Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The never-ending saga of the Nottingham Forest injury list

Here we are in limbo-land. No, not the 'in between Christmas and New Year' period - the 'in between owners' period. Yet, with Fawaz seemingly heading for the exit door and the Americans yet to formally arrive, someone has left on a stuck record playing out in the City Ground. Sadly, it's the all-too-familiar 'injury album' that we're hearing on loop.

Photo: Jack Torcello, Flickr

A month ago I tried to look at how our injury crisis compared to that of others. You can catch up with it here or, to save time, the conclusion was that yes, our injury situation does seem to be abnormally bad.

At that point 17 different first team squad players had suffered an injury this season. Since then we've seen Eric Lichaj, Joe Worrall, Henri Lansbury, Ben Osborn, Pajtim Kasami and Lica have all picked up injuries of varying degrees.

So, to recap, we're now up to 23 different players having suffered injuries after just 23 games. Even with my maths I can work out that that's one for every game. It's a number so high that Ceefax would have to spell it out with words.

It's now easier to list off the first team squad members who haven't been injured. I make it: Vladimir Stojkovic, Hildeberto Pereira, Jorge Grant, Nicolao Dumitru and Apostolos Vellios. Just five players yet to succumb to injury. Five players and counting.

It's also worth noting that I'm not even sure the five above haven't had a knock. Pereira has a handy suspension every few weeks to rest himself up while Grant and Dumitru are in and out of the matchday squad. If either of them were to be missing through injury we wouldn't know and neither of these players would ideally be named in a first choice XI or bench. Vellios is often 'rotated' too. Again, I've presumed this is based on preference not injury.

The injury farce is a motif for the shambolic running of the club. Recruitment has been poor, off-field solutions haven't been forthcoming and desperation on the pitch has presumably led to key players being rushed back. Just like the takeover, the injury crisis isn't over yet. See you next month for another whinge?

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Derby County vs Nottingham Forest: As it happened

I've decided to try something new for the big game today - an 'as live' account of the thoughts that go through my head during a game. I expect it'll be a mix of the irrational and nonsensical. I'm genuinely typing as I go, so I've no idea what awaits. Here goes...

11.30: Right, we're live on Sky. Again. Let's hope it ends up the same as the last three. The team news has already been pored over and, remarkably, it's an unchanged XI. The first time this season. Britt doesn't even make the bench and he continues to be a real worry. I'm slightly surprised he hasn't gone for Vellios over Bendtner for 'work rate' reasons but we've got to hope The Lord is going to get sharper with more game time. I fear today is the day that our luck runs out, I just hope I'm wrong. Frankly, I'm never confident about these games.

11.35: Psycho is on punditry. What. A. Man. If only he were playing...

11.45: Hang on, Henri is injured in the warm up. Just our luck. That's now 20 different players injured this season (I wrote about the issue here). This really needs sorting. Carayol in to replace him - so much for an unchanged team.

Kick off: Derby trying to nick Seven Nation Army off the Germans. Never mind, fits our Bobby Zamora song nicely.

2: Why do you always need the loo as soon as the game starts? Could be a long half.

3: Chance to break down the right but Cash can't quite find the cross. Bendtner pulling right and causing a little confusion. Interesting.

5: A Tom Ince shank (love those!) gives us the ball for a break. Carayol marauds but inexplicably shoots right up someone's backside when he should've passed. Frustrating.

7: Who are Avon Tyres and why is their logo bigger than the player names on the Sheep shirts? Tinpot or a sign of what's needed to make money in this grubby old game these days?

9: First flashpoint. Bradley Johnson and Ben Osborn involved in some early handbags. Ben did foul him but Johnson plonked his sizeable backside on Benny. Both booked.

10: Another break and we do look dangerous. Carayol, though, again fails to make the killer pass. Can't let too many of these opportunities go.

11: Turns out Bent and Perquis were also booked during the Osborn/Johnson melee. For an 'aggressive attitude'. Don't put your house on that being the end of the cards.

14: Lots of stray passes. Oh for David Vaughan...

15: Bent ends up sprawled on the floor from a cross. Heart in mouth moment but he was miles away from Mills. Phew.

16: Shambolic defending leaves Keogh a free header that he, luckily, does little with. He might cry...

20: Olsson is dangerous, as we've seen in this fixture before. He skips passed Cash but can't get his cross past Perquis.

21: Bendtner is still pulling wide which is allowing him to pick up the ball in space. Trouble is, we need him in the middle too...

25: Derby are getting A LOT of the ball in our half and we're sinking deeper and deeper. We can spring forward though and a Carayol shot forces a corner. It's wasted though. Another opportunity passed up.

26: Dangerous Derby break ends up with a late challenge from Bent on Lichaj. He's already been booked. Is this? Could this? Will it? No, just a free kick. Forest fans in good voice, keep it up lads.

31: Olsson down but it was a good challenge. Derby can't complain, they set the tone for not kicking the ball out in these games after all.

32: Balls. Double balls. Derby score. An own goal by Bendtner from a corner. Ruddy hell. Something of a freak goal. Now we'll see what we're made of. Wonder where they got the idea of 'Chelsea Dagger' for goal music?

35: Forest are losing, sing the Derby fans. Good at maths that lot. Fear they could have more to sing about soon, we've gone into our shell.

37: Perquis fluffs a header and nearly lets Bent in. Nerves continue to jangle.

39: Lam roams forward and feeds Kasami on the edge of the box for the lamest of efforts. It's our first shot on target but it barely deserves to count. I really don't have any confidence in Kasami.

40: Another corner for them and another worrying moment. We don't do 'calm' do we?

42: Osborn is getting no time on the ball at all. They know they need to cut him out of the game and they're doing it well.

44: Bendtner 'makes sure' of a challenge to win a free kick. Good opportunity...

45: Osborn takes and it's tamely headed to Carson. Tame is the word to describe our end product at the moment.

46: Ince comes to the left and finds a cross to Russell who can't quite finish the header. Worrying.

46: The game has livened up. A Mills flick-on causes chaos - for us as much as them - but somehow comes to Cash who strikes a sweet shot that is saved by Carson. Nothing tame about that - a good hit and our best effort.

HALF TIME: And breathe. We've been here before. They led at half time to an own goal from a corner a couple of years ago - could it happen again? Let's cling to that hope. On the other hand, it seems set up for a 3-0 with a red card to Osborn.

Right, I've had some toast, I've got a cup of tea, I've had a wee. I'm ready for the second half, are you?!

Coral offering 10/1 on Bendtner to score next. Hmm, in which end?

Second half begins after 'Welcome to the jungle' blares out. Hang on, wasn't that one we used to use too? Still, might offend some people here, but that song is utter garbage isn't it? Overrated. Plus, they don't have rams in jungles do they?

49: Carayol is playing further back now which seems odd. Why not put Vaughan there? Just as I type Carayol gives the ball away and Lam picks up a booking for a foul.

52: Free kick in and Bendtner - again! - heads to goal. He hits the post. Flaming heck. Any chance of aiming the right way Nick. Would Coral have paid out?!

54: Christ. Mr Man of the Match himself scores. Superb ball from Baird bisects the defence and, to be fair, it's a top quality finish. He can't resist celebrating towards the Forest fans of course - every bit as annoying as his dad. You fear that's us done and dusted here. Changes needed Philippe.

57: Cash blazes a ball half way back down the A52 and we're struggling to piece together an attacking move. Got to be more assured on the ball or this could become embarrassing.

59: Carayol displays the touch of a man who hasn't got a clue where he's playing. Don't worry Muzzy, no-one else knows either. He's replaced by Vellios. Did Mancienne signal for a back four?

61: More blocks than a high level on Tetris as we just, just, keep Derby at bay. It's a bit desperate right now. Need to settle.

63: Bugger, again. They're ripping us to shreds now. Kasami and Lam all at sea. Good save from Stojkovic to stop Russell but Hughes pounces to make it 3. Need to change things in the middle.

68: Sky flash up a graphic to say they've had 28 touches in our area, we've had 4 in theirs. Thanks Sky.

69: On comes Pereira. Will he make it to the end of the game without getting sent off?

71. Vydra on for Bent. Vydra. We all know what happens next right?

73: A slow, lingering, painful death. We can't seem to mount a sustained an dangerous attack and the formation is a bit of a mess. Cash is on a one-man mission to make something happen but can't.

77: Why does Kasami underhit so many passes? How does he get a place in the team? Not good enough.

80: Tepid shot from Kasami. Add that to 'tame' on the Kasami word list.

83: Vaughan lives! Here he is at last! Remarkably it's for Cash.

86: Pereira gets his head down and keeps running. Sadly, like the rest of our play, there is little direction and it fizzles out. He hasn't got booked yet though.

88: Vaughan has shown more composure in five minutes than the rest of the midfield. Really should have started this game.

90: I'd forgotten Bendtner was on. I think he had forgotten too.

92: *Irony klaxon* Tom Ince named man of the match.

94: That's all folks. A very forgettable affair. Sadly looked like a lower mid table side taking on a top six contender. Need some points at home to put this behind us. Feared our luck was going to run out today  and it did. You can't be so careless on the ball and keep winning games. Gutted. Let's never speak of this again.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Do Forest really get more injuries than other teams?

Everyone thinks their own club is special, right? Football is not a sport that does perspective well and it's easy for fans of every team to think that their predicament is the worst.

We've presumably all laughed at the fans of Premier League top six teams such as Arsenal, Liverpool or Spurs when they dial up and moan about their teams' deficiencies on football phone-ins. I once heard a Liverpool fan call Talk Sport at half time to demand that Brendan Rodgers was sacked because his side was behind to Aston Villa. They won that game. Let's face it, if you had a pound for every time someone has called for Arsene Wenger to be sacked you'd, well, be able to afford a ticket to see his Arsenal team, probably.

