Monday, 17 October 2011

Goodbye Steve.....hello Steve

Forest don't like making it easy for us fans do they? Especially not for the occasional blogger wanting to put pen to paper (well, fingers to keys) about the latest happenings on Trentside.

With events moving faster than Usain Bolt I've had to ditch the following blog ideas in the same way Alan Partridge had his TV show ideas cast aide (Monkey Tennis and Cooking In Prison would have been great...).

I had wanted to discuss:
*what went wrong against the dirty stinking Sheep and why that was a bad omen for Schteve (lack of team spirit in case you're interested)
*why the Carling Cup should be scrapped
*why the Watford win was at last a step in the right direction but a predictably pitiful spectacle for the television cameras (seriously, who picked that??)
*why the Burnley defeat had a touch of the Megson about it
*why it was no surprise McClaren walked after the Birmingham farce
*my fears for the post-Doughty era
*thoughts on who should be the new manager (Sean O'Driscoll would've been a great choice for me...)

But alas all of those topics were superseded by the freshest 'big talking point' by the time I bothered to write this. Yes, it's the growing anger at those God-awful socks and the theory that it is their influence that has turned us into relegation contenders....

Actually, only joking, of course the main focus at the City Ground (although the socks must go!) is the arrival of Steve Cotterill into the hotseat.

I have to say I found the news of his appointment underwhelming. He's never really struck me as a master manager - more of a 'number two done good' at Burnley and Pompey and although he's been steadying the sinking Portsmouth ship he never really showed me a spark of inspiration that made me think he was worth chasing. Especially when cash was tight.

Still, Frank Clark (sadly minus tash) is back and has picked him. (Or is it that Mark Arthur picked him but wanted it to be announced by someone Forest fans trust?) I'm certainly prepared to give him a go and Notts County fans do talk highly of him. Although most of them are over 75 and say they're struggling with a wheelbarrow that no longer has its wheel (really ought to fix that chaps...).

There's no denying that Steve II has an awful lot of work to do. On Saturday I sat through the latest worryingly inept display by the not-so-Tricky Trees this season. Maybe the boys in red thought they had to match the soulless emptiness of the Ricoh Arena with a dire display that lacked any passion or spirit.

I felt we started the game relatively brightly and McGugan and Tudgay in particular looked lively but sadly their team mates faded around them and I saw little to suggest Gunter, Hill, Chambers, Greening, Derbyshire and Miller were doing much to impress the onlooking Cotterill. As time wore on we showed less and less quality on the ball and, of course, conceded an obvious headed goal from a deep cross - the goal against of choice for Forest away days. It's so predictable you don't know whether to laugh or cry.

I can't help thinking that the selection isn't helping at the moment. We had no wide midfielders on the pitch on Saturday - with Rob Kelly instead asking a reluctant Derbyshire and Miller to take striker-cum-winger roles that they seemed neither capable or interested in fulfilling. Steve needs to keep it as basic as possible to start with in my opinion. Not necessarily an 'old school' 442 but 'more round pegs in round holes' as Billy would say.

Ah Billy. I can't help but feel nostalgic for the ankle biting little Scot. He transformed us from a naive bunch of hard working individuals into a streetwise Championship outfit and fostered an 'us against the world' mentality that bred a real togetherness and tenacity that reflected the team's fiery boss. That's not the only way to create a strong morale I'm sure but Steve II needs to find his own way to knit together a dressing room of egos and undoubted individual talent into a team. Perhaps the club spotted something in his armoury that suggested he's the man to do just that? Lets hope so.

Since the start of the season McClaren and the players have talked after each game of 'putting poor performances behind us', 'starting the season from now', 'learning from our mistakes' and 'working hard to fix things'. Sadly this has proved to be all talk. They're the right words but they need to be meant and ring true before we move out of this slump.

No-one leaving the Ricoh on Saturday can be in any doubt that, as things stand, we are in for another relegation battle. We lost tamely to a very poor home side and weren't even close to the levels of organisation, effort and determination needed to compete at this level.

Steve McClaren's big failure seemed, to me at least, to be that he lost heart when he realised that the job wasn't going to pan out the way he hoped. He wanted wingers to play 'his way' and stellar signings to build on the framework of a decent side. When that didn't happen he struggled to fathom a 'plan B' and quickly went into a downward spiral of chopping and changing personnel and tactics and struggling to motivate the squad he was left to work with.

