David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘The City Ground’

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

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

The Ku-waiting is finally over

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

First of all, sorry for the pun! Following weeks of speculation and endless rumours, Nottingham Forest are under new ownership. The Al-Hasawi family from Kuwait completed their purchase of the club from the estate of Nigel Doughty last night, bringing to an end all the conjecture and ushering in a new era for the Reds.

In a statement issued on Forest’s official website the new owners stated: “It is an honour and privilege for the Al-Hasawi family to assume control of this great club steeped in history and with the outstanding legacy left by its previous owner Nigel Doughty.”

News first broke just before 7pm when Fawaz Al-Hasawi posted on his Twitter account the takeover had been finalised. Less than an hour later, local journalists also confirmed the purchase as Forest fans everywhere were taking in the news they had all been waiting for.

It is unclear exactly how much the Al Hasawi’s are worth – or how much money they intend to invest into Nottingham Forest – but they are said to be one of the richest families in Kuwait and have a successful track record in football there. Fawaz Al-Hasawi is known to be a huge football fan and was president of one of the Middle East’s most successful clubs, Qadsia FC.

He resigned from his position in May, just as rumours began that Middle-Eastern businessmen were interested in purchasing Forest. Following confirmed interest by Fawaz and the rest of his family, at the end of June the Al-Hasawi’s were granted an exclusive period of negotiation to buy the club and due diligence was carried out. Two weeks down the line, the deal has been done and the future suddenly looks a lot brighter.

Pre-season preparations have been firmly on hold whilst everyone associated with Forest waited for news of the takeover. Several out-of-contract players left the club, including Garath McCleary, Joel Lynch and captain Luke Chambers, leaving the squad woefully short in some departments as they reported back for training on Monday. As it stands, the club only have two senior defenders on the books and both of them – Chris Gunter and Brendan Moloney – are right-backs. Young centre-half Jamaal Lascelles has been subject to a bid from Tottenham and could also leave, meaning a squad top-heavy with strikers and midfielders may become even smaller.

The sudden death of Nigel Doughty in January has seen Forest reign in their spending, struggling to find the funds to extend expiring contracts or make offers for new players. Manager Steve Cotterill has been unable to add to his squad, but it now seems as if the money will be there to do so.

However, with new owners come new ideas. In the past few weeks, there were rumours the Al-Hasawi’s were looking to recruit a new manager, with Neil Warnock supposedly on their list. Peterborough United manager Darren Ferguson was supposedly approached by controversial ex-QPR chairman Gianni Paladini on behalf of the family, but such reports were soon denied. Former Wolves manager Mick McCarthy has also been linked, along with Reds legend Stuart Pearce.

There are many Reds supporters who would be glad to see the back of Steve Cotterill, with some making their feelings known recently on social media and fan forums. Having kept Forest in the Championship last season it would perhaps be harsh if the former Portsmouth boss was shown the door, but he is known as a manager who is more used to steering clubs through difficult periods rather than building sides aiming for promotion. New-found wealth will undoubtedly raise expectations at the club and it remains to be seen whether Cotterill is the man to live up to those.

Aside from player recruitment or potential new managers, the most important thing is that the future of Nottingham Forest looks to be secured. The club is now in the hands of wealthy businesspeople who are passionate about football, which is promising. In their statement the Al-Hasawi’s go on to say: “We look forward towards a successful future. You can be assured of our best efforts in bringing the Reds back to the top of the table.”

Encouraging words indeed.

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

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

Re-signing on the dotted line?

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

For many people the end of the football season provides a welcome break from the rigours of the game. However for managers, chairmen and directors at clubs up and down the country, preparations for next season are already underway.

At Nottingham Forest, manager Steve Cotterill will also be hoping to put his plans into place for the 2012-13 season, having secured the Reds’ Championship status. But this may prove more difficult than expected, as the club is currently up for sale and without an owner, so it is more difficult to buy new players or offer contracts to existing ones.

Since the death of Nigel Doughty in January, there have been shadows cast over future of the club. After resigning as Chairman he generously pledged to cover contracts signed under his chairmanship until 2014, and the club have confirmed they will be funded by his estate until the end of next season at least.

Without Doughty’s money available upon demand, Forest have had to spend within their means. Their January loan signings were funded by the £2.5 million received from the sales of Wes Morgan and Patrick Bamford so with money tight, preparations for next season may have to be put on hold.

The contracts of seven first team players are expiring at the end of June. Garath McCleary and Joel Lynch have already been offered new deals, but it looks like Luke Chambers, Paul Anderson, Paul Smith, George Boateng and Marlon Harewood have not been offered extensions, simply because the funds are not there to do so.

Four loan players are also returning to their parent clubs and there is no guarantee that Adlene Guedioura, Greg Cunningham, George Elokobi or Scott Wooton will be back at Forest next season.