A month ago I asked why Forest have had so many injuries. At that point I totted up that the first 13 league games of the season had seen 11 players taken off during a match as a result of injury. Just five games up until that point had been played out without a substitution due to an injury.

But, was I falling into the lack of perspective trap that catches those poor, hard done to, Premier League fans? Is Forest's injury crisis actually any worse than any other club's? All fans, and all managers, bemoan injuries in the same way that we all always want at least one or two more signings.

Well, firstly, it's hard to tell just how bad the situation is at every club in the Championship. At face value, the data doesn't seem that easy to come by (unless anyone knows of a good source?).

However, this sort of information is more readily available in the Premier League. Last January 15, the BBC ran a story in conjunction with PhysioRoom which featured a league table based on the number of 'days missed' through injury. Again, I don't hold this data for Forest this season but the table also showed the total number of players injured for each of the Premier League clubs, something we have half a chance of comparing.

Top of the table - with the fewest injuries - were Watford, Leicester, Norwich and Swansea with nine injured players apiece. Worst off were the two Manchester clubs, with 20 each, Liverpool and Stoke with 19 and the two North East clubs with 18.

Later, The Independent was one of a number of news outlets to report the fact that Leicester suffered just 18 injuries all season.

How about now? Well, PhysioRoom, where the press seems to get its data on this, shows that Hull and Watford are currently worst off in the top flight with seven injuries each.

So, what about Forest? By my reckoning at least 17 different players have suffered injuries of some form this season: Dorus De Vries, Stephen Henderson, Daniel Pinillos, Michael Mancienne, Matt Mills, Armand Traore, Danny Fox, Jack Hobbs, Damien Perquis, Thomas Lam, Chris Cohen, Muzzy Carayol, David Vaughan, Matty Cash, Matty Fryatt, Britt Assombalonga and Niklas Bendtner.

I fear I may well have missed someone too (have Dumitru and Lica had knocks?) and we're told that Eric Lichaj is a doubt for the Barnsley game.

In total, 32 different players have worn the Garibaldi Red this season and, by my reckoning, a Lichaj injury would mean that at least 16 of those have been injured (with Hobbs and Fryatt yet to start). Two of those are among the players now out on loan too (with Jamie Ward injured) and four have left the club. You could say that 15 of the 25 players who are currently on the books and have played a league game will have been injured should Eric miss out.

There's a chance that Pinillos, Lichaj, Traore, Hobbs, Cohen, Vaughan, Cash, Fryatt, Bendtner and Assombalonga could all be missing for the trip to Oakwell if those 'in doubt' don't quite make it for this game.

If that were the case, it would be ten players missing for Phillippe Montanier. Previouefore the Reading game it was said that nine players were out.

Again, it's a shame we can't compare like-for-like but we can say:
  • Forest seem to have more current injuries than any Premier League team
  • Half of the first team squad has been injured at least once already this season
  • If Lichaj is out, then the 18 different injured players we've had would represent a higher rate than 14 of the 20 Premier League clubs had suffered by mid January last season
  • Leicester only suffered 18 separate injuries last season. With some of our players suffering two or three knocks already then our total is well into the 20s before the half way point of 2016/17.
So, while we can't say with absolute certainty that Forest's is the worst injury crisis, the evidence I can find shows that it must at least be among the worst. The picture is still extremely bleak even when compared to others and shows no real sign of improving.

It is certainly enough to suggest that something really ought to be done about the issue. Peter Blackburn probably summed it up best with this tweet:

He's right, we have to look at all of those things to see if they're contributing to the numbers. If we can get the level of injuries down, even to an average level, that would at least help matters on the pitch. We're at the stage now where, as I argued on Seat Pitch, we need to recruit in January because we can't afford to rely on players plagued by injury.

On this issue, it doesn't seem like we've lost our sense of perspective. The injury problem is real and needs to be addressed. It has to be one of the top priorities for any buyer of the club and cannot afford to get lost amid any change that is hopefully on the horizon.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Daniel Taylor's book shows pre-Clough parallels with present day

After last Saturday's televised disaster against Cardiff City I felt it was high time to finally pluck Daniel Taylor's I Believe In Miracles from the shelf. I can't have been the only Forest fan in need of cheering up after that display. This, I felt, was bound to do the trick. Taylor is a top class journalist and letting him loose on the material from Jonny Owen's magnificent film was bound to be a winning combination.

Indeed, so it proved. It was great fun, superbly put together and provided plenty of laughs along the way. While fans might well have been over the events of these years a fair few times in the past there was still scope for something new (for me at least) along the way.

The book doesn't just re-tell the film either. While Owen made the most of the footage - particularly Clough at his sparkling best - and an excellent soundtrack, Taylor's book makes the most of the opportunities a book provides.

Perhaps the best example of this comes in the early chapters - and it was here that there were some eerie parallels with the club's current predicament.

When Clough breezed into the City Ground crowds had declined (even dipping below 8,000), the ground was in dire need of a little TLC, the club wasn't being run in a professional way, the left back position was a problem and the best talents had left.

On that last point, Taylor quotes Clough's assessment on arrival that:
"One of the greatest tragedies, to my mind, is the way quality players have been allowed to leave over the last five or six years."
As Premier League winning Wes Morgan, England squad member Michail Antonio and Bundesliga high flyer Oliver Burke all show, Clough could well have been describing the club right now.

Fawaz's failed ownership makes the committee of the 1970s look like the board of a FTSE 100 company, yet its clear that leadership off the field is a problem shared by both eras. While the ground and the crowds it attracts might also be talking points now we can, at least be grateful for the fact that we're not yet at 8,000 nor are we in need of a cat to chase away mice on the terraces.

Then there's the team of 75. That early Clough line-up is described by Taylor as a 'tired, depressed side with low morale and a tendency to slip into basic ineptitude' and as an outfit that conceded 'all manner of goals'. The lines could've been taken from Saturday's match report.

The situation in 1975 makes the success by the end of the decade all the more remarkable. Yet we can also see that Clough did struggle to get going at the start.

After winning his first match, Clough didn't garner a victory in any of the next 15 fixtures. Even after a year in charge, Clough's record was a meagre 11 wins in 41 matches. I've written before (for Seat Pitch here) how those sorts of numbers in the modern day would have earned Clough the sack from Fawaz (and a fair few other chairmen to be fair).

It's a point Taylor makes too. He writes:
"Clough was probably fortunate it was not the era of knee-jerk chairmen, cut-throat media and irritable internet bloggers, for there was little doubt the bloodhounds would have been on his scent."
It would be foolish to say that Montanier can go on to get anywhere close to Clough, of course. But Taylor's text certainly shows the folly of judging anyone this early on. Clough won two of his first 17 games, Montanier has won six. That doesn't mean he should be immune from criticism, last Saturday was poor after all. But it does, for me at least, show that even the very best need time to get things right.

Taylor shows how Clough and, crucially, Peter Taylor, came to run the club in their own way - calling the shots and running rings around the committee. Fast forward to 2016 and the single most significant figure at the club will be whoever takes the club from Fawaz. Whether it's - as we suspect - a consortium led by John Jay Moores or a late new bid from Evangelos Marinakis, their leadership off the field will be crucial in building a club befitting the tough environment of the Championship.

Yet there's probably one way in which the Clough era is still relevant to the current off the field considerations. The joyous events in the rest of the book established the club's name beyond these shores. We might be ridiculed as fans for being stuck in the past, but you can't help thinking that it's this past that means that, despite everything that has happened in the last few years, there are still several investors considering parting with big money to buy us.

That doesn't necessarily mean we'll attract the right buyer - Fawaz had been attracted by the past glories after all - but it does make us stand out from the crowd a little and helps people see beyond the current trials and tribulations. Investors must think that because we've been a success in the past that we can - within reason - be successful again in the future. You can guarantee that they'll mention it in their first press conference. We can only hope that they are right.

In some respects this is Clough's final miracle. The last bit of his stardust still - 12 years after his death and 23 years after he left the dugout - lingers and could well help us get our ticket out of the mire. It won't last forever, but for now the achievements of Clough, Taylor and their merry men are still making us a more attractive proposition. It's another thing to be thankful for.

Speaking of thankful, we're lucky to have a prominent writer of Taylor's talent on the scene. His book is a real treat and brings to life the men behind the miracle - a group of players who are only now getting due recognition.

The parallels between the pre-Clough era and the modern day certainly give food for thought. Let's hope we don't have to fall further to fall before things look up once again.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Why do Forest get so many injuries?

It has been a troubling week at the City Ground. By now we've all seen the stories in both The Guardian and The Sun and Fawaz's open letter to supporters by way of response. As the club veers towards becoming a laughing stock, we can now only hope that investors come forward and draw a line under this failed regime.

Yet, as the focus returns to matters on the field and the game against Cardiff City, I'm increasingly concerned at another long-running saga. Namely, the near-constant state of injury crisis at the City Ground.

Tuesday night's disappointing defeat at Ewood Park saw David Vaughan and Mustapha Carayol have to leave the field due to injuries. The loss of the man who is vital to making us tick and a man emerging as a potent attacking threat did little to help overcome a struggling Blackburn Rovers side.

Yet these two injuries were just the latest incidents that have marred the first 13 league games of the season. Indeed, by my reckoning, we've now seen 11 players taken off injured in games already this season - and have had to replace another player in the warm up.

