Sunday, 28 October 2012

Forest: From crisis to quiet confidence

The start of this season was a strange one. After the sheer sense of relief at somehow ensuring survival in the championship at the end of last season, a flood of optimism arrived down the Trent (via Kuwait) in the form of the al-Hasawi family. As I wrote a piece about how the club could look to prosper in the future without the backing of an owner with deep pockets, we were promptly snapped up by one, immediately rendering a lot of my points obsolete. With 13 games gone, it gives me an excuse to have a look back and see how Forest have fared with the first (approximately) quarter of the season already down on paper.


Like Luke Chambers. But Spanish. And not playing for a side rooted to the bottom of the Championship.

It was less of a spring clean at the City Ground over the closed season than a wholesale clearance sale. Except that to have a sale, you have to exchange a product for money. We were more allowing neighbours to come into the house and pick what they fancied, such was the contract mess with several players. 5 players in total left the club on free transfers; with some greater losses to the club than others (see Anderson, Paul and Chambers, Luke). But, with the sale of Gunter to Reading and the beguiling decision of Freeman to request a transfer from a regular place on the Forest bench to a regular place on Derby's bench; the club were left with only one senior defender. The recruitment of an entire back four was a priority; and was surprisingly completed without problem. Greg Halford and Dan Harding joined from both '-hampton'-based clubs; whilst the Reds recruited Danny Collins from the potteries to provide solid base to the central defence. These three have played well, and although prone to the odd mistake, have proven themselves to be as good as the individual players they replaced. And Dan Harding is a left back; a position the club had appeared to have retired out of respect to a certain former left-sided fullback. The club complemented these permanent recruitments with Sam Hutchinson, a loanee from Chelsea who has impressed whenever he has played; a young fullback with a promising career at a higher level than this; if he can beat his injury woes. Flying in from the far east (Norfolk) Daniel Ayala has, after a shaky start, grown into his position at central defence; and after a small injury woe, Norwich have even been nice enough to send us a courtesy defender (Ward) whilst he recovers.

Defensively, the club have been generally solid. At home, only 3 clubs have conceded less and only 2 clubs away from home have conceded less (although another 4 clubs have performed as well defensively as the reds on the road). However, despite the good defensive stats, the club have only been able to keep a clean sheet twice all season, which isn't a problem when we're scoring; but could pose a problem if we encountered another lean spell like last winter. The foundation of these good defensive performances has been the man between the sticks, as Lee Camp has seen a return to form after some less than impressive performances at times last season. Despite my oft-repeated statement to Forest-supporting friends that Camp will make at least one stupid fumble in every game; he has made some outstanding saves; and is playing with a confidence we haven't seen since the Scottish-manager-who-will-remain-nameless was in charge.



Guedioura and Reid celebrate the Irishman's equaliser at Bolton

Forest seem to have a wealth of midfield players. Even last year, when we were woeful, you could man an invasion of the Isle of Wight with midfielders sat on the bench, contributing little. We still have a glut of midfielders, and could still take Cowes with some of those who don't make the starting XI, but we seem to have a better set on and off the pitch. Last season's fan favourite from the Black Country, Adlène Guedioura, made his stay more permanent, and has helped provide a creative spark in the centre of the pitch (and, with referee's enough practice at spelling his surname, after 4 bookings and 2 dismissals). The very exciting signing of ex-Arsenal starlet Henri Lansbury, has so far, seen injury restrict his ability to leave an impression on the side; but has shown glimpses of his talent in the games he has featured in. James Coppinger, on loan from Doncaster has offered another option on the wing. Possibly the most important signing of Sean O'Driscoll's new-look Forest side, and the best value signing in the division; is Simon Gillett. The midfielder, a free transfer from South Yorkshire, has filled the much-missed void left by Paul McKenna's departure last season, breaking up play and initiating many attacks. 