Seven contracts have been allowed to run down together, meaning all the players concerned may walk out of the door for free and leave a big dent in the Forest squad. Next summer could be even worse as thirteen deals expire, including the ones for key players such as Chris Cohen, Lee Camp, Chris Gunter and Dexter Blackstock.

This week Blackstock expressed his concern over the club’s transfer policy, questioning how so many contracts are coming to an end at the same time, when they could have been renewed a year ago or before.

In many ways he is correct. This isn’t the first time Forest have allowed players to enter the final weeks of their contract and risked losing personnel for nothing. Last summer Robert Earnshaw, Nathan Tyson, Paul McKenna, Dele Adebola and Julian Bennett all left on free transfers and Forest had to spend more money to find replacements. In hindsight, some of the funds given to Steve McClaren could’ve been used to extend contracts.

Prior to those departures centre back Kelvin Wilson also left, joining Celtic on a free transfer. As his contract entered its final six months in January 2011, he signed a pre-contract agreement with the Scottish side and we ended up with a situation where one of the club’s best defenders was left out of the first team until his departure. It may well have been Billy Davies’ decision to bench Wilson, but his contract should have been renewed sooner to avoid such a situation. If he was under contract at least Forest could have commanded a fee for his services should he have still wished to move on.

In the summer of 2008 Kris Commons joined Derby County on a free transfer. The move caused controversy as he was one of the club’s best players, signing for our great rivals without Forest receiving a penny. Forest had left it late before offering him a new contract, but he rejected it to move down the other end of the A52. Two years later he moved to Celtic for £300,000, making Derby a tidy profit.

Earnshaw, Tyson, McKenna and Wilson cost Forest over £4.5 million in total transfer fees and in all were allowed to leave for nothing. Had the club sold them there’s no guarantee they could have recouped all of that money back, but they would have received decent amounts sums if those players were under contract.  It does not make good business sense to allow players to exit the club for free on a regular basis.

Prior to the sales of Patrick Bamford and Wes Morgan, the only profit Forest made on a player in recent years was the £1.5 million Newcastle paid for James Perch in 2010. Revenue from transfer sales could prove crucial if the club wishes to be financially self-sufficient and this is an area where Forest must improve.

Some will point the finger at Chief Executive Mark Arthur or even Nigel Doughty for the reasons why Forest’s contract policies have not been up to scratch over the last five years. As Financial Fair Play begins to come into force during the next few seasons, Forest will have to take a look at their transfer policy and learn from mistakes made in the past. Either players are sold for good fees or they are tied down to longer deals that will prevent them from walking away for nothing.

For the long-term benefit of the club, the powers that be must sort out a coherent transfer strategy which provides value for money. Most recently teams such as Reading and Swansea have shown that you don’t need to spend big to be successful in the Championship. Through having a good scouting network, a willingness to give academy prospects a chance to shine and a bit of patience, teams can go far.

Joel Lynch, who cost £250,000 when bought from Brighton and Garath McCleary, signed for a £25,000 sum from non-league Bromley in 2008 are two examples where Forest have unearthed good players from the lower leagues, turning them into consistent Championship performers.

This could be a pivotal summer for Nottingham Forest. The prospect of new ownership is exciting and would give the club some much-needed stability behind the scenes. It may also offer an opportunity for Forest to set out a proper plan of how they want to operate as a club in the future. If this is done well, they could be reaping the rewards for many years to come.

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

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

Safe at last

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

For Nottingham Forest, this season has largely been one to forget. Having reached the Championship play-offs in 2010 and 2011, the Reds kicked off in August with hopes of promotion, instead they battled to avoid the drop into League One. Thankfully safety was secured last week by virtue of Coventry City losing at home to Millwall, while Steve Cotterill’s Forest watched Reading celebrate promotion back to the big time as they lost 1-0 to the Royals.

At the beginning of the campaign it was hoped such jubilant scenes would be witnessed at the City Ground, instead the relief was palpable as Forest earned themselves Championship football for next season, which is some form of success given the events of the last eight months. There were times when it seemed the club were doomed to the drop, but much improved form since February hauled them out of the bottom three to secure safety with two games remaining.

With the high-profile managerial appointment of Steve McClaren being replaced by Cotterill in October after a sluggish start, Chairman and club owner Nigel Doughty stepping down from his chairmanship before tragically passing away in January and the financial uncertainty which has arisen, many are glad to see this tumultuous campaign nearing its end.

Steve Cotterill may still not have won over the Forest faithful, but he deserves credit for the turnaround in the last couple of months. Working with a squad which was top-heavy with strikers but woefully short on defensive cover, Cotterill addressed the problem with the astute loan signings of George Elokobi, Danny Higginbotham, Scott Wooton, whilst bringing in midfielder Adlene Guedioura, who has been nothing short of a revelation since joining from Wolverhampton Wanderers until the end of the season.

Nigel Doughty put funding in place before his death, promising to fulfill contracts signed during his time as chairman and that will continue until 2013, but his resignation in October left Cotterill – and new Chairman Frank Clark – working on a tight budget without the luxury of spending money to reshape the team.

The January sales of Wes Morgan to Leicester City and young striker Patrick Bamford to Chelsea brought in £2.5 million, which funded the loan signings to provide a more balanced squad, which ultimately led to improved form and Forest’s climb out of the relegation zone. Cotterill then brought in Sean O’Driscoll as First Team Coach and the former Doncaster Rovers manager has also played a part in the revival. The quality of football had decreased after Cotterill joined Forest and the results were not forthcoming either. Since O’Driscoll’s arrival the Reds have improved on that front, playing some attractive, passing football once more and picking up points in the process.

That magnificent 7-3 victory over Leeds United at Elland Road was the undoubted highlight of a forgettable campaign and it is the Reds’ away form that has propelled them to safety. With the worst home record in the division, Forest collected impressive wins at Blackpool, Birmingham and Crystal Palace amongst others – which is quite a contrast to previous seasons when their home form was excellent but their away form patchy.

The fact Forest will be in the Championship next season is significant, as the club can now expect greater revenue and can begin to plan for a new campaign knowing which division they will be in. With the club up for sale, they are a more attractive proposition than if they were a League One outfit, so this will hopefully attract more potential investors.

As we head into the summer, the club’s ownership is the most pressing issue. Rumours are already circulating of investors from Kuwait battling a consortium from the United States to buy the club. Whether it is one of those two or another party who takeover the club, the financial stability it will provide is vital for Forest’s future. As it stands the club have to spend within their means and work to a tight budget, which makes the signing of new players and the offering of contracts difficult.

As many as six players could walk out of the City Ground when their deals expire in the summer including captain Luke Chambers and Paul Anderson, with a further eight seeing their contracts ending in 12 months time and Steve Cotterill has already expressed his concern with the club’s policy over retaining players.

Garath McCleary and Joel Lynch, two of Forest’s stand-out performers this season, have been offered new contracts but the club’s financial plight means it may not be easy to offer new deals to other out-of-contract players. Until the ownership issue is settled, there isn’t much Cotterill or anyone else can do.

Recent defeats to Reading and Hull City only served to highlight some of the shortcomings which have blighted Forest’s season. Despite performing well and carving out good opportunites at the Madejski and KC Stadiums, the Reds lost 1-0 at Reading and were beaten 2-1 by Hull, with Radoslaw Majewski’s strike a mere consolation. A lack of cutting edge has cost Forest crucial points across the season so a new striker will be top of the list of transfer targets.

Garath McCleary’s explosive form under Steve Cotterill, including a four goal haul at Leeds, has seen him go from squad player to first-choice winger in a matter of months. The former Bromley man, signed for £25,000 in 2008, could also end up being the club’s top scorer, he currently sits top of the list with nine for the season. Despite having the likes of Ishmael Miller, Matt Derbyshire, David McGoldrick and Marcus Tudgay on the books, Forest’s striking options have not delivered the goods this season. Dexter Blackstock has arguably been the best performer of the lot since returning from injury in January, netting six times.

The players brought in on loan have largely performed well and many supporters would like to see their stays made permanent, none more so than Adlene Guedioura. The Algerian midfielder arrived at the City Ground in January from Wolves and quickly caught the eye with some dominant displays in the middle of the park. He has provided both defensive steel and attacking threat and he could easily be the best midfielder in the Championship next season. Hopefully he will be proving that in the Red of Forest rather than the Gold of his parent club.

Fellow Wolves loanee George Elokobi and Manchester City defender Greg Cunningham have ably filled the left-back spot and either of them would be welcomed back should they return. Danny Higginbotham would be a good signing, his experience and leadership skills were crucial in defence during a period when Forest were battling for their Championship lives. Scott Wooton has also done well, the 19-year-old centre-back is highly rated and if Manchester United were willing to let him go, either on loan again or permanently then Forest could do a lot worse than bringing him back.

Steve Cotterill could potentially have a strong squad on his hands should his loan signings become permanent, but again that would all rest on the finances being in place to make that happen. It only makes it all the more important that Forest can secure new investment through owners who want to take the club forward.

It is going to be a nervy wait until those new investors are in place, as everyone associated with the club hope the ownership issue can be resolved sooner rather than later. The football club and all parties involved will rightly remain silent until a deal is struck. For now though we can all breathe a big sigh of relief that Nottingham Forest will be a Championship side next season and happily draw a line under the current campaign.

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

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis