability to play in the middle of defence or at full back is valuable. Harding, despite conceding that penalty at Huddersfield, has performed well at left-back while Brendan Moloney has also caught the eye with some good displays on the right hand side of the back four. Having been understudy to Chris Gunter for the last few years, he has a chance of making the position his own following the Welshman’s move to Reading.

Simon Gillett has impressed in midfield, doing the kind of job Paul McKenna used to before his move to Hull – sitting in front of the defence, breaking up the play, hassling opponents and starting attacks by passing the ball onto the more creative players in the side. O’Driscoll managed Gillett at Doncaster and it’s easy to see why he rates him.

Lewis McGugan has started all four games in league and cup, with O’Driscoll giving the talented midfielder a chance to impress. He has done well so far and his goal at Bolton was another spectacular strike to add to his collection, but he has blown hot and cold in recent years. Hopefully a new manager will get him producing his best consistently, because the talent is there.

Despite having numerous strikers at the club, Forest paid £2 million to bring Simon Cox in from West Brom and he has already looked a great signing. He works hard off the ball, is a good team player and has shown he can find the back of the net. The Ireland international has been involved in three of Forest’s four league goals so far, scoring with a clinical finish at Huddersfield and setting up two – including Guedioura’s with his first touch in a Red shirt against Bristol City. He will be a big presence in this Forest side throughout the season.

The slight concern in the squad is a lack of width on the right hand side of midfield following the exits of Paul Anderson and Garath McCleary during the summer, so there may be a new addition there. Today Forest made it nine summer signings with the purchase of Henri Lansbury on a four year deal from Arsenal for £1 million.

The 21-year-old is a talented midfielder who can play through the centre or on the right and knows all about winning promotion from the Championship, having done so with Norwich and West Ham in the last two seasons during loan spells. The deal could rise to over £2 million should Forest achieve promotion in the next two years. Having been schooled at Arsenal he is the kind of player who will fit in with Sean O’Driscoll’s style of play and is a signing that has already got fans excited.

It has been an encouraging first week to the campaign and gives Reds supporters much to look forward to as the season goes on. The team is a work in progress but given the way new players have settled in and the style in which Forest are beginning to play, they will be a match for most sides in the Championship.

O’Driscoll is a manager who likes to get on with the job quietly which is exactly what Forest need after the year they’ve had. In his post match interviews he’s been reserved but honest in his assessment of the team and how things are progressing.

There will be the inevitable ups and downs as is so often the case during a 46 game campaign, but the signs are there that this side will continue to improve as they play together more, which is an exciting prospect.

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

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis