Now is the winter of our discontent..

The weather seems to be echoing the mood of most Forest fans I talk to as they contemplate this weekend’s trip to Derby to face our in-form rivals. I know they say that the form book goes out of the window for local derbies, but frankly even if it did it would probably only mean a one or two goal defeat rather than a complete shoeing.

I’ve been perusing English championship betting odds at William Hill and as I type it has us at 17/5 and Derby at 8/11 – all in all, it’s a pretty depressing read and the bookmakers rarely get these things too far off. I can still remember going there last season and daring to have some kind of optimism that we might get a result which also seemed unlikely – only to bear witness an embarrassing capitulation that the Derby players and fans were probably too embarrassed to derive much enjoyment from, such a token resistance we put up.

And my expectations are even lower this year. Oh dear. This could be bad!

Whether Stuart Pearce’s job really hinges on this result is a matter for conjecture, but it doesn’t take a massive leap to imagine Fawaz losing his patience should something like last season’s debacle occur again. Indeed, whilst Pearce has my backing, I can’t help but think that if he weren’t Stuart Pearce would have be so reasonable considering the frankly awful performances we’ve been witness to? Have I always been in the past? I’m not sure.

The trouble with being such an infrequent blogger these days is that I can’t link back to past ruminations on Forest so readily – if I could then I’m sure there’d be an article prior to Pearce starting saying that whilst of course I was taken up with the general excitement I had reservations about him coming, partly because his managerial record isn’t exactly stellar before coming here – but mainly because inevitably the expectations of owner and supporters alike increasingly seem impossible to fill within the deadlines permitted would render my hero a failure.

It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve gone down the A52 half hoping that it might get snowed off or otherwise delayed, but let’s face it – bigger upsets have occurred in the past so we shouldn’t lose all hope. Just the vast majority of it!

Lacking leadership..

Even the biggest disbeliever in instant gratification couldn’t help but be pretty disheartened by the midweek showing against Brentford.  A spirited and hard-working side, and undoubtedly deserved victors on the night, but an at times shockingly bad showing from the Reds.  Sure, the familiar message of individual errors were central to the story, but the organisation and application from most of the squad for swathes of the game (Antonio and Osborn excepted) was pretty woeful.

As I inferred in my last post – I didn’t have massive expectations of Stuart Pearce the manager – but one thing I really did expect would be application and passion from his team, and I’m at a bit of a loss to explain its absence aside from the loss of our key ‘voices’ on the pitch in Chris Cohen, Andy Reid and Jack Hobbs.  Leadership.  The thing that the manager epitomised as a player doesn’t seem to be present in any kind of abundance amongst our squad.

Henri really needs to step up to the plate

I can’t stand the football fan tendency we all indulge in from time to time of scapegoating individuals – so that’s not my intention here – but as I look around the squad without these pivotal characters I can’t help but feel that Henri Lansbury hasn’t stepped up to try to fill this void a little more.  You get passion from him occasionally – usually in the form of a reckless foul – but he’s really struggled to impose himself on games as he did so well at spells last season.

The run we are on and the demeanour of the players is pretty concerning – nay – very concerning.  We have an owner who has demonstrated a quick and ruthless policy when it comes to underperformance, as noted before a small number of fans even have cast off their Psycho-tinted glasses and seem to actually want yet another managerial change.  Hopefully the addition of John McGovern and Paul Faulkner to the senior leadership of the club will help to quell his more impulsive nature in favour of prudence.

With Norwich arriving tomorrow even on similarly dodgy form it would be a brave bet to bet against another failure to win, which is a sad state of affairs irrespective of how the Canaries might or might not be underperforming.  The lack of confidence the players are showing on the pitch is certainly influencing me off it – which brings me neatly onto the other thing I was going to mention – hat’s off to the fans in the Lower Bridgford on Wednesday.

At 3-0 down to still be determinedly making an atmosphere – and to sing the manager’s name at the end – is such a welcome relief from the normal negativity that seems to quickly permeate the City Ground at the smallest sign of trouble (and I freely acknowledge, our current run and most recent performance certainly exceeds ‘the smallest sign’!) – hopefully the team can take the lead of those fans and put in the kind of performance that they ought to be.

Back to leadership, if Henri isn’t going to step up to the plate I struggle to think of another suitable candidate – for all his quality Mancienne is young and not too vocal, I don’t rate Wilson’s leadership qualities indeed the only players ‘leading by example’ midweek as discussed above were Antonio and Osborn.  I’m dearly hoping that the players dig themselves out of their malaise at the weekend, and whilst I support Stuart Pearce wholeheartedly hope he opts for a less unconventional line-up to face the Canaries.

It would be gutting to see the club thrust into another period of uncertainty.

Edit – Fawaz (or probably his ‘people’) has been treating about remaining together whether we win, lose or draw at the weekend – I’m not sure whether to be relieved or whether to treat it like a dreaded ‘vote of confidence’ announcement!

Instant gratification..

It’s programmed into us seemingly, whether it’s the latest TV show to download, the latest album, the latest gadget to buy – facilitated ably by some kind of credit – we want it all, and we want it now.  I’m no better than anyone else really, I like to have the latest shiny thing, and certainly when we found ourselves atop the league table after a few games I instantly re-evaluated my more conservative pre-season aspirations in favour of something more grand.

That is the natural human thing to do.

Of course, quite a lot has happened since I last posted on here… (understatement!) – you only have to look at the site header or check the date on the post before this – we’ve had the joys of Eck, the return of the Wee Yin, a shambolic caretakership and the return of a legend to contend with, and it’s been tempting a few times along the way to log back in.

I’m not sure how frequently the urge will take me now, but listening to Matchtalk on the way home and skimming the forums and social media as I do there was that irresistible pull to try to remember how on earth to log in to the blog and post something (and check the email account for the first time in aeons – sorry about that if you dropped me a line!).

Before the season started I was ready to accept a steady build – ideally a play-off or better finish but possibly less, this is the Championship, it’s a competitive league after all.  And whilst I howl with anguish along with other fans as the early season promise (in results terms at least) seems to be falling away from us, I’ve decided in more rational moments to stick by that objective.

There is absolutely no denying that no wins from nine games is poor, and that even with the injuries (bloody injuries again!) we have, we should have enough in our locker to have picked up more points.  Furthermore, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to observe that in games where we have picked up points we might be considered fortunate to have done so.

However, we are also a work in progress – sure, we have acquired what I think are some exceptional players for this level over the summer, the cherry on the top of an FFP defying swoop for Britt Assombalonga I must admit did perhaps start to edge me to hoping for more than my ‘sniffing around the play-offs’ evaluation prior to his arrival – but even so, I still think it’s realistic.

I do worry that sometimes we seem to lack a gameplan, that seemingly we lack cohesion in defence, creativity in midfield and a cutting edge up front – and a relatively inexperienced manager (operating at this level at least) whose legendary status means that even reasoned criticism will inevitable cause embittered and often embarrassing divides amongst the fans.

Which is really why we need to be better than that.  And generally we are – the fans that travelled to Huddersfield in such numbers did a sterling job of staying behind the time even when there was no hope of getting anything from the game, and we need to see more of that – since the reclamation (or really clamation since it’s been an away area since pretty much day one) of the Lower Bridgford end has really improved the atmosphere at the City Ground too.

The principal problem we face now is – familiarly – the identity of the injured players we have.  Whoever partners him in defence plays ten times better when Hobbs is in the side – and he’s a leader.  There is no player in the league with the vision and passing range of Andy Reid – and he’s a leader.  Our talisman and midfield dynamo (or indeed, left back since that area seems so troublesome) in Chris Cohen is also a leader.

So it’s kind of understandable that when we’ve hit a sticky patch as we have that that lack of on-field leadership is costing us because the players aren’t confident, and nobody seems to be ready to step up.  I’d really hoped that Mancienne or Lansbury might’ve taken on the mantle but the former appears to have let his head drop a fraction, whilst Henri has too often been a passenger.

As for Pearce, it’s far too early to be suggesting he should resign or be sacked for me – and that’s not just because I’ve idolised the man since my childhood, it’s because he needs time to sort out the problems, you can’t tell me he isn’t even now agonising over how best to turn our fortunes around – and whilst I can’t categorically say that he will succeed, I do think he deserves more of a chance to finish the work he has started here.

I still think Sean O’Driscoll’s removal was untimely – whilst I buy into the criticism he received, he was planning for sustainability, of course, he might have failed – nobody has a crystal ball, but certainly I think he’d have done better than McLeish went on to do – and without the fireworks and drama that seemed to me the inevitable conclusion to the ‘Unfinished Business’ saga which was doomed to failure.

The best comparison I can make is with Leicester City – sections of their fans called for Nigel Pearson’s head whilst he was still sorting out their club, and look at them now.  People point to Derby too but they’re a year ahead in their squad development than we are, we have some way to go – and a wholesale change of manager, coaching staff, vision and probably a raft of playing staff is only going to see is back at the start of a new journey – rather than a the few months we have into this one.

Instant gratification sure is a compelling compulsion – we all fall for it, we get carried away after shakily hanging on to top spot for a while.  It’s a psychological blow to have fleetingly ascended to where you want to be only to tumble down the league again – but it’s still relatively early, the league is still as tight as the proverbial gnat’s chuff, and if we can stay united behind the manager and owner who – for now at least – still seem to be on the same page – it seems to me that can only expedite a recovery on the field.

I can’t honestly hand on heart say that I think Stuart Pearce will ultimately lead us to the promised land – when he was announced as manager I was a little disappointed because I didn’t want the hero of my childhood to be diminished in what has proven to be a shaky position at best – but I do believe that he deserves more than a few months before being cast upon the metaphorical scrap heap.

I’d say that for any manager in the current situation, but I do admit I’m keen to avoid my memory of him as another managerial casualty rather than a bona fide club legend.  I was tempted to crack open Photoshop and update my laughably out of date header image, but I might hang fire for a bit just in case Fawaz decides to go all crazy on us again…

Please help find a missing mum for Christmas

It’s been nearly a year since I posted on here, but I do think this is worth breaking radio silence for.  Whilst the campaign to find missing mum Elaine Harrison has received great coverage, perhaps leveraging whatever reach this platform still has might just reach some new people.

Elaine was last seen at around 15:30 on 9th December in the Castle Marina area of Nottingham where she has a houseboat.  She was wearing a grey fleece jacket with white fur trim, black trousers and white trainers. She’s large of build and short of height, with collar length grey hair and silver-framed glasses.

Please continue to look out for Elaine and if you do have any information that might help reunite her with her loving family in time for Christmas then please get in touch with the police on the non-emergency line 101, you can also keep tabs on the campaign by liking the Facebook page, and keeping an eye on the hashtag #FindElaine on Twitter.

Whilst football is completely irrelevant at a time like this it would be lovely to read that a fellow Forest fan has been reunited with his mum.

Thank you, Sean..

O’Driscoll sacked on Boxing Day having overseen a 4-2 win over Leeds.

A bout of illness has consigned me to bed and left me idly not bothering with Watford reports, Leeds previews or updates – but the news of Sean O’Driscoll being sacked was enough to rouse me from my pit of misery.  After an enjoyable afternoon of watching Forest beat Leeds this has brought the whole day right down.

When the news broke we’d be taken over by foreign owners I admit I was highly dubious – you don’t have to look too far to see mismanaged clubs in modern football, sacking managers on a whim, reneging on agreed strategies and alienating supporters into the bargain.  I must admit, I was quickly sold the idea that the Al Hasawi family weren’t going to be like that.

This would indicate I was wrong to be so ready to trust in our new owners – because let’s review where we are.  We’ve got a squad hastily assembled without a decent pre-season, we have acknowledged gaps in our squad, we are eighth in the table and just a point away from the play-offs.  For me, that puts Sean O’Driscoll comfortably in the ‘decent’ bracket, if not outstanding just yet.

However, I bought into the idea of building for a sustainable future – to allow a manager, coaching team and squad to develop over time.  That was the strategy we were sold when the new owners arrived, and no amount of flashy replay boards or electronic advert boards will make up for this change in direction that makes us look more like a Leicester or a QPR at their worst.

Not that the gaffer was perfect of course, many seem to think that supporting the idea of him building a team was a suggestion he was somehow perfect – a paragon of footballing brilliance.  Let’s face it, if there’s something Forest have struggled to produce consistently so far this season it’s footballing brilliance.