You'd hope that Cotterill will be fully aware of the task in hand and used to working on a shoestring. I'm sure the fans will back him (we're not as bad as some like to make out) and we all need to lower our expectations a little and give him the time he deserves.

We've had few false dawns already this season - here's to the Steve Cotterill era not being another...

Friday, 19 August 2011

Battle of the bosses is an important early test

Tomorrow's tasty looking Trentside derby has sparked a great deal of interest as a clash of ex national team managers Sven and Steve - but while the meeting of the ex England men on the sidelines makes a nice line for the journos, the on the field action could be an important early indication of the promotion chances of both outfits.

I'm massively looking forward to 3pm tomorrow, it's the first game I've been able to make this season, although I did turn up to the Lincoln friendly (more than some of our players I'm afraid....).

Reports suggest so far it's been pretty desperate stuff as Steve and his new-look squad adapt to the rigours of Championship football. While Barnsley, Millwall and Donny may look inviting features for the McClaren regime, it must be said that those three all have pretty settled sides, and it's the teams with momentum and settled squads (the Sheep got their signings in early and had a pre season together, therefore they've clicked sooner than most) that start best.

A scrappy sounding 1-0 at injury hit Rovers (where we normally struggle) got the 'first win' monkey well and truly off our backs and will hopefully allow us to find our feet against the Foxes.

Free-spending Sven arrives under pressure after two home defeats, and his £10m team hasn't quite gelled yet. After all that cash the Swede must deliver success to the 'King Shower Stadium (think that is the name....) and fast. To my mind he really ought to have gatecrashed the top 6 last time around. Not many teams can bring in a Premier League goalscorer on 50k a week on loan in January, and the signing of Yakubu, coupled with many more top flight loans, should have been enough for a play-off push. They faded and he had the excuse of being new and saving them from the drop to help to escape too much flak. With a full pre season and permanent signings aplenty he no longer has any excuses.

For what it's worth I think West Ham will win the league. Big Sam should get them into shape and any squad with Green, Nolan, Parker, Noble, Carew and Cole in should be too strong for this division (similar to Newcastle of two seasons ago). Leicester join a long list of potential rivals who must aim to match the Hammers.

His former England apprentice, and new Reds boss, will undoubtedly be out to show we deserve to be on the list of contenders. Since my last blog we've replaced McKenna with Jonathan 'Jesus' Greening, Nathan Tyson with (effectively anyway) Andy Reid, bought in George Boateng, got Moussi on another contract and snapped up Matt Derbyshire and Ishmael Miller to replace outgoing strikers Dele Adebola and Rob Earnshaw.

You'd have to say that, like for like, the new boys do look stronger on paper and, with time, that will hopefully show on the field. We still, however, have a gaping hole at left back (a huge bugbear) and probably lack a little pace to compliment the guile of Reid, McGugan and Majewski. It's a shame that Steve's 'rabbit from the hat' (in the shape of Wesley Verhoek), didn't pay off and it seems we may be forced to turn to the loan market, especially if McClaren's favoured 4-3-3 is to work in the long term. As we've seen before loans can be pretty hit and miss (for every Nicky Shorey there's a Michael Stewart and Lee Martin around the corner!) but hopefully McClaren and co can call in a favour before the window shuts.

Steve must know though that a win tomorrow could be pretty symbolic. It's early days yet but quick points ease the pressure and winning games like this do wonders for building all important momentum. Two years ago a scrappy 1-0 away win at Plymouth, with the goal scored by Chris Gunter, started a memorable run of form for Billy Davies' Trees, but it was a victory against Newcastle at the City Ground that really seemed to convince the crowd and players alike that we were good enough to challenge. The arrival of title contenders, whatever form they may be in, is the chance to get a 'Newcastle moment'.

With West Ham, in form Southampton and then the dirty Sheep on the horizon a feelgood factor would certainly be welcome. If that helps pile the misery on our neighbours from up the A46 then that would be even better wouldn't it? It's the first big game of the season already, I can't wait...

Monday, 11 July 2011

New era needs new approach

After a summer of biting my tongue I'm back on the blog again and it's a familiar theme at Forest at the moment isn't it? We're in a transfer window and we're not really signing anyone... Shouldn't be surprised really should we? In fact I'm sure I've posted on this before - I could just copy and paste. We've still not even got a left back.

It's a pretty important summer on Trentside. The board took the decision to remove Billy Davies from the helm and install Steve McClaren and I shouldn't really let this moment pass by remarking on the excellent job the fiery Scot did at the City Ground.

Under Colin Calderwood we came up from League One and played some pretty football, but lacked nous and bite and were bullied into the relegation positions. Billy made us much more streetwise and built the framework for a top six side/squad and for that we should be eternally grateful. His home record was nothing short of astounding and the football we played at times was very good, especially in his first full season.

I feared when he arrived that Billy was the type of character that would find it all too easy to fall out with anyone and everyone he came into contact with. To an extent that was true, but not until he'd galvanised the club and made it back into a Championship outfit.

I liked Billy. He was cheeky, aggressive (you can't be a shrinking violet in this league), canny and passionate. Perhaps he sometimes didn't affect games enough with substitutions (there were often three used and not often enough a game changing outcome from that) and perhaps he was too confrontational in his attitude to signings. Still, I'm grateful for the job he did here and several games (West Brom away, Newc at home, Leicester at home from last season and Derby at home this year in particular) will live a long while in the memory.

He's replaced with Steve McClaren, a manager who has almost as much baggage as this club. The thing is while people from afar just associate us with the European Cups, Brian Clough and nothing else, people also somewhat unfairly only focus on Steve's England reign and dodgy Dutch accent.

The fact is I reckon any English born manager you'd care to name would struggle in the national hotseat. Yeah McClaren didn't cover himself in glory but you reckon Allardyce, Redknapp, Pulis for example would do better? I'm not saying he's necessarily better than those three, simply that I don't think they'd have done much better. It' too easy to blame a hapless manager for England's woes at a national level but then again that's another blog.

When it comes to our new gaffer we should focus on his successful stint as assistant manager of 'them', Man Utd and as boss at Middlesbrough and Fc Twente. He went to Wolfsburg at the wrong time - just after they surprisingly won the title.

People in the game seem able to look beyond the "Wally with the Brolly" headlines and reckon he's a good coach and manager. He should be a good capture at this level.

The club has been decisive and bold by making his appointment, but they must follow that up with similar intent in the transfer market.

From the squad that went into the run-in last time around we're short of Kelvin Wilson (who was, albeit, mysteriously injured), Nathan Tyson, Robert Earnshaw, Paul McKenna, Dele Adebola, Julian Bennett and loanees Paul Konchesky and Kris Boyd. Other than Earnshaw (who struggled with injury last season) I can't say as though I'm particularly gutted at any of those going but the fact remains that we're now donw to the bare bones when it comes to squad numbers. The still-trying-to-be-positive side of me suggests that the decks have been cleared and wage bill freed for some good McClaren signings, the cynic says we've left ourselves an awful lot to do to plug the gaps.

Th sole capture so far has, at least, been encouraging. I always loved watching Andy Reid play for us, he was absolutely superb in the Paul Hart play-off side and, when I've seen him, hasn't exactly disgraced himself in the division above. If we've replaced Tyson with Reid then surely that's an improvement? He's also a free transfer so an absolute bargain.

The question now is who/what next? There were lots of positive noises when McClaren first came, but last week that gave way to the first signs of frustration.

As far as I'm aware he still hasn't been able to get his backroom team in place (the Calderwood saga rumbles on) and seems acutely aware of the need to get at least a couple more in place before we begin playing pre-season friendlies.

There have been lots of names flying around the internet rumour mill, and some of those are exactly the sort of quality you'd hope McClaren can attract. The trouble is if we follow the blueprint of previous summers and allow Wayne Routledge, Nicky Maynard and Nicky Shorey to be the new Darren Pratley, Peter Whittingham and, well, Nicky Shorey, then we're stuffed.

From a business point of view I can see the point of our transfer panel. We don't want a manager to go crazy and waste big money on players that really aren't worth it. We want the club to make investments into good players that will flourish for years to come ala Lee Camp, Chris Gunter, Dexter Blackstock etc. But doesn't there come a point where you have to take a punt? Maybe say someone is your number one target and make sure you get them. Even if you then have to look at loans and frees for non-priority positions (Norwich and Swansea used the loan market much better than we did last year). If you appoint someone of McClaren's ability he really needs to tools at his disposal to forge a successful side. Why be decisive about a manager but not his playing staff?

