Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Nottingham Forest 0 - 1 Charlton Athletic

After a painful separation or schism there's an often used saying that 'things will get worse before they get better.' I sincerely hope that last night's match represents the nadir of this particular slump because it was most certainly worse. The last home match - the 0-0 draw against Doncaster Rovers - was bad, but this affair made it look like El Clasico. The happenings of the last few days seemed to catch up with the players as they produced by far their worst home display of the season.

Caretaker Manager Gray Brazil's first (and maybe only?) team selection saw Forest return to a 4-4-2 formation. Greg Halford lined up at right-back with Gonzalo Jara and Jonathan Greening in central midfield. Djamal Abdoun was recalled to patrol the flanks with Jamie Mackie while Simon Cox and Darius Henderson started up front. Jamie Paterson - rather surprisingly - dropped to the bench. The formation gave some cause for optimism. It didn't last long once the match actually started.

Forest created the first chance, with Danny Fox's excellent cross being headed wide by Mackie. A neat through-ball then set Henderson free but his low shot went wide after perhaps grazing the post. At the other end, Marvin Sordell rattled an upright after a quick break saw him played through. Not long afterwards Simon Cox also hit the woodwork when through on goal and Henderson's follow-up header was tipped over. As with many recent Forest games we kept possession neatly without looking menacing and it was no great surprise that the first half ended goalless.

The second half served up more of the same from both sides. Lots of passing, not much urgency and little in the way of chances. Jamie Paterson replaced Simon Cox as Forest seemed to revert to a five man midfield and Tottenham Hotspur loanee Jonathan Obika came on for Sordell for the visitors. Rafik Djebbour then made his return in the place of Henderson, just after the big striker had ballooned an awful shot high over the bar when well placed. A fitting end to his evening's involvement.

Then, toward the end of the match, a mistake from Jamaal Lascelles presented a chance to Charlton substitute Obika. His effort rebounded off the post and fell to Jordan Cousins who slotted home to give the Addicks the lead. And that was that. Djebbour sent a late header over but, in truth, we never looked like equalising.

Where do I begin to pick the bones out of this display? I remarked on Twitter after the game that, if I had been the match sponsor I'd have refused to name a Man of the Match as none of them really deserved it. The sponsors gave the accolade to Jonathan Greening who I suppose warranted it as most of his passes at least found a team-mate, even if they did mainly go sideways. As for the rest...

Karl Darlow had little to do and, from what I could see, no chance with the goal. Fox was caught out of position far too often though he did provide some decent crosses. Halford was at least an outlet down the right but didn't create much. Danny Collins seemed at times to be just watching the Charlton forwards rather than marking them and Lascelles had, I believe, his poorest match of the season. He's young though and will, I'm sure, put nights like this behind him.

Mackie was, well, Mackie and though Abdoun was clearly trying, not a lot came off for him. Henderson and Cox offered little with the latter particularly poor. What has happened to the player who we signed at the start of last season? The one who scored his first goal against Huddersfield away so clinically and followed it soon after with wonder strikes against Wigan and Birmingham?

And, finally, we come to Gonzalo Jara. It might be cruel to single out a player in this way but this was the worst individual display I've seen from a Forest player this season without a doubt. Jara can clearly play - he's going to the World Cup as part of a decent Chile side - but last night he was woeful. The most simple of passes would often find an opponent or go straight out of play. His touch was poor - at one point the ball just went right under his foot - and it's obvious his confidence is shot. Straight after the Charlton goal he appeared to square up to Jamie Mackie. On the evidence of the match if he'd tried to punch Mackie he probably would've ended up knocking out one of the Charlton players instead. I don't know if Gary Brazil wants the job full time, I doubt he does. But if he did I'm afraid the players did him no favours last night.

So it's down to Fawaz to make another managerial appointment but we need so much more than that. He's already said he intends to recruit a CEO in the summer - if there's any way he can do it sooner then he should do because the club is crying out for some structure and organisation. There's no doubting Fawaz's passion, desire to succeed and to please the fans but he can't do it on his own and he needs to stop trying too hard to keep us happy.

Fawaz - if you're reading this: Please appoint a strong, experienced, visionary CEO and let him help you appoint the right man for the manager's job. Then help them work together to plan and take our great club forward. But please - whoever you appoint - you need to trust them to get on with the jobs you've brought them in to do. That might be difficult after the recent experience with Billy Davies but it's vital. Making John McGovern a Club Ambassador was a smart move and you'd do well to listen to his guidance.

The crazy thing is that after all the turmoil and upheaval, after all our recent poor performances we're still only two points from the playoffs. There's still a chance to salvage something from what's turned into a car crash of a season. It has got worse but hopefully rock-bottom has now been reached and, from there, the only way is up.

Monday, 24 March 2014

It Was What It Was

And so, what many Nottingham Forest fans suspected might happen, has finally come to pass. Possibly sooner than was expected, but it's happened nonetheless. The return of Billy Davies was always likely to end either in the triumph of promotion or the bitter acrimony of a controversial departure. It doesn't give me any pleasure to be writing this blog as it ultimately means that the team is not currently performing. However, even though we may never know the full story behind the reasons for the sacking, it's pretty clear that there's more to it than the recent poor results alone.

Around this time last year the risky move of Fawaz al Hasawi in tempting Davies to return to Forest seemed like a masterstroke. A run of wins had Forest knocking on the door of the playoffs - a situation which looked impossible following the ill-fated tenure of Alex McLeish as manager and, even though we ultimately fell short last season, a summer of squad strengthening looked to have put the club in a great position to challenge for the prize of promotion this season. Early results backed this up, as three straight wins put Forest top of the early table. Further moves to strengthen the squad on transfer deadline day were ultimately thwarted but even after that disappointment and the shock move of Adlene Guedioura to Crystal Palace, the outlook for the season looked bright. So, what went wrong?

There's no doubt that the misfortune that Forest have suffered with injuries has severely affected their chances, with the likes of Chris Cohen, Kelvin Wilson, Andy Reid, Henri Lansbury and David Vaughan - among others - being unavailable for selection for extended periods of time. Absentees of that quality would hamper any team in the division without a doubt. However, the players that were available for selection should have been able to perform better than they have of late. Then we come to the off-the-field situation.

Again, none of us know the true story behind Davies' tenures at Forest, and I say tenures because of the acrimonious nature of his previous departure, but it seems that the relationship between Davies and al Hasawi has fractured beyond any hope of repair. We can only speculate why that has happened. What we know for sure is that Davies' handling of the media (or, rather, non-handling) appears to have damaged the club's reputation; and we also know that al Hasawi is keen for Forest not just to be successful, but to be respected. Those facts alone would've put manager and owner on a collision course. Then there's the more salacious rumours of certain players not being played because they weren't the manager's choice, or signings not being made because they weren't represented by a certain agent. How much truth there is in these rumours we'll probably never know.

Is sacking Davies so late in the season the right move? If you'd have asked me a few weeks ago I'd have said no. Indeed I did say no in one of my previous posts. So, what's changed my mind? The team selection, substitutions and performance against Doncaster for one thing. Yes, we still had injuries for that game but the situation of Greg Halford playing wide right while the in-form Djamal Abdoun was sitting on the bench made no sense, particularly as we desperately needed to win the match. Then, of course, we have the East Midlands Derby. I don't really feel I need to add anything else.

The season is definitely not over yet and a run of wins would still probably see Forest reach the playoffs. However, in my opinion, Davies no longer seemed able to inspire the team to achieve that run. Therefore there was nothing to lose - apart from the compensation of course - by replacing him to try and salvage what's left of the season. And so that task falls to Neil Warnock.

Some might think that Forest are jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire with this appointment and while Warnock is not without critics or controversy, he has an excellent record of getting teams promoted. Whether he'll be able to galvanise this bunch of players to do that remains to be seen, but there's no doubt he'll give it a go. I'm not sure if, long term, he's the right man for the job but hopefully he'll be able to give Fawaz the benefit of his experience and help him to make the right appointment for whoever that ends up being.

