At this point last season, if you had told me Nottingham Forest would be on the end of a four game losing streak after failing to beat Crystal Palace at home leaving us with a depressing total of 20 points from 21 games – I would have slapped the Bovril out of your hand causing severe burns for your foolish remark, alas that is the position we are currently in – so more fool me. The question is how did we go from a back-to-back playoff candidate side to worrying about the possible threat of relegation?
After chairman Nigel Doughty admitted his error in judgement in hiring Steve McClaren, and subsequently stating his intent to step down as chairman at the end of the season – action was taken swiftly to repair the damage that McClaren had done. With Frank Clark hastily brought into the fold as the new chairman and Steve Cotterill instated as the clubs new manager, us – the fans took a much-needed intake of breath and held it there until the new gaffers first game in charge. The last thing we needed to do was judge this book by its cover before we had seen just what would unfold on each page. Yet with a bona fide Nottingham Forest legend in Clark, now in charge of footballing decisions at the club, the mood immediately transferred from pessimism to quiet optimism.
I personally had felt angry at the good work that had been undone by McClaren’s short tenure. His initial sales pitch had seemed quite impressive until it unfolded he was as clueless about the Championship as Louise Redknapp is about TV presenting. I think the general feeling across the city was one of dejection, and in turn I didn’t bother to scrutinise Steve Cotterills CV to see if he was up to the job or not. His previous work in saving Portsmouth from what seemed like inevitable relegation to the dark depths of League One was enough to tell me that he had what it took to instil a bit of fight back into our side.
His first game in charge saw an immediate change in attitude from the players. Keen to make an impression on the new manager we beat Middlesbrough 2-0 – a result that no one in the ground would have predicted prior to kick off. This was surely just a freak result though? It wasn’t to be. We went away to Blackpool and won 2-1, beating the same team that had haunted us in the playoffs just two seasons before.
His previous work in saving Portsmouth from what seemed like inevitable relegation to the dark depths of League One was enough to tell me that he had what it took to instil a bit of fight back into our side.
We were quickly brought back down to earth by a home defeat to Hull, but losing didn’t feel as terminal as it had under McClaren and the following victories against Reading and Ipswich saw us looking back to our battling best. The whole team was performing well and the dark cloud had been lifted from The City Ground. Lee Camp had regained his form after letting in a chorus of goals under McClaren, Joel Lynch had grabbed his first team chance with two hands and managed a few man of the match worth performances and Marcus Tudgay had managed to get his name back on the team sheet only weeks after he had been told he was surplus to requirements – the Cotterill era appeared to be in full flow.
Sadly we must revert back to the present day, and after losses to Portsmouth, Cardiff, Leeds, Brighton and now Crystal Palace, its safe to say the honeymoon period is well and truly over. Without wanting to appear too fickle or knee jerk, we appear to have reverted back to square one. We simply cannot buy a goal. Never has a team bought so many strikers and scored so few goals. The same issues keep raising their ugly little heads. We have a severe lack of invention in the final third, only made worse by a non-existent out and out winger (though Paul Anderson does try his best). Starting yesterday with Marcus Tudgay upfront on his own, we never looked like scoring - though Palace keeper Julian Speroni was on form to make a couple of decent saves. The second half appeared much more promising with Andy Reid and Garath McCleary seemingly focused on taking the game by the scruff of the neck. Between them they created enough chances to win the game easily, but even the introduction of a fresh legged Dexter Blackstock after a season out due to injury couldn’t provide us with the goal we so desperately craved.
So what’s the solution? I honestly don’t know, but what I do know is that I am happy with Cotterills progress so far. Sounds bizarre I know - with us sitting in the relegation zone, but the promising signs life and quiet cause for optimism are there to be seen. The players are performing much more fluently and as a unit under the new manager. McCleary looked much improved yesterday for a player who has been less than a bit part player for us since his arrival. Andy Reid also looked a class above, his vision and touch is something that I believe should warrant him with a starting place - and Dexter Blackstock could be our only hope of consistent goals this season if he can stay fit. Injuries have also had an effect - we are currently missing key players in Lynch and now possibly Morgan in defence, whilst Chris Cohen’s combative spirit in midfield is something we’ve been missing since he suffered ligament damage on that fateful day against Derby.
We tend to forget all too quickly in football, though in contrast - I am well aware we are a club that could be accused of living in the past. If we look back to the first 11 games of the season and think of how lethargic, uninspiring and separated we looked as a side to where we are now, as a side showing at the very least - a sense of unity, I believe it is so far, so good under Steve Cotterill.
I just hope he, unlike me, isn’t sitting at home wondering where our next goal is going to come from.
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