I know it's easy for me to say this. It's not my money that could be wasted. But the implied mistrust of the panel fostered resentment under Davies and that cannot be allowed to take hold again. With teams in the Championship spending more on managers and players than ever it has become a super competitive market. The advantage we have over West Ham and Birmingham is that we have a settled spine that should, hopefully stay together. Leicester may be distorting the market a little with their blank chequebook but that just means we'll have to be cleverer and pick our targets wisely. The simple fact is we have to spend to just stand still, that's the way the league is now.

Much has been made of our failure to start well in the last few seasons. It's not really a surprise given the fact that two summers ago we had a lot of players to gel together and last summer we were still waiting for the missing pieces to the puzzle. Unless we give Steve some new faces soon we'll have exactly the same thing again.

I'm refusing to get too gloomy just yet. I've surprised myself at how happy I am at the McClaren appointment and Reid's return is fantastic. Once again we're in a position with Forest where we have the opportunity to build something really exciting. Too many time sin the past we've thrown those chances away. I'm desperate for it not to happen again...

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Well, we knew what to expect

So the playoffs brought with them their usual crushing disappointment. We should have expected (and probably did) that shouldn't we?

At least we got there though.

Here's to an important summer where, unlike last year and the post-Hart playoff campaign, we must build on the squad we have and finish the job.

It seems to me like Billy's going to be at the helm for another go, and that's right for the club.

What he needs is to be backed by the club and maybe allowed to make one/two 'hunch' signings that he thinks can boost the squad that bypass the acquisitions process.

At the moment that is holding us back. It's good from a business point of view not to waste oodles of cash on players before weighing up the pros and cons - but it's going to take something a little more than a sensible business approach to getting us over the final hurdle.

We STILL need a left back and could do with a wide midfielder and striker to improve the quality of the starting 11.

Plus we could be faced with something of an exodus. Nathan Tyson, Robert Earnshaw, Guy Moussi and Dele Adebola are all about to be out of contract and could join Kelvin Wilson out of the door leaving a gaping hole in the squad to be plugged.

There isn't, at the moment, the influx of fresh young stars required to fill the squad in with talented youngsters so we could be on the lookout for a fair few players before August.

Right now we're dwelling on what might have been with the playoffs. We can't afford to be dwelling on what might have been in the summer transfer window come August....

Ps: check out my rare foray into the sports pages at work for my immediate post-playoff musings

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

It's the hope that kills you....

Despite everything, it's still there. Yep, that faint whiff of hope that we might yet salvage a successful end from this frustrating season. If Forest had drifted into a position where promotion were a long distant dream last possible in the throes of a January high then I could relax now and look forward to the cricket and revelling in the tension of everyone else's finals and play offs.

Trouble is we're not yet out of it and because of that there lingers the cruel sense of hope. Win the last four (or three of them.....or maybe at a push two and two draws!!) and we could stumble into the top six. While we can still stumble I'll carry on hoping, and putting myself through the wringer every matchday.

Last Friday's game perfectly encapsulated our season. We got ourselves into a strong position, had a lot of the ball and carved some half decent chances. However, a combination of poor play, tiredness, playing the wrong team at the wrong time and bad luck consigned us to another defeat to add to a miserable looking formbook.

It was one of those games that, from the stands, was incredibly frustrating. Why couldn't Konchesky make the most of his room on the left? Why couldn't Moussi's shot creep inside the post? Why couldn't McGugan's mesmerising dribbles bring reward? Why did we not mark Holt more tighlty for his header? Why did Tyson hit his second half shot so hard it nearly ended in Portman Road? Why did McGoldrick seem too worried about being offside when he fluffed that one in the first half?

It would seem the answer to those is a combination of the fact that we're not good enough to go up this time around and that the luck needed to propel us back into the top six isn't with us.

Also, in my last blog I pointed to the importance of Moussi and McGugan in the run in. While Lewis was electric at times at Carrow Road, especially in the first hour, his French midfield counterpart showed his lack of match sharpness by getting outjumped by Holt for the first goal and losing Surman's run for the second. Probably not a fair reflection of the Mousse's talents for any Premier League scouts watching the soon-to-be out of contract player.

