Monday, 7 October 2013

The Season So Far - Part 1

The latest international break is upon us. For a few days at least, instead of wondering what Forest will do we can all worry about whether England will qualify for the World Cup or not. So, this seems like a good time to post a recap of the Reds' season so far.

Following another summer of squad rebuilding and an unbeaten pre-season, Forest went into their 2013/2014 Sky Bet Championship campaign full of expectation. As always, the Championship looked to be an open league. QPR appeared the stand-out contenders but, them aside, there were a number of teams that looked well equipped to challenge at the top end of the table. Having made nine signings during the close season, as well as trying unsuccessfully for up to four more on Deadline Day, Forest were certainly one of them.

The first four games did nothing to dampen those expectations. If anything they were increased as Forest kicked off with a hard-fought 1-0 win at home to Huddersfield, a professional away victory by the same score over Blackburn Rovers and a 3-0 home trouncing of Bolton Wanderers. And even though the Reds' 100% record was ended with a 1-1 draw at Watford the signs of encouragement were there for all to see, as Forest dominated a team who had easily beaten them twice last season and were expected to be challenging again this year. On their own patch too. Impressive stuff.

The Championship has a habit of kicking you in the nuts teeth though and Forest's next match brought their first defeat of the season, a 2-1 reverse at FA Cup holders and newly relegated Wigan Athletic. Then followed a remarkable run of three matches which provided 13 goals and 5 more points. Barnsley pegged Forest back twice at the City Ground before finally being vanquished 3-2, Middlesbrough took a two goal lead and looked to be on track to end Forest's unbeaten home run, only for the Reds to fight back for a 2-2 draw, and Doncaster twice led Forest at the Keepmoat before a late goal secured another 2-2 stalemate. Then came Derby Day.

In glorious sunshine by the banks of the Trent, Forest recorded their first win in five over local rivals Derby County, with a Jack Hobbs goal earning the spoils. A 1-1 draw at struggling Charlton brought things down to earth again before an excellent 3-1 win away at Brighton left Forest 4th in the table with only one defeat so far and 22 points already amassed.

Those are the cold, hard facts, but let's look a bit deeper.

Forest's season so far feels, to me anyway, very much like the close-season did beforehand. We've accomplished a huge amount but it seems like we could have done more. During the summer we signed (or re-signed for the pedants among you) nine players. These weren't just squad fillers either. Three top-class defenders in the form of Kelvin Wilson, Jack Hobbs and Eric Lichaj were recruited. Much needed width was added to the squad with Jamie Paterson and Djamel Abdoun joining up. Add to that the re-signings of Darius Henderson and Gonzalo Jara, and the acquisitions of Dorus de Vries and Jamie Mackie, and there's no doubt that Forest did impressive business.

For all that though, there still appeared to be gaps in the squad, most notably up front. Despite Forest having a number of strikers on their books, none of them seemed to be the mythical '20 goals a season' man that teams going for promotion often contain. Drawn-out attempts to sign Rafik Djebbour and Charlie Austin ultimately proved fruitless whilst the pursuit of Bakary Sako from Wolves still rumbles on. In fairness though, Forest have netted in every match this season so the lack of a dead-eye finisher isn't holding us back too much. Or is it?

It could be argued that missed chances against Watford and a missed penalty against Middlesbrough have cost us four points - points that could be crucial at the end of the season. We also had chances to go 2-0 up against Charlton which could well have killed the game off, but failing to take them meant settling for a draw once again. All this leads back to my original point: 22 points and 4th place after 11 games is a great start, but with a bit more cutting edge up front it could have been even better.

Having said that, looking at last season helps put this campaign in perspective and shows just what a good start we have made. After 11 games last season we were on a respectable 17 points, so we're 5 ahead of that. But when you look at the comparative results against the same teams from last season things look even better. With a bit of jiggery-pokery around the promoted and relegated teams, we're currently 12 points better off than we were in the same matches last season. Now THAT'S impressive.

So, there's no doubt that Forest go into this international break in fine fettle. With the memory of a great win still fresh in the minds, a bit of time for injuries to heal and fitness to be regained and - possibly - the opportunity to add another player or two to the squad, the season is shaping up very nicely indeed. I'll probably do another one of these recaps just after Christmas. If we're still around the same league position then January and the season beyond could be the most exciting we've had at the club for a number of years.

Wouldn't it be nice if, come June 2014, we could be cheering England on at the World Cup safe in the knowledge that Nottingham Forest were getting ready for their first season in the top-flight in a very long time? You bet it would.

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