They are:

  • Burton: Dorus de Vries
  • Brighton: Alex Iacovitti started because Thomas Lam was ill in the warm up
  • Wigan: Britt Assombalonga and Danny Fox
  • Leeds: Damien Perquis
  • Aston Villa: Matty Cash and Thomas Lam
  • Rotherham: Damien Perquis
  • Bristol City: Damien Perquis
  • Birmingham: Nicklas Bendtner
  • Blackburn: David Vaughan and Mustapha Carayol

Boss Philippe Montanier has come under fire for his own rotation policy, yet it hasn't helped the Frenchman to have had just five games where he's not had to make a enforced change. Yes, some of the same names crop up on that list a couple of times but that's still nine different players (I hope I've got them all) who have come off in games - and that doesn't even take into account others who have been injured in between fixtures such as Michael Mancienne.

Not only is the sheer frequency a worry, but so too is the fact that this is nothing new. In recent years serious injuries have robbed us of the chance to field the likes of Assombalonga, Matty Fryatt (anyone know where he is?), Andy Reid, Chris Cohen and Daniel Pinillos for long spells, while Jack Hobbs, David Vaughan, Kelvin Wilson and Jamie Ward are among the players who seem to have had a string of niggly issues.

There are probably individual reasons for every single injury that we suffer but, when you take a step back and look at the scale of the matter you can't help but wonder if there's something wrong.

Is there a problem with training? Do we have the right fitness staff in place? Have we signed the wrong players? Does chopping and changing the team make things worse? Are we just cursed?!

Sadly, I don't have the answers. I wish I did. Equally sadly, I reckon that this is a matter that might well not be addressed in the short term. Not only is the ownership issue a factor but so too, you feel, is the fact that a manager never sticks around long enough to be able to get on top of it.

I know every team bemoans its injuries but I'd love to know if another club has suffered so many long term issues as us in the last couple of years - or has had to haul off 11 players in the opening 13 games of the current season.

There are many things wrong with the club at the moment and the injury situation is one of them.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Montanier needs to lift the sense of déjà vu

While Philippe Montanier's English continues to improve, it's probably no crumb of comfort for him that it's a French term that neatly sums up the current mood at the City Ground. I certainly can't be the only one feeling a sense of 'déjà vu'.

The team's record in the first 11 games of 2016/17 is identical to the opening 11 games of the last campaign - three wins, three draws, five defeats. Even the goal difference, -3, is the same.

The August transfer window has been and gone and, right at the end, saw the manager stripped of a star asset - a pacy, physical attacking winger. For Antonio, read Burke.

Off the field, the club continues to be a huge concern. Outside of Fawaz, his chequebook and one or two others there is no structure. Pedro Pereira has, just like Leon Hunter and Paul Faulkner, left within a few months of starting a role at the club. The loss of the director of football makes a mockery of Fawaz's plans to invest the money from the sale of Burke, with the one man best placed to draw up a list of targets now having handed in his notice.

Montanier is, if the rumours are true, already under pressure to deliver better results, with the real risk of a sixth consecutive season in which we can't last the whole campaign with the same manager. Home attendances are poor and injuries have robbed us of the chance to field our strongest line up.

Yet, while there is a sense of depressing familiarity, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Off the field, it seems as though Fawaz has decided to sell up and is in talks with an as-yet unknown 'American consortium'. If he doesn't insist on a role in the new regime, he might well be able to hand the club over to someone who can make a better fist of it. This could well be some way off but hopefully being out of a transfer embargo will at least make the club more attractive to buyers.

While the lack of a director of football is a worry, there is - if Fawaz is good to his word - time and money to plan for a much better January transfer window than the usual disappointments.

While results on the field might technically be identical, there is also a sense that things on the pitch are different too.

Last year's first 11 games yielded just nine goals. This year that figure stands at 19. The football has been more entertaining, even if six consecutive squandered leads is cause for concern. Several signings are yet to show us their best form - including Nicklas Bendtner - and Britt Assombalonga could (fingers, toes and everything else crossed) finally be ready to return to more regular first team action.

The clean sheet problem needs to be sorted but the evidence of last season suggests that this can come in time. Even frugal Freedman only collected two clean sheets in the first 18 games of last season. Once he'd had time to work with his team, he managed to oversee six clean sheets in the 12 that then followed.

Hopefully Montanier has used the last couple of weeks wisely to draw up a plan to finally keep the first clean sheet of the season. It appeared as though he was heading towards a first choice 'back five' of Stojkovic, Lichaj, Mancienne, Perquis, Fox - injury notwithstanding. I hope, if this is his favoured five, he allows this time to knit together as a unit.

Montanier does have an opportunity to avoid following the pattern of previous seasons. While the four remaining games in October won't be easy, the home games against Birmingham and Cardiff and away trips to Blackburn and Reading should present a chance to pick up some points. A couple of wins would at least ease talk of the Frenchman's future.

