Monday, 19 October 2015

Forest face daunting tests against Burnley and Ipswich

These are crazy times in the Football League. Uwe Rösler being sacked and replaced by Steve Evans? Swindon sacking Mark Cooper and, temporarily at least, appointing the chairman? It used to be called the managerial merry-go-round yet that makes it sound rather too placid doesn't it? There's nothing merry about it. The firing range would be a more apt description.

Yet, sadly, you can see how quickly the spotlight can fall on any manager. When 1-0 up at Huddersfield, Dougie Freedman was riding high. Buoyed by some decent late business on deadline day, the Scot won two games on the bounce and gave title contenders Middlesbrough a run for their money in a match that should have brought a point. Even when the post denied Chris Burke a goal to double the lead and a goal line clearance stopped Chris O'Grady opening his account, things looked comfortable. Even still, when a wicked deflection from a thunderous long range effort flew in to level at 1-1 we still came away with a point. Freedman had suffered just one defeat in four after the deadline day loss of Michail Antonio, a return that not many had predicted.

That Huddersfield game was followed by yet another home encounter in which we mounted a good performance against a promotion contender and were unlucky to lose. Abel Hernandez's header for Hull looked a borderline offside call and a point from an entertaining game would surely have been a fair reward.

Yet context is very quickly forgotten in football these days. The performances against Boro and Hull were positive for large parts, yet, when added to Friday night's dismal defeat to Bristol City, they now form part of a run of three wins in the last 19 league games.

No matter that we played well in games, no matter that we had 11 players missing on Friday night and no matter that that stat includes 8 largely meaningless games towards the end of the last campaign. Those factors simply aren't considered when the stats are laid bare.

The other issue for Freedman is that Friday night's performance, particularly the opening 20 minutes, was so poor that it did much to spoil the good work of the previous matches. An out-of-position, and rusty, Danny Fox and two injury prone centre halves in Kelvin Wilson and Jack Hobbs looked completely lost as the rampant hosts pushed for their first home win of the campaign and raced into a 2-0 lead.

With the midfield providing no screen for the struggling defence, Forest made Aaron Wilbraham look like a Knutsford Didier Drogba and Luke Freeman like Andres Iniesta with a woman's hair cut.

Credit must go to the hosts for such a forceful start, but the fact we couldn't see this out - and could have conceded more - was frightening. Were it not for Dorus De Vries and Daniel Pinillos you feared an Alistair Cook-esque cricket score.

From then on we did gradually improve but, as a friend at the game said, this was (at least in part) because the home side had done their job and played within themselves to avoid letting the three points slip. They saw it out well and largely restricted us to potshots as our goal-shy attack continued to struggle to find the back of the net.

Ordinarily you'd relish the chance to put right such a performance. Yet Sean Dyche's fifth placed Burnley and a Mick McCarthy-led Ipswich outfit looks a tough double header at any time, let alone when you're struggling at home.

Neither of the two visitors are quite as strong on the road as at home, but both arrive with genuine promotion ambitions and offering tough tests of our side's physical, tactical and footballing ability. Dougie would, I'm sure, snap your hands off at two performances that are worse than those against Hull and Boro but bear greater fruit. He knows the points column is where he'll ultimately be judged.

I personally think it's fairly daft to consider Freedman - with the FFP noose around his neck - to be under pressure at this moment. Equally, though, it's daft to think that Fawaz wouldn't pull the trigger prematurely.

Football management has never come with such a short shelf life. As I've said before, Brian Clough's start of two wins in his first 17 matches at Forest would probably have earned him the sack long before the miraculous European adventures began had this current climate existed in the late 70s. Many people are laughing at Leeds and Swindon today, I merely wince and fear what might come closer to home.

Dougie has shown that he knows his way around the financial restrictions we must operate within. He's recruited well and been a lot less defensive than people have given him credit for (the lack of goals comes despite more shots than anyone else in the Championship). He's hasn't got every decision right and he's got a lot of work to do but he needs to be given a fair chance.

I just hope he can get some results at home this week so that he's got something tangible to hold onto - and not just the context of performances and circumstances.

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