It will be intriguing to see the direction the Reds take now with the next managerial appointment.  One can only assume there is a candidate in mind, someone to make the necessary adjustments to the squad in January.  This episode has left me very disheartened and feeling let down by the empty promises of the new owners.

If we are to become a foreign-owned club whose owners tinker without consideration or expertise then I’m afraid that I will struggle to maintain my interest what is increasingly becoming an isolating sport for those of us who fell in love with the beautiful game before the dawn of the Sky Sports era of greed, impatience and anything but a sense of sporting fairness.

I’m going to use this opportunity to take a natural break from blogging about Forest.  It’s a decision I’ve been mulling for a while anyway, as pressures of life and other factors make finding the time for this difficult to achieve anyway.  I may yet return to active chronicling duties, but if we go the direction I fear under the stewardship of the Al Hasawis then I might well find myself drifting away from Forest all together.

To Sean – thank you for what I think you were trying to achieve at Forest, it’s fair to say you were some way off the mark as to where I had hoped we’d get to – but then, I’m sure you, much like me, expected you to be given more than a few months to achieve your targets.  All the best in the next step of your career – I bet you wish you’d stuck with Crawley.

To everyone else – thanks for your comments over the years, it’s been appreciated and whilst the last few years of supporting Forest have had more highs and lows, I’ve struggled to feel more aggrieved and pissed off than I do right now – so I’m putting the blog on ice until the dust settles.

Watford vs Forest preview..

I know I’m not big on issuing predictions, but this one’s really difficult.  The Reds have defied predictability over the last few games, whilst Watford seem even more tricky to second-guess even beyond us as they operate under a bizarre experiment with Zola as manager.

It seems highly likely to me that Simon Cox will be given the opportunity to add a bit more of a different type of energy to our attack – apparently Sam Hutchinson and Jermaine Jenas have returned to training too, but I can’t see either being risked for the trip to Vicarage Road – although the prospect of Hutch in particular returning is a tempting prospect.

However, with Ayala and Halford coming through the trip to Brighton unscathed it does give Sean options to choose from which had been limited in some areas of late.  Watford are likely to be missing the aptly-named striker Fernando Forestieri, which might just be a good omen!  The Hornets have struggled whilst he’s been out.

They are also likely to be without John Eustace in midfield and Nyron Nosworthy in defence, both have returned to training this week but are unlikely to have attained sufficient match fitness to feature.  Lloyd Doyley remains on the sidelines with a calf injury.

If you look at the science then it swings the balace in Watford’s favour – although comparing 20 home/away games is covering a long time in modern football, and both Forest and Watford have undergone rather significant changes since that sequence of games began.  That said, until a 2-1 defeat in their last home game, Watford were enjoying an unbeaten run at home.

Forest on the road have been – despite their best impression of the Keystone Cops in defence on occasions – in reasonable fettle on the road as well though over the last few games, if we gloss over the debacle at Portman Road of course.  So whilst I love stats and pretty graphs, I am hoping that the numbers in this case are doing Forest somewhat of a disservice.

In player news, James Coppinger is set to go back to Doncaster which is probably a good move for all concerned.  In a team crying out for wingers, for a winger – with a strong history with the manager – to have struggled to make an impact is an indictment that things ain’t really working out.  Thanks to him for his efforts and all the best to him as he resumes duties with Rovers.

We appear to have agreed a deal with Derry City to sign young winger Stephen McLaughlin though – presumably in January – after impressing Sean O’Driscoll in training.  A winger!  Imagine that!  Then of course we have the new big screens to look forward to for the Leeds game on Boxing day which, well, if it keeps the kids happy then I suppose that’s something…!

Reds hold out for a point in Brighton..

Brighton and Hove Albion – 0
Nottingham Forest – 0

Apologies for this being so ludicrously late – it’s a busy time of year and a few unanticipated occurrences have happened.  Nothing serious, just time-consuming.  So anyway.. remember playing down at Brighton last weekend?  Okay, must admit I’m struggling – the home fans might do better, particularly as it was the biggest crowd the AMEX has ever seen.

Sean made a few changes, Ayala returned from injury to line up alongside Collins in defence.  There was a midfield shuffle with Moussi, Cohen and Guedioura introduced at the expense of McGugan, Gillett and Lansbury.