There's much about the current season that appears to be following the same tired old pattern. There are, however, signs that we needn't get stuck in a tiresome 'groundhog season'. You feel that the next few weeks will do much to determine whether or not it's the glass half full or half empty path that 2016/17 takes. Déjà vu? Let's hope we're en route to a spot of joie de vivre instead.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Montanier will hope fortune favours the brave

The hotly anticipated Arsenal clash has been and gone, but now it can't be a case of 'after the Lord Bendtner's show' as Philippe Montanier's men get back to the bread and butter of the league.

The Arsenal game already feels something of a blur - although perhaps I'm still mesmerised by the ultra-impressive slick passing on display from Arsene Wenger's men.

Yes, it wasn't a first choice Gunners XI, but it was far from a band of kids thrown together by the long-serving Frenchman. Indeed, the fact that Granit Xhaka and Lucas Perez - signed for a combined £50 million - arrived with a point to prove and a place to secure meant this was a highly motivated and classy visiting team. Throw in Oxlade-Chamberlain, Elneny, Gibbs, Gabriel and Holding and you've got a side with quality far beyond 'Championship standard'.

The Brian Clough Stand was lit up green to mark the 12th anniversary of his death

That said, the first half saw a spirited performance that should have been enough to have seen us level at half time. It would have done too if Pajtim Kasami had had some shooting boots on or the aforementioned Bendtner had been able to apply more curl to a dangerous looking long range effort.

As with the clash against Norwich on Saturday, the second half was the killer. In both cases, the away side stepped things up a gear, showed their quality and earned a deserved win. Yet while we were outclassed against the Canaries, we still carried a threat. On Tuesday, however, the game descended into a chastening chasing exercise.

We have to hope it won't have knocked the stuffing out of the side, physically and mentally, going into the trip to Sheffield Wednesday.

The Owls clash represents the start of a tricky trio of fixtures before the international break, with Fulham at home and Bristol City away to follow. Both of those sides have looked better than expected and will be no pushovers, while Wednesday are stirring after a slow start.

Philippe Montanier has, so far, knitted together a buccaneering side full of attacking intent and character. He has been brave with his tactics and team selection - and his team has mirrored that bravery by 'going for it' in a succession of exciting games.

Nowhere was this more evident that in the entertaining trip to Villa Park. Despite the hosts firing in shots galore and having much of the ball - and despite the loss of Matty Cash to injury, his replacement Thomas Lam to another injury AND his replacement Hildeberto Pereira to an unjust red card we still emerged with a creditable 2-2.

Amid the chaos, the side had the character to pull through - taking the lead through Apostolos Vellios and equalising through Henri Lansbury after newfound cult hero Pereira's lung-busting surge.

The Villa game was the season in a nutshell - goals at both ends and good fun. Much of it didn't make sense, but it didn't matter too much.

Saluting the players after the full time whistle at Villa Park

Yet, the character of the side and Montanier's continued bravery will come under the spotlight in the fixtures to come.

The eighth league game of last season was, like Norwich this time around, also a 2-1 defeat at home to a classier side, in that case Middlesbrough. The Boro defeat, slightly unfortunate in my book, started off a run of eight games without a win as the deadline day loss of a star man took its toll.

You have to hope history won't repeat itself, but it's a warning of how quickly one result can lead to a bad run in this division. August's 'five wins in seven' can so quickly become 'five without a win' on Saturday.

A few bad results will inevitably lead to criticism of Montanier's tinkering and his side's defensive deficiencies from the impatient among the fans. He's assembled a League of Nations of a team - with 16 different nationalities representing even more than the 14 of Arsenal - that is very much a work in progress. It will need to carry on that progress to maintain the well-deserved goodwill it has received.

It feels like the manager is starting to settle on a defence at least, the one part of the side that probably needs the stability of consistent selection. Yet we should be under no illusion that it will take time for the team to gel. I hope he can find a role for David Vaughan in the coming weeks - who strikes me as just the sort of cool headed player that we've needed to inject some calm and quality into the action. The return of Britt Assombalonga and having an ever-sharper Bendtner could also help to put teams to the sword.

You'd have to be a pretty miserable person not to have found some enjoyment in the early days of Montanier's reign. He'll be hoping that by staying brave and keeping up his attacking outlook he'll earn some fortune, pick up points before the break and ensure the Arsenal game doesn't dilute the positivity around the City Ground.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Nottingham Forest Cheese XI

Despite the defeat to Norwich on Saturday and the distinct lack of a clean sheet, the start of the season under Philippe Montanier has certainly been fun.

The new manager has earned some goodwill by his team's sense of derring do. However, I don't know about you but I can't help but have extra respect for a man who knows his cheese. So, given that our new boss treated the press pack to some fabulous fromage on Friday, it's surely the perfect time to dream up a Forest cheese XI, right?

Photo: Unsplash

This team would form an ambition 4-2-4 formation, meaning those midfielders will need to spread the ball around well. I hope they won't crumble under pressure and, if so, I'm sure they'd get grate results. Anyway, here goes...

