Sunday, 28 December 2014

Nottingham Forest 1 - 3 Birmingham City

Let me start by wishing everybody who reads my blog a very Merry Christmas. I hope you've enjoyed my irreverent take on (mainly) the trials and tribulations of Nottingham Forest in 2014. 

Forest themselves decided to be a bit different this Christmas. Rather than treating their supporters to a feast of festive football, they instead chose to give the gift of goals to their opponents: six of them in fact, in two Yuletide matches. 

The human mind has the ability to block out unpleasent memories, therefore I can't recall the minutiae of the Reds' most recent capitulation to report on it properly. In summary though, it went something like this:

- We started badly
- We got a bit better
- We made some chances
- We missed them
- We gave away a shit goal
- We gave away an even shitter goal
- We gave away another goal, but should not have been penalised for the free kick that led to it
- We got booed off at half time
- We started the second half quite well
- We made some chances
- We missed them
- The referee made some shit decisions
- The linesman near me didn't make *any* decisions
- We scored an irrelevant consolation goal

Until David Cotterill's dreadful (from our perspective) brace, I didn't think we were playing too badly. Certainly the team selection made sense this time and we (mostly) seemed to be trying to play it on the deck, but the double blow of conceding two really, really poor goals was too much to recover from. So, where do we go from here? Let's start from the top:

I feel some sympathy for Fawaz al Hasawi at the moment. I get the impression (and it is just an impression and not based on any inside knowledge) that he really wants Stuart Pearce to succeed here. With John McGovern and Paul Faulkner to advise him, he may decide to be more patient with Pearce than he has with his previous managers. 

However, in a way he's painted himself into a corner with Pearce. If he were to sack Stuart then it could prove difficult to attract any decent replacement, as prospective candidates will see how quickly he dispensed with the services of Cotterill, O' Driscoll, McLeish and Davies and would understandably be wary. Not to mention the embargo. Sacking Pearce would also mean another compensation payment and another period of instability and upheval, as the backroom staff would likely go too, and that's the last thing the club needs right now. For all the current poor run of results, for the first time since al Hasawi took over the structure of the club is starting to fall into shape, and a lot of credit for that has to go to Pearce. 

For his part though, Pearce just has to get results to improve. In his defence, the triple injury blows of losing Chris Cohen, Andy Reid and Jack Hobbs were always going to hurt, but the squad at Pearce's disposal is good enough to be performing better than it currently is. So why isn't it?

The constant changes in personnel and formation can't be helping, nor can some frankly baffling team selections. It may not be the football hipsters' setup of choice, but the players we've got are suited to 4-4-2, so, in my opinion, we should play to their strengths, pick a formation and stick with it - injuries permitting of course. 

Still, no matter what team the manager chooses or how he sends them out, he can't do much about some of the awful individual errors or shocking derelictions of duty we've seen from various players this season. Short back-passes, backing off too much, aimless diagonal balls, stupid fouls and fluffed chances; we've seen them all. 

As for the players, there's no doubt that, in the majority of cases, they're underperforming. Simple as that. Starting at the back, Karl Darlow has fluctuated between great and gormless. He's pulled off some great saves and is generally strong at claiming crosses, but in a few cases he's been beaten by shots that have seemed eminently saveable. 

Eric Lichaj looks shaky and Jack Hunt's early promise has fizzled away, not that it looks like we'll be seeing him in the Garibaldi again anyway. At left back I'm not sure what's happened to Dan Harding but surely he deserves a chance ahead of Danny Fox now. I can't recall Harding having done too much wrong when picked this season, whereas Fox has looked as shaky as Lichaj, with the added annoyance of the Aimless Diagonal Ball. Neither Lichaj nor Fox has looked comfortable when playing as one of the back three in Pearce's occassional flirtation with 3-5-2. 

Michael Mancienne looks a shadow of the player who started the season so imperiously. Having to play alongside the inconsistent duo of Kelvin Wilson and Jamaal Lascelles may be to blame for this. Mancienne needs to stay at centre half though; he's looked a fish out of water in the matches he's played in midfield. The sooner Jack Hobbs is fit the better. Maybe Louis Laing should get a run-out against Rochdale?

In central midfield, Henri Lansbury has yet to achieve the heights of early last season, apart from in his number of yellow cards, which is truly spectacular. Ben Osborn, Robert Tesche and David Vaughan have all looked encouraging in certain matches, just not for enough of them. I'd certainly tie Tesche down to a longer contract if possible though, as a free transfer he's proved a shrewd acquisition. 

On the flanks we have the one major success story of the season so far: Michail Antonio. At times the former Sheffield Wednesday wide man has been unplayable. Pace, strength, a good cross and a strong finish - Antonio has them all. Just not always. Though if he did, he'd be Cristiano Ronaldo and he wouldn't be playing for Forest. His goals, assists and performances more than make up for his occassional klutz moments and there's never a dull moment when he gets the ball. 

The other wing hasn't been so good though. Chris Burke has yet to consistently show the form which always seemed to torment Forest when he played against us. Tom Ince just didn't work out and, in the matches he's started, Jamie Paterson has failed to justify the almost embarrassing clamour for him to play. 

In attack, Britt Assombalonga started like a train but seems to be short of confidence and a yard of pace at the moment. His goal tally is still impressive though and, considering he's playing at a level higher than he's ever played before, he's doing pretty well. I really like Matt Fryatt's industry and commitment and he's chipped in with a few goals too. As with Tesche, as a free transfer he was a smart signing. 

Dexter Blackstock will probably never recapture the form of a few seasons ago and, if his latest knee injury is serious, one has to fear for his future. Lars Veldwijk's not played enough to show us what he can do yet, and he may be one for seasons to come anyway. It'd be asking a lot of him to drag us out of our current hole. 

How the rest of this season will pan out is anybody's guess. It's only December. There's plenty of points to play for yet. A run of form could see us back into the playoffs, but one has to be honest a say it doesn't look likely at the moment. Will Fawaz stick or twist? Who knows? Probably not even him. Personally I'm torn. I desperately want Pearce to succeed at Forest and, for all the work he's doing in rebuilding the club, I think he deserves a little patience. Results have to improve though or Fawaz will have a big decision to make, and we all know he's not shy of making them. 

Whatever happens, I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015. Come on you Reds!

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