Fawaz and Forest face a massive few weeks and indeed months now. Regardless of whether Warnock can somehow inspire a miraculous turnabout in form and lead Forest to the playoffs and promotion or not, Fawaz's next few decisions - namely appointing a CEO and long-term manager - are critical to the future of the club. I feel for Fawaz in a way as, whatever he does, he can't please everyone. Perhaps he needs to stop trying, get the best advice he can, and make the right calls to take our beloved club forward.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Nottingham Forest 0 - 0 Doncaster Rovers

The fact that the match sponsors voted Karl Darlow as man of the match will probably tell you more about this match and Nottingham Forest's performance than anything I could write here. It might not have been the crushing defeat that we suffered last time out against Wigan, but I actually think this was the worst game of football I've seen all season. At least against Wigan we scored and were well beaten by a side that was better on the day. This match was a shocking affair between two teams that looked very poor on the day and the only surprise was that returning ex-Forest loanee Billy Sharp didn't bag a goal for the visitors.

Greg Halford and Andy Reid returned to the Forest line-up in place of Djamal Abdoun and Jamie Mackie, meaning that, or so I thought, we'd be lining up in a 4-2-3-1 with Simon Cox as the lone striker. However, when the teams kicked off, Halford went up front with Cox meaning Forest were playing a 4-4-2. The opening exchanges saw both sides pass the ball around nicely without ever looking really threatening. Doncaster's Richie Wellens saw an excellent long-range volley helped round the post by Darlow, whilst a goalmouth scramble resulted in a Forest shot being cleared off the line. Having won their previous three games the visitors didn't look overawed and Forest certainly didn't give them any reason to.

Later on in the half a Cox through ball found Halford in space but his scuffed shot didn't overly trouble Rovers 'keeper Sam Johnstone, and later still Andy Reid's excellently flighted free kick was headed over by Jamaal Lascelles, who probably should've done better with what was a good chance. But he didn't, and the teams trooped off with the score at 0-0.

The second half was, to be honest, more of the same. Neither team could find much fluency and neither goalkeeper was forced into any serious action. Johnstone nonchalantly tipped over a decent effort from Radoslaw Majewski and Darlow had to make a smart block from a James Husband effort but it was hardly Gordon Banks-like stuff. None of Forest substitutions (Darius Henderson, Jamie Mackie and Matt Derbyshire replacing Reid, Halford and Cox) ever looked like making a difference and the game petered out into the inevitable draw.

I don't like to criticise the manager's team selections or tactics but I felt that there were a couple of baffling decisions today. At one stage Halford found himself playing wide right with Henderson and Mackie through the middle, and all this whilst Djamal Abdoun, who's been enjoying probably his best run of form for the Reds, was left kicking his heels on the bench. Reid didn't look fully fit though, to be honest, I don't blame Billy Davies for wanting him to start. It seems though that he's now picked up a slight hamstring injury and will probably miss the match against Derby. Just what we didn't need.

The whole team seems bereft of confidence at the moment. Simon Cox looks like he'll never score again but, with Rafik Djebbour injured and the form of the other strikers, there's nobody to really push him for his place. Henderson of course scored his controversial goal against Middlesbrough but just doesn't seem to perform when he starts matches. Derbyshire tries but doesn't look threatening and Mackie continues to frustrate; one cameo today summed him up perfectly, as he won the ball brilliantly in a tackle then proceeded to give it straight back to Doncaster.

My man of the match today was Jonathan Greening. He sprayed the ball around very well in the first half and, though he'll never drive us forward like Henri Lansbury would, at least he kept possession well. One excellent tackle and casual back flick to a team-mate in the second half was probably the highlight of the match. There was precious little else to get excited about. The only positive I can really take was that we kept a clean sheet. Clutching at straws indeed.

So, next up it's the return fixture against Derby and a vastly improved performance is needed for us to get anything out of that game. We're still in the playoff places - just; but we've got to break this winless run soon or we're in danger of losing our grip on those. As I said in my previous blog I don't think the time is right to replace the manager. But it's not my club and I don't make the decisions. With Billy Davies's FA appeal hearing on Wednesday and the East Midlands Derby on Saturday this is a massive week for him and Nottingham Forest. For his sake, and the sake of our ambitions this season and beyond, I hope it's a positive one.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Should he stay or should he go?