Peter Stilton

Eric Dairy Lichaj

Wensleydale Morgan

David Ne-Edam

Ian Brie-Kin

Lee Meltier

Kris Commonbert

Jack Red Leicester

Rafik Djeb-Boursin

Parme-Stan Collymore

Dougie Freed-Manchego


Monterey Jack Hobbs

Cheddar Sheringham

Philadelphia Starbuck

Who said all puns were cheesy? I'm sure I've missed a couple of crackers so please do send your suggestions to the cheese board in the comments below or via Twitter @andrewbrookes84

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Burke's departure was disappointing but so was the farce of a fallout

Well that went well didn't it? Less than 24 hours after proclaiming my hope that Oliver Burke would stay for at least one full season of fun, there he was holding a shirt aloft upon signing for RB Leipzig.

Many people have since made the case that £13 million is a lot of money for a 19-year-old who only made ten appearances in the starting eleven. They're right, of course, and it's always easy as fans to lose sight of the sums involved since it's not our money. But it's not the full story is it?

Only the most joyless of fans can fail to have been royally gutted by his departure. The prospect of pacy and powerful wing play from one of our academy prospects - scoring and creating goals aplenty - was one of the best things to look forward to in the coming campaign. He could and should have been the poster boy of an exciting new attacking side under Montanier, who'd been assured he would stay. The season ahead looks a lot more dreary without 'Twisty'. He may have shined briefly but he leaves big shoes to fill.

Plus, seeing the transfer as a sound business decision would rely on the club displaying the business sense to invest the money wisely - on clearing debts, boosting the academy so that we can match our East Midlands rivals and making quality additions to the squad. We're not that sort of club are we? Instead it feels like we've sold off a big asset that we could have held onto - for his and our sake. With all of that in mind I can't say as I'm convinced that it is such a great deal.

The owner once again compounded the issue with a series of confusing pronouncements.

Of course 'technically' Fawaz doesn't say in his tweets that £13 million will be spent immediately on new recruits, but comparing the situation to the sales of Lascelles and Darlow made a rod for his own back. This led many to expect quality additions that would guarantee to leave the squad in a stronger position. It didn't happen. There ay be very good reasons for that, but whatever the case it was daft to raise expectations. Once again the communication from the club was amateurish - indicative of the sort of approach to administration that is holding us back.

Somewhat cryptically, he also told the Nottingham Post:
"People will see, in the next few days, what the plan is."
I guess we're to presume the plan was to sell off the family silver and hope to unearth a hidden gem from the bargain bins? In truth, there is no plan is there?

The first point is perhaps a little harsh on the new arrivals. Lica, Mustapha Carayol and Nicolao Dumitru all clearly have talent but they all arrive with something to prove after being farmed out on loan by parent clubs who they have failed to make the grade with (or faded from favour at). As a £300,000 signing, free transfer and loan respectively they arrive barely accounting for the money made from Paterson and De Vries. It makes you wonder if they could all have signed anyway, regardless of the Burke departure.

They all deserve our support, but might need time to bed in and we can't expect them to hit the ground running in the same form as Burke. One or more might well not click at the City Ground - although the loan departures of several younger players - and Jamie Ward - is a vote of confidence in their abilities.

Montanier also now needs to work out how best to use his new arrivals. I feel sorry for him really. If the goals dry up and we struggle to win games then it'll be he who pays with his job. So far he's started well but really could have done without a sale that neither he or Pedro Pereira are said to have agreed with.

If football was about shooting ourselves in the foot and not putting the ball in the net we'd be fine. I'm glad to see the back of the transfer window so we can concentrate on on the field matters. There's no denying that the events of the last few days have left a sour taste, it's up to Montanier to lift us again.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Oliver Burke: Please Don't Go

When Nottingham dance act KWS topped the charts with their cover of 'Please Don't Go' in 1992 there was a rumour that it was an attempt to dissuade Des Walker from making the switch to Sampdoria. Sadly it's not true, yet maybe it would've been worth giving the lads a few royalties at the City Ground on Saturday as a not-too-subtle message to Oliver Burke ahead of Wednesday's transfer window.

In some respects we're in a similar position to this time last year. A quick, strong winger with four August goals to his name, and who carries the goalscoring burden on his shoulders when Britt Assombalonga isn't available, is attracting Premier League interest. I'm keeping everything crossed that Oliver Burke won't follow in the footsteps of Michail Antonio just yet.

The above parallels aside, there are some differences between the cases of Burke and Antonio. Michail was a London lad who had risen up the leagues and, at 25, was ready to have a punt at the top flight after a full season of success under his belt on Trentside (15 goals and 12 assists). He clearly wanted to go and he was leaving behind a club still in the midst of a transfer embargo.

Fast forward 12 months and Burke is, in my biased opinion, in a different boat. He's only 19 and yet to enjoy a full season as the 'main man'. He's just broken into the Scotland squad and can, with regular first time appearances, cement his place in the thoughts of Gordon Strachan for the World Cup qualifying campaign. He still has much to learn about the senior game, and has to be playing first team football to do so. We can offer him the stage he needs to hone his skills. After a successful season in The Championship he could have his pick of the clubs. He has time - as well as talent - on his side right now.