That assessment is probably harsh on a Norwich side who tightened up much better in the second half and saw the game out pretty professionally. They had a front two who gave us headaches all night through a combination of the pace and movement of Simeon Jackson and the strength and presence of Grant 'The One The Got Away' Holt.

Those two were ably assisted by a midfield who were primed to ping through balls to their willing front runners and kept Wes and Chambers on their toes all match.

The whole club felt as thought it had the right vibe to go forwards. The crowd were vocal and positive, the players lively and energetic despite three games in a week, the manager knew how to change things and the set up seems to be geared towards riding the crest of this current wave.

Of course the Premier League would be a massive, massive jump that may be beyond many of the individuals on show last week. I'm sure there are plenty of teams who would've been more incisive with the ball when in the positions Forest got themselves into once you reach the top tier. Pace, strength and enthusiasm won't be enough to overcome class.

But you can't get away from the fact that the Canaries have the right sort of feel about them for promotion.

We, on the other hand, don't. We're only two points off the play offs but it'll be a big ask to find the verve and energy needed to recreate the form from the turn of the year.

Sven's big spenders should prove a massive test of whether that can be done. Chris Cohen's return brings some welcome fresh legs to the midfield, him aside, Billy and co need to wave a magic wand to pick the rest of the squad up.

Of course, if we could pick up a win in a local derby (even if it's not the real one) on Friday, it'd be a huge lift for everyone involved and could bounce us back into life.

That's the hope talking again. If there's still some left after Easter it could be one hell of a finish to the season....

Sunday, 20 March 2011

M&M key for the run in

So here we are. The international break is upon us. Slightly worryingly fans and players alike seem to have been looking forward to this two-week breather for rather too long now. I think I heard Billy talk about 'just getting to the break' four games ago and I worried then about what that must mean for our physical state. Perhaps unsurprisingly we haven't won any of the games that followed.

There's no denying that we are limping along at the moment, and have been ever since a scintillating win against Cardiff on Trentside.

It seems a long time since we had our destiny in our own hands. We're seven points behind a Norwich side that just keeps pulling superb wins out of the bag, with no games in hand and a mountain to climb.

So how can we arrest the slide? To me the key is with two midfield 'Ms'.

Firstly, Moussi. Guy was in imperious form before the Coventry away game - and heroically even managed to set up a goal after he picked up his injury in that game.

He's previously been a frustrating figure - doing two/three amazing bits of skill before mislaying a five yard pass. However, he finally seemed to have settled into Billy's first 11 - cutting out those costly errors and giving us a physical presence and energy in the middle of the park that ground opposition sides down.

Some fans have gone too far to declare the decline of McKenna. True, his legs struggle to last 90 minutes these days but he does still cajole, organise and lead the side well. That said, there's no doubting that a midfield with him in instead of Moussi has lacked a bite and energy that has seen us struggle to dominate the crucial centre ground.

With a bit of luck the giant Frenchman will be able to return to action after the break and, if he can pick up his post-injury form straight away, it will give the side a massive lift.

Secondly, we're in need of a bit of magic from McGugan. At one point in the season Lewis' spectacular strikes were the only thing keeping us going, but he's faded badly as the grind of two games a week has taken its toll.

Some label him lazy, and it's true that sometimes he doesn't seem to have his head in the game, but the simple fact is we will not go anywhere this season if McGugan does not rediscover his form. He still sits at the top of our goalscoring charts and, if I remember rightly, has had the most shots on/off target.

With tight games to come against Leeds, Reading, Burnley, Leicester and Norwich we need his talent to come to the fore whether it be through a long-range blockbuster goals or a defence splitting passes. We're badly missing a bit of vision and class in the middle of the park. He's shown he can fulfill that role and if he can come back strong and do it again the season could still be salvaged.

Of course there's no guarantee that even with those two firing we'll be lining up in the top division next season. But their return from injury and poor form respectively would help arrest the alarming slide that, if allowed to continue, would soon see us drop away from the play off picture completely.

Depending on how you look at it the fixtures I mentioned above they either offer a massive obstacle to our promotion goal or give us the chance to take precious points off the teams around us. I guess that depends on whether your glass is half full or empty.