It might be a slight exaggeration to say that the wheels have fallen off Nottingham Forest's promotion push recently, but there does certainly seem to be a couple of slow punctures. Understandably, the team's current poor run of form has resulted in questions being asked of ever-controversial manager Billy Davies; and his current touchline ban and refusal to give interviews during this ban have exacerbated the matter, to the point that it's being suggested that Davies's time at Forest should be up. Davies is certainly a divisive figure but would sacking him really be the right thing to do?

A large number of Forest fans either worship Davies or despise him, with other 'floating voters' sitting in the middle. Personally I'm in the latter group. I appreciate some of the football that Forest have played during Davies's two tenures here. I don't appreciate the current situation as I don't think it does Davies or the club any favours. However, I don't think sacking Davies would be the right thing to do at the moment, and my reason for this can be found just up the road.

Our bitter local rivals fellow Championship club Leicester City were taken over some time before Forest and, after two relatively short-lasting managerial appointments in Paulo Sousa and Sven-Goran Eriksson, they reappointed their former manager Nigel Pearson. I can't speak for their fans but I wouldn't imagine this was a universally popular move, just as Davies's return to Forest wasn't, and at times of poor form for Leicester since Pearson's return there has been elements of their fanbase calling for his head. But the owners have stuck with him and are now reaping the benefits as it seems that, barring any catastrophic loss of form, Leicester will coast to promotion this season after missing out in the playoffs last term.

So, lets look closer to home again. After our own two short-lived managerial flirtations with Sean O'Driscoll and Alex McLeish we too ignored the old saying that you should never go back, by reappointing prickly Scotsman Billy Davies. In terms of results this seemed to be an inspired move as a run of wins took Forest to the fringes of the playoffs last season, only to miss out to Leicester on the last day. A summer of heavy investment from Forest owner Fawaz al Hasawi left the Reds with a squad that looked, on paper, more than capable of challenging at the top end of the table. And so it has proved, with Forest currently sitting in fifth place, ensconced in a playoff position. That doesn't tell the full story though.

I could spend days writing about the sideshow which has been associated with Davies during his current stint as manager, but I'm not going to, instead choosing to focus on the football side. And, at times, this has been very good. Confident wins over Bolton, Huddersfield, Blackburn and QPR have been highlights, as were a smash-and-grab 2-0 at Leicester and the derby-day victory over Derby County. But all too often we've found ourselves leading in games only to surrender late equalisers. Bolton, Reading and Blackpool away and Leicester at home all immediately spring to mind, leading to accusations that Davies is a negative manager and can't kill teams off. I'm not sure it's as simple as that though.

Opponents are always going to push forward when behind, as we've done many times ourselves this season. I don't think for one second that Davies tells his players to sit back intentionally. There are elements of over-caution in his management though: long drawn out substitutions and not leaving a player up when defending corners to name but two. But the number of chances our players have missed to put Forest further ahead when leading matches cannot be attributed to Davies.

Then, of course, there's the injuries. Those fans dead against Davies will argue that they can't be used as excuses, and to a point they're right. Our squad is strong enough that the teams we've put out recently should have secured better results than they have. However, any team which have effectively lost their entire first choice defence and midfield to injury is likely to feel the effect at some point. Though Davies might not have picked the same team for eight games in a row, I'm sure he'd have loved the luxury that Burnley manager Sean Dyche has enjoyed for the recent run of league matches.

Playing one up front at home is seen as negative. However, some of our best performances have been as a result of playing this formation. I guess where I'm going with all this is to say that the arguments for and against Davies are not black and white, but are as difficult to fathom as the man himself at times.

Anyway, whatever us fans say or think, the decision lies with Fawaz al Hasawi alone. He desperately wants Forest to succeed and return to the Premier League: I'd like to think we all do. Despite recent results the season is most definitely not over and we're still in with a better chance of achieving that aim than the majority of clubs in the Championship. There's no guarantee that changing the manager at this point in time will improve our chances of promotion this season so, unless Billy Davies does something which truly makes his position untenable (which, admittedly, is not impossible) then for now I think we should stick instead of twist.

I'm sure many will disagree though.