Football can be an unpredictable experience at the best of times, and under the guidance of messrs. McClaren and now Cotterill, Nottingham Forest fans have endured a turbulent season both on, and off the pitch.
As ever, the beautiful game retains it’s ability to provide both feelings of deep despair one week and complete euphoria the next. I only have to cast my mind back two weeks ago to a weeknight game against Doncaster. A game where I was met with a fresh bout of optimism following a shock victory away to Birmingham City, only to leave the game with a bitter taste in my mouth and the boos of a perturbed crowd ringing in my ears following a performance that left much to be desired.
There has been plenty of criticism for Mr Cotterills choice of tactics, and his re-arranged side to face Doncaster, giving Andy Reid a breather and shuffling key players out of position to find space for Captain Luke Chambers certainly won him no friends.
The following games at home to Millwall and then away to Derby County couldn’t have been more different. With Reid back in the side and Garath McCleary back on his favoured right wing, Forest appeared a much-improved side and one that had grown in confidence. With two wide players who can actually run at a defence and provide penetrating balls in the box, we were able to despatch the South Londoners with 3 superb goals and though the temptation to revert to the odd long ball when under pressure was still present, there was an undeniable difference in our game play.
The less said about the game against Derby at Pride Park the better. In stark contrast to the previous game, we threw any offensive tactics to the wind and the result was a scrappy, sorry example of a football match. So much so that the unsavoury chants between fans meant that the game sadly made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. If ever there was a game to chalk up as a loss and move on – it was this one.
It is however, clear that from recent victories we are much more likely to pick up points when we use our width in both Reid and McCleary whilst adopting an attacking mentality instead of the highly useless hit and hope.
Without a game to play on Saturday, we were lucky that other results went our way – and the club remains 4 points clear of the relegation zone. This evening’s visit to Elland Road provides Forest with much needed chance to get back on course, and a victory would allow the club to move up to 19th ahead of Millwall, should they lose away to Doncaster Rovers.
This of course, is easier said than done. With Leeds sitting in 10th place and a newfound confidence under gaffer Neil Warnock, as well as their 4-0 thrashing of us earlier this season at The City Ground behind them, Warnock’s team are likely to be brimming with confidence. Forest would do well in embracing an underdog mentality whilst recalling that game from late November, and using it as inspiration to match the levels reached against Birmingham City at St Andrews.
Ultimately we face a tough run in, and with just ten games remaining, Forest must look to take one game at a time. No game is more important than the next and we must look to take the points whenever possible. Now that the manager has found his strongest team, I can only hope that he will stick with it. In fact after all the chopping and changing he has been forced to do this season, he would be mental not to, wouldn’t he? And as much as the fans dislike the brand of hoof-ball that has crept into most games this season, it’s helpful to remember that this tactic was also deployed under Billy Davies – a fact that no amount of rose tinted glass will erase (just ask Robbie Earnshaw how many balls he was expected to pluck out of the sky).
It is however clear, that from recent victories we are much more likely to pick up points when we use our width in both Reid and McCleary whilst adopting an attacking mentality instead of the highly useless hit and hope. Simply put, Reid and McCleary must play.
As much as the fans may want him out, our current financial constraints mean Steve Cotterill is going no-where, and with games away at 2nd placed Reading and 7th placed Hull in the space of a week as well as tough home encounters with Brighton and Blackpool among others to come beforehand, it is imperative that we all start pulling in the same direction and turn any abuse into encouragement to help keep our team afloat.
After all, there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and should Steve Cotterill manage to survive the dreaded drop into League One - his reign, regardless of all the criticism he has received would ultimately be deemed a success.
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