But new arrivals aren't the totality of the story. Andy Reid and McGugan have continued their good form from the back-end of last season, both contributing a number of goals from set pieces. Reidy in particular, has become one of my personal favourite players, possessing a physically improbable ability to remain agile, dance away from defenders, and yet still look like he's enjoyed one or two many basket of Wings from Hooters. Joining Reid is another past favourite, Jenas. He's not really had a chance to shine, but has still managed to get on the scoresheet. And whilst talking of fan favourites, this season has seen the return of Chris Cohen after a lengthy absence through Injury. On his day, Cohen is far and away the best player in our squad, possibly in the division. I'll skip the cliches, that have been oft-written about Cohen; but needless to say, I'm glad we have him back.



Billy Sharp celebrates opening the scoring at Bloomfield Road by having a bite of a fan's hot dog. 

We've managed to rid ourselves of several goal-shy strikers (quite literally sending McGoldrick to Coventry), and have brought in a new look strike-force. And, on paper, it is a forward line that should give most defenders a headache. Previous target Simon Cox has finally been snapped up from West Brom, and has been joined by another previous darling of Doncaster, Billy Sharp. Dex has found a great goalscoring form, with 4 goals already, getting us out of jail plenty of times. And (something, something) Tudgay. 

We've been a little Jekyll and Hyde with regards goalscoring however. At times, we've struggled to create much or breakthrough; whilst recently, we've managed to put three past current leaders Cardiff City. We already have 11 different goalscorers, and after Sharp's broken his scoring duck, we can only hope he'll find the same form that won him plaudits at the Keepmoat.


The Manager

SO'D, proving you can be a decent manager without having to start arguments with the chairman week in, week out

O'Driscoll has been a breath of fresh air. For too long we've either had dysfunctional managers who enjoy airing out dirty laundry in the open, blaming fans, shady 'transfer acquisition panels' or unseen 'dark forces'; or tactically useless managers who bypass the midfield or are called 'Colin'. SO'D has got us playing nice football; and although he has got line-ups wrong and at times has been outmanoeuvred tactically (surprisingly enough, by the duff Clough) - but we've only lost twice this season. He's managed to make substitutions that have changed games, and won us a number of points. He's quietly turning us into dark horses that could sneak into the top six come the end of the season.



So far, so good. Apart from a slight wobble in September, we've impressed at times, and are proving hard to beat. All we need now, is to be able to find a way to convert draws into wins, and we can begin to believe that Forest might be possible of more than just midtable consolidation.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The science of nonsense

Science is brilliant. I mean, it's given us so much. Pasteurisation. Electricity. Immunisation. The ability for anyone to send celebrities on the other side of the world abusive messages over the internet. And, finally, mankind's progress has peaked. Never will anything better be invented. We should shut down CERN, sell off NASA and convert laboratories worldwide into branches of Greggs and SportsDirect. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you: L'oreal Paris Revitalift Laser Renew.

Now, it's fairly clear to most people that all other anti-ageing creams are almost always no better for skin than smearing your face in industrial slurry; but this is a different kettle of chips, apparently. Here's my blow by blow deconstruction of some poor marketing intern's piss poor attempt at science.

1. 'Imagine if you could laser renew your skin'

The advert starts brilliantly, asking the viewer to imagine what life might be like if you could harness the power of photons emitted from excited atoms to effectively time-travel your skin back a decade or so. Of course, lasers can only really revitalise skin by slicing off the saggy bits. Just ask Bond if, when strapped to a metal table with a high powered laser powerful enough to slice through gold bars, the first thought to cross his mind was 'Oh well, at least the skin around my gentlemen's area will be renewed'. So, firstly, the concept of lasers doing skin any good is a fairly hard one to grasp.

2. 'Hyaluronic Acid' and 'Pro-Xylane'

I thought at first 'Hyaluronic Acid' was one of those pretend substances that screenwriters like to chuck into movies to 'fill the gaps' in real science, like turbidium, kryptonite and the laughably named 'Unobtanium'. But, a cursory search on that well respected scientific knowledge repository (wikipedia), revealed that 'Hyaluronan' actually exists. Apparently, it's pumped under the skin to smooth out wrinkles, a little like an internal Polyfilla. So maybe it does work. Pro-Xylane, is also, apparently, the latest 'big thing' in 'anti-ageing "science"'. But these chemicals aren't included in this advert due to any alleged youth inducing properties they may have. It;s because they look sciencey. How can you doubt something with THREE PERCENT Pro-Xylane. It could cause your face to melt into a dermatologically youthful puddle; but who cares BECAUSE THERE'S MORE OF IT THAN EVER. It sounds complicated, so it must work!

