Monday, 2 November 2015

Is history repeating itself at Forest? If so, which bit?

They say history repeats itself. But the trouble with trying to learn the lessons of history is that you never know which bits are relevant until it’s too late.

Today, Paul Taylor pointed out in the Post in black and white how patience was required when Brian Clough first walked through the door at the City Ground. I’ve written for Seat Pitch before on how these days – and with our current owner – you doubt Clough would have been given the chance to make his miracle come true.

Yet, while the Clough example might show the benefit that could be had from a little patience no-one is suggesting Freedman could pull off anything remotely close to the heroics of Old Big ‘Ead. There’s a reason for the word ‘miracle’ in the film title after all.

I’m torn between two more recent – and perhaps more relevant – chapters in Forest’s past when searching for evidence of what should be done next.

Is this season reminiscent of Paul Hart’s first campaign in charge in 2001/02? Dogged by financial problems (FFP may be different but is also restrictive in the transfer market) Hart tried to rebuild after the failure of David Pl**.

Hart’s side struggled for goals with just 12 wins, 18 draws and 16 defeats. The struggle was particularly marked after the turn of the year when, thanks to a ridiculous bonus structure in Stern John’s contract, Hart was forced to offload the 14-goal frontman.

The difference now is that Dougie Freedman is robbed of his top scorer – a better player in Britt Assombalonga – through injury. But, he’s without him nevertheless.

In fact, after the start of 2002, Hart’s men won just 3 of 20 league and cup games, scoring just 19 goals and losing nine times. Sound like a familiar run of form? Dougie has 3 wins in his last 22 league games.

Through circumstance Hart was forced to turn to youth, a policy that it appeared our embargo might cause in 2015/16. The blossoming talents of David Prutton, Michael Dawson, Andy Reid and Gareth Williams brought hope amid the gloom. They learned from the experience and came back stronger to form the backbone of the 2002/3 play-off push.

But what was the lesson of that season? Well, this was a case of patience being the order of the day. Such was the financial situation – and the very real threat of administration had Jermaine Jenas not been offloaded to Newcastle – that Hart did well to steady the ship and bring his kids through. After the storm was weathered we went on to turn on the style in a memorable campaign.

So, if we are to follow this blueprint, you might draw two lessons: stick with Freedman but do more to integrate and develop the kids at the expense of loan rangers.

To be fair to Freedman, this current crop of youngsters aren’t as good as those of 14 years ago – but if we’re being blunt the likes of Walker, Osborn, Grant and Oliver Burke might as well be used ahead of O’Grady, Trotter etc.

But, what of another side from the not-too-distant past? When Colin Calderwood brought us back to the Championship in 2008 there was a great deal of excitement after the grim struggles in League One.

Yet Calderwood’s charges displayed a worrying resemblance to Freedman’s current crop in a couple of respects: they continually ‘played well and lost’ and were often outdone by more streetwise sides with a greater degree of Championship ‘nous’.

That lack of ‘nous’ was arguably what cost us better results against Hull, Middlesbrough, Ipswich, Bolton and Huddersfield as Freedman’s ‘nearly but not quite’ narrative played out all too often.

Calderwood won four of 25 games and lost 12, including a Boxing Day battering by Doncaster that cost the Scot his job.

If Calderwood’s side is the better parallel with this season then we all know what the remedy was that time.

Now, before you think I’ve lost it completely don’t worry. I’m not calling for the return of Billy Davies. I’m really not. But it’s hard to deny that the change of management worked on that occasion. Davies dragged us up to the standard required for Championship football, adding a harder edge and that much-needed ‘nous’.

Perhaps, if this is the analogy you prefer then we do need a leader who can add that quality to the current line-up?

Of course, no two teams or eras are exactly the same. I think the Hart and Calderwood sides were similar but there are clearly differences.

Maybe the lesson comes not from within the club but from others in the division? Chris Hughton’s Brighton, Steve Clarke’s Reading (in the league at least) and Russell Slade’s Cardiff all struggled last term but are thriving now that their managers have had time to build their sides.

The problem with looking backwards is that is allows us the one thing we don’t have in the present – hindsight. Whether Hart’s side, Calderwood’s team, the early days of Clough or another club enitely offers us a salient lesson or two probably depends on how you view Freedman and the current set up.

One thing is for certain – Freedman will soon need a result or two to avoid this being the end of yet another managerial chapter at the City Ground.

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