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.

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