Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Sod's Seven

You can take a good thing for granted can't you? Rewind 12 months at the City Ground and Steve McClaren had already made his first few noises about not being able to bring in the players he wanted to re-shape the squad. Expensive players had arrived in the shape of Ishmael Miller, Matt Derbyshire and Jonathan Greening but it was clear that the brolly wielding supremo wanted and expected more.

The embarrassing and slightly baffling non-signing of Wesley Verhoek and long and unsuccessful courtship of Wayne Routledge had just transpired and it was clear (with the benefit of hindsight of course) that all was not hunky dory with the new managerial regime.

Rewind 24 months and a certain wee Scot was busy 'recommending and advising' til the cows came home to our much-maligned and probably only half understood transfer acquisitions panel. We got the now Team GB left back Ryan Bertrand on loan but Billy was grumbling about not building on the previous season's so-near-yet-so-far play-off bid and again a lack of new faces was proving troubling.

On that evidence it's a minor miracle that the Al-Hasawi/O'Driscoll regime has conjured up seven signings, seemingly with the minimum of fuss, in a shortened post-takeover summer. On the face of it we've got no expensive donkeys and don't appear to have been ripped off either. It doesn't feel quite right does it?!

To be fair the sensible spree was born out of absolute necessity. With Garath McCleary, Joel Lynch, Luke Chambers, Paul Anderson, Chris Gunter joining last season's loan rangers out of the exit door (added to January's survival funding sale of stalwart Wes Morgan) it was beginning to look like we might be fielding the Robin Hood mascot at centre half.

Something about O'Driscoll just oozes calm though and he's dug up three Daniels - Ayala, Harding and Collins - as well as Greg Halford to begin to forge a decent looking back line. Halford may feature in midfield, with Brendan Moloney getting a deserved chance to step up leaving Jamal Lascelles and a seemingly Sheep bound Kieron Freeman as back up as things stand. All four signings have a decent pedigree, have played at this level, are a good age and have the ability to play O'Driscoll's brand of football. SOD certainly seems to be owed considerable praise for tempting a reportedly reluctant Daniel Ayala to make the switch back to the Championship from Norwich in a season long loan. The Liverpool schooled Spaniard seems to be very well thought of so it's something of a coup to get his services.

If the defence does gel it will be some achievement. It does at least appear as though Lynch, Chambers and Gunter have been adequately replaced. Big Wes still leaves big boots to fill when it comes to the physical, ugly stuff - hopefully Collins has got the sizeable feet required to do just that. SOD is no mug and will be all-too-aware that defenders who are good on the ball are fine but there are plenty of wars to be won against robust forward lines in the weeks and months to come. The physical test of Championship football alone would suggest the squad is at least one defender short of being fit for a 46-game campaign.

Adlene Guedioura's capture has perhaps caught the eye most, mainly for the way he lit up our relegation fight when borrowed from Wolves last season. I'm itching to see what he can do given more time - if he, Reid and McGugan can spark off each other we may be in for some mouthwatering play in the middle.

He's joined in the midfield by free transfer Simon Gillett. His capture was reportedly a close shave but should add some cutting edge and was definitely the best Oman (Al-Hasawi) could get. Ok, that was poor and predictable but it's out of my system now I promise! In all seriousness I've always liked the look of Simon at Doncaster. He's got a classy touch and good eye for a pass and I'm sure the likes of Reid, Guedioura, McGugan and Majewski will relish playing with someone like him. I'll be interested to see how SOD deploys him, Moussi and the the soon-to-return Cohen but I do think he adds a little something else that might make all the difference in a tight midfield battle.

The seventh signing saw Simon Cox check in from West Brom. SOD will be hoping that the 25-year-old can show the freescoring pedigree from his Swindon Town days after what must have been a frustrating time on the sidelines with the Baggies - playing odd games and mostly in midfield when given a chance. Anyone who has seen some of the goals he put away for the Robins will have witnessed he has an eye for a goal and I'm excited to see if he can be a foil for the hardworking Blackstock.

So seven up... but is it enough? Perhaps the greatest loss to the squad was a player who has yet to be replaced in Garath McCleary. Garath finally fulfilled his considerable potential last season and there's no denying in my mind that we'd have been a League One club again had it not been for his dazzling displays under Steve Cotterill. You can't begrudge Garath a go at the Premier League but his departure, coupled with that of Paul Anderson (who always flattered to deceive for me) leaves only Andy Reid who can play in a wide midfield berth. It's yet to be seen if triallist Franck Moussa will be snapped up (presumably to the annoyance of commentators who would be tongue-tied by a Moussa-Moussi one-two) but the winger's position is undoubtedly a missing piece of the jigsaw ahead of the first league fixture this weekend. I worry that without a bit of pace on the flanks we might become easy to 'crowd out', especially at home.

So another defender or two and at least one winger needed? Like I said at the start it's easy to take this signings business for granted!

Not since Billy's first summer have we seen so many new signings check in on Trentside - and several of his were loanees coming back for a permanent spell. Aided by the fact that many of his new faces were not new to the club, the fiery Glaswegian added Paul McKenna and some forward firepower and conjured up a brilliant third place. With a new back four to bed in and some pieces of the jigsaw still to find it'd be a big ask for SOD to replicate that feat. In fact, defensively in particular, I think we should expect a very slow start (well we always get one anyway don't we??) as SOD not only searches for his favoured starting eleven but also looks to impose his own style on the club.

The canny little tactical tinker with Greg Halford on Monday against Fleetwood is a good sign that he's starting to find ways to win with what he has already. We'll need a bit more of that, another player or two and some luck as we head into the league fixtures. It's difficult to know what to expect from this Forest side this season. It'll be fun to find out just what they are made of though...roll on Saturday.

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