3. Vague Claims

Insert vague claims about skin appearing 'firmer' and wrinkles 'reduced'. They could have referenced some clinical studies that could provide evidence for the biblical qualities of Hyaluronic Acid, Pro-Xylane, whatever they have in it, to really back up their claims. Heck, even the standard '80% of women tested could tell the difference' statement based on a survey of a dozen participants would have added more gravitas. But they don't have this either. What they do have instead though is...

4. The Daily Mail.

"IT REALLY WORKS" - The Daily Mail. Evidence from the most respected scientific organ (albeit it, the appendix) is the proof they are going to sell this product on. The validity of any scientific claims made by the paper which is obsessed with classifying every object known to man into either a cause of or a cure for cancer are, arguably, questionable. One can be forgiven that if the Daily Mail states that something 'REALLY WORKS', you may want to seek a second opinion from a more reputable scientific journal. Like Nuts.

5. 'Trust Science'

The ironic end to an advert that uses science as nothing more than a glossy veneer of respectability to sell yet another identikit anti-ageing cream. I've seen programmes featuring Derek Acorah which promote a greater trust in science.

Today a man broke the sound barrier protected by nothing more than a big coat and a helmet. That's what science is really about. Unfortunately, it seems to be invoked more to sell overpriced cosmetics to people worried about their appearance, than to explore the world around us.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

From an album launch to a city relaunch

Usually, the most interesting thing in a shop at 4pm on a Sunday is the sight of shop assistants willing the last 30 minutes of opening to travel quicker than a proton round a hadron collider. Last Sunday at 4pm, a small record shop played host to something fairly more intriguing than bored staff members; as indie group Dog is Dead played a short acoustic set to celebrate the launch of their debut album; All Our Favourite Stories. The band were great, with the intimate atmosphere of the store providing a perfect venue for Dog is Dead's mellow, laid back indie sound; scaled back to the basics. The album is a a rewarding listen, alternating from up-tempo pop songs such as Glockenspiel Song; to more languid tracks such as Get Low, which have clear echoes of Bombay Bicycle Club. Some of the tracks feel a tad too long, but this is a small point. Maybe the most exciting thing (well, to me, maybe), is that the band hail from Nottingham.

Nottingham has hardly ever left any kind of impression on the British music scene. Whilst venues such as Rock City are a staple on many bands' tour itineraries (and the Ice Arena plays host to a whole plethora of chart cloggers), the city's bands hardly make it beyond the county boundaries. When compared to places such as Sheffield, Leeds, Bristol, Oxford and Newcastle, it becomes apparent just how much of a dearth of breakthrough music acts Nottingham has suffered from. It seems to be entangled with a much greater image problem the city has. Nottingham is seen as city blighted by gun crime and gang warfare. Even the city's most notable resident is, technically, a criminal. Nottingham's image problem is persistent, with the writer behind BBC's drama Murder:Joint Enterprise described Nottingham as 'murder capital of the UK'. 

Image problems, can be overcome however. Sheffield is a case and point. Portrayed in 'The Full Monty' as a city ruined by the industrial decline of the eighties, intensive regeneration has led to the transformation of the steel city into a modern and vibrant place. It is not inconceivable that Nottingham could shed its image problems, especially with the renovation of the station and the Broadmarsh shopping centre (a place so desolate that it resembles the apocalyptic aftermath of a bad science fiction movie). Maybe this potential upturn in fortunes can be linked to the beginnings of a breakthrough for the Nottingham music scene. Alongside Dog is Dead, singer Jake Bugg is starting to make waves with his Bob Dylan-influenced brand of folk music; with his own debut album soon to be released. It is a small start, but hopefully the momentum will bring with it more artists and musicians with the quality to make it on a bigger stage. And, as a parallel, maybe Nottingham can better the tired stereotypes, and reinvent itself as a modern city.