In the wake of our recent slump we are all searching for a positive. I suppose for me it's that we're always better chasing a position/team than we are holding on to it, and better when the expectation is off. Given the unpredicatability of this division nothing can be ruled out just yet.

Still, it must be said that our form needs a drastic change for the season to end on a happy note and I remain convinced that we need Moussi and McGugan fit and on form for that to happen...

Monday, 3 January 2011

Festive feast for here's to a good January for a change

So, 7 points from 9 over Christmas/New Year, not bad eh? Oh, and the little matter of THAT win against THEM!

I guess it really is time to move on now but then again a 5-2 walloping against the dirty sheep doesn't come along often enough does it?

It was superb to see the City Ground rocking, to see Marcus Tudgay and Robert Earnshaw return to haunt their former employers, to see Shaun Barker, Dean Leacock and Dean Moxey look like donkeys off Skegness beach for whom football is something merely to pass the time in the winter before another summer season, and to generally witness a passionate tubthumping display from a team who seemed to care just like us.

We've reached higher standards at times in the last two seasons, but it's hard to imagine a better feeling after the final whistle as after that game. Unforgettable.

So, gloating over with, it was always going to be difficult to top that - and we have stuttered a little. What's pleasing is that, despite not really clicking in either of the following two games, we've battled back to earn a useful point against Barnsley and have toughed out an away win at Ipswich. Both the types of games that, as cliche dictates, you need to get something from to progress from this division.

The question is - what now? Do we kick on, grab a well-poised league by the scruff of the neck and get up to the Premier League or do we have a month of squabbling between board and manager, sign nobody, get some injuries, fade and finish in mid table. With Forest it could be either couldn't it?

Some signs for the dreaded January window aren't too bad. Marcus Tudgay's loan was "with a view to a permanent" so you'd hope that his capture could be sealed with relative ease. American Robbie Findley also only needs a work permit to check in on Trentside. I don't know much about him but most report suggest he has the type of pace to trouble defenders at this level.

Then there's the transfer rumours - with bids supposedly in for the likes of Adam Hammill, Steve Morison and Jay Emmanuel Thomas (presumably a loan from Arsene as a thank you for not destroying boy wonder Ramsey!). Any of those would do nicely please Transfer Acquisitions Panel.

But then, as always, there is the dark cloud of doubt. First, we don't do January windows do we? In fact we mostly seem to end up worse off after the door slams shut (not signing Shorey, letting Southall go etc etc).

Then there's the rumours about our players. Wilson seems Celtic bound leaving our defensive cover paper thin (goodness know what would happen if Big Wes or the vastly improved Chambers should get injured). There's also the talk about players whose contracts are up in the summer either having no word from the club (sounds about right if you remember Commons-gate) or being asked to take a pay cut (according to the Daily Mirror). Either way it doesn't sound good for dressing room harmony when all eyes should be on the matters on the field.

Being a cynic, I also worry that the glorious night against the sheep could be this year's "West Brom away". That game last year seemed to sow seeds of doubt in the club's minds that we needed any signings - because we were so good. The sad fact was that no-one beyond the starting 11 stepped up and shone in the run in. Being doubly cynical you could say that Hammill is this year's Moses - a player we chase with no chance of getting, who ends up at Wigan.

Then there's all this talk of Billy being linked with taking up the hot seat at Preston, Burnley etc. It all seems like rubbish but, at a time when the confidence of the players seems good it is something else we could do without.

I really believe a solid January could propel us to a promotion push.

QPR look well set but let's face it are not world beaters. Beyond them Cardiff have their usual jitters, Swansea don't have the firepower to back up their mesmerising passing play and Leeds and Norwich may well over-extend themselves in their first year back at this level. Both have done superbly well, but both are not the finished article.

Then there's a pack of teams from 'hot and cold' Watford, to 'big money' Leicester, unsung Reading, managerless Burnley, underrated Donny and 5/6 more - including us - that could, realistically get in the top 6.

With a splash of backroom stability, one/two signings (a left back being a must yet again) and a bit of luck we could even go one better.

The Championship is unpredicatable, Forest are even more so. I'd just like not to be looking back at this moment as the high point. January could be so important for that not to be the case.