Hutton    Ayala    Collins    Harding
Cohen    Moussi   Guedioura    Reid
Blackstock    Sharp

The first half was basically all about Brighton dominating, and struggling to make the best of the considerable number of opportunities they had.  Early doors Calderon headed over unmarked from a corner, shortly after he clipped the post from the edge of the area after good work from Craig Mackail-Smith.

Former Reds loanee Will Hoskins looked set to convert a cross but under pressure from Collins put his effort wide.  A rare foray forward for the Reds culminated in an Andy Reid shot which troubled little more than any seagulls flying overhead.  Then again, gulls probably head inland at winter – so even they probably weren’t too worried.

It was a short-lived break for us though – Brighton were back on the assault, Bridge put an effort wide after Buckley had forged a chance for him (Buckley was making life incredibly difficult for poor Harding), whilst Mackail-Smith again was provider for Will Hoskins who really should’ve done better from close range but volleyed over.

Forest did have occasionally long range speculative efforts – but nothing particularly exciting, whilst the hosts continued to spurn much better close-range opportunities.  Hoskins again missed the target this time with his head, nodding a decent cross from Crofts over.  Forest’s best opportunity of the half came when Sharp teed up Reidy who lacked composure and put it over.

Mackail-Smith attacked our goal, bursting into the box and putting his shot past Camp, but just wide of the post.  Minutes later the Reds keeper finally had his first proper save to make – Calderon shot and he tipped it over.

Despite barely being at the races in the first half we could’ve gone in to the break leading – a throughball from Reid down the left found Cohen who put in a low cross for Sharp who flicked the ball up and over the ‘keeper but agonisingly it rebounded off the bar.  It would’ve been a massive injustice – but then, remember that other game we played in the AMEX where the boot was on the other foot?

At half time Sean removed Harding who’d had a torrid half against Buckley and replaced him with Halford – who certainly made his presence felt on the fixture from the off.  He got forward and put a low cross in to Dex who put it wide with El-Abd puttin ghim under pressure – then got booked for letting Buckley know he wasn’t going to get quite such a simple second half.

From the free-kick the ball fell to Hoskins who again fluffed his lines from close range, volleying wide.  Halford was perhaps lucky to remain on the pitch considering he’d already been booked, he took the winger out again then clashed off the ball with him – it was a bit of handbags, really – but it certainly got the home crowd going a bit – it also seemed to quieten down Buckley.

Guedioura was replaced by Lansbury after around an hour, as Forest seemed to be not only containing the home side better but were starting to offer more themselves.  Lansbury latched on to a knock-down from Dex who’d been crossed to by Hutton, but his low drive didn’t give much challenge to Kuzczak in the Brighton goal.

As the rain turned from persistent to torrential the home side took off the wasteful Hoskins to replace him with Lua Lua.  Forest were continuing to look better, one of those infuriating short corners almost came off with Reid tricking his way into the box to cross, but when it came to Ayala he wasn’t able to get it on target.

Dex headed wide from a Halford cross as Forest had a few turns at being wasteful, in the meantime Lua Lua escaped the attentions of Hutton and got an effort on target which Camp made a decent save on to get it wide.  Better was to come when Buckley finally got the better of Halford, who’d slipped, putting the winger one-on-one with Camp who made a one-handed save.

Ayala made the final last-gap challenge to deny what looked like yet another gilt-edged chance.  Our final change was to take off Reid for Gillett, but there was little else of note – and ultimately we should feel pleased to have got a point.  Of course, we could’ve got more – but that would be greedy!

The other exciting news of note is that Fawaz is now the chairman rather than Omar – there’s lots of speculation about this elsewhere, I know nothing other than it has always seemed to be Fawaz who was driving the takeover so I welcome his further involvement.  Whether the decision was linked to the reported financial trickies is unclear – although that just sounded like an administrative cock up to me anyway.

Oh, and a couple of big screens and irritating electronic scoreboards are being installed at the City Ground ready to be unveiled on Boxing Day.  I must admit, neither of these excite me particularly – but if they enable the club to generate a bit more revenue then who am I to complain?  Also if the screens distract the people who start moaning after 3 seconds of boredom then they could be a canny addition…