You'd also like to think that we don't have to sell. We're out of the FFP-induced embargo now for a start (partly thanks to the Antonio money). Not only that but we wouldn't even feel the benefit from a big money transfer at this late stage in the window. Even if we got £10 million or more, we'd have little time to shop around for a replacement and be likely to encounter clubs who would hike up their prices. Do we really want to force another manager to have to scrabble around to replace his best player?

I don't have huge expectations for this season, I just want to enjoy some football, be competitive and improve on the points and position of last season. Watching Burke grow and improve in a Forest shirt would certainly help with all of those factors. They'll be times when he doesn't deliver or he frustrates - all wingers do - but he's showing every sign of being one of the most exciting home grown products in many a year. He's the sort of matchwinning player worth paying to watch and, with attendances still not great, we'd could do with a few of those.

It'd be nice to snap up a striker between now and the close of play on Wednesday but by far the most important piece of business, you feel, would be holding onto Burke. If that's all that happens, I'll be happy. Let's hope the manager, director of football and chairman are doing all they can to persuade Burke that he can have a bright future if he stays put.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Bandy & Shinty: Something to be proud of

Us Brits are a little bit shy about saying what we're proud about aren't we? Yet, if you'll forgive me for a moment, I'm going to break ranks.

Tomorrow isn't just the start of the new season, it's also the launch of the first issue of Bandy & Shinty, a new quality quarterly of writing about our beloved Nottingham Forest. To my pride, joy and surprise I was asked to join this Blizzard-inspired party.

I'm really rather chuffed with how it has turned out and have to take my hat off to the superb work of the 'Fab Four' Phil Juggins, David Marples, Steve Wright and Sean Hockett. I hope Forest fans snap copies up and enjoy the fruits of their hard work. They deserve it.

So, what's in it? There's 18 articles including pieces from the four above, the Guardian's Nick Miller, Football 365's Daniel Storey, actor Arsher Ali, ex-Reds Paul McGregor and Gregor Robertson and a host of people whose work you'll have seen and enjoyed in a variety of places in print and online. It's humbling to be in such good company.

The theme is 'firsts', which acts as a neat but not constricting way of threading the whole thing together. I particularly enjoyed Phil Juggins and Nick Miller's pieces about the 91 FA Cup Final and Clough relegation respectively . Both were strangely cathartic, a kind of long needed group therapy for the sad way Old Big 'Ead's reign came to a close. I also nodded along heartily in agreement with Daniel Storey on the 1992 Zenith Data Systems Cup Final, my first visit to Wembley too. Actually these were far from the only times I nodded in agreement, I must've looked like a Churchill dog on someone's parcel shelf (does anyone still have those?).

My two penneth is about Wes Morgan and the way we feel in general about players who leave and go on to better things.

I should take time to praise the artwork too. It looks and feels like a class act. The front cover alone (see above) is a joy.

It'll be on sale before and after the match tomorrow at the Trent Navigation for £4 or (soon) online if you can't make it.

I really hope it goes down well. It's born out of the desire to celebrate and reflect on why we all take leave of our senses and dedicate so much of our lives to this bizarre football club of ours. I'm biased, of course, but I think it achieves that with flying colours.

I hope we're at the start of something special. Here's to a successful launch and many more editions to come.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Capacity woes offer more grounds for concern

This isn't good is it? Here we are on the eve of the season, trying to get excited by the new manager and a fresh campaign, and we're presented with another off field mess.

It night be tempting to think that the reduced capacity of the City Ground isn't too big a deal. 24,357 is higher than most home league attendances (sadly) and, importantly, we won't have the farcical spectacle of the last pre season game and first league fixture having to be moved or played out in front of no-one.

Yet it isn't good enough. It makes the club look a laughing stock, and shows a further level of incompetence that brings the club's attitude toward safety into question. Frankly it's a disgrace that this has been allowed to get this far and Fawaz should hang his head in shame. I've always felt that he's a well-meaning owner - I still think that - and I'm grateful for the money he's pumped into the club. But a slapdash attitude to safety? That's poor, incredibly poor.

What message does this send to the casual fans, the parents thinking of bringing their child for the first time? The club's duty of care to the fans on match days should never be in question. We can all debate or argue about tactics, performances, managers and signings but at the end of the day it's a game and our safety when we turn up to watch shouldn't be a matter needing discussion. Despite what many of us might think about local councils, they don't - in my experience - take drastic action like this lightly.

I shan't stray into speculation, but the fact that Alan Bexon has been in, out and then back in the position as safety officer hints at an internal problem that has been allowed to get out of control. The fact that the council isn't yet satisfied that Bexon will be supported in his role and that it is yet to see some basic paperwork is worrying. Why haven't we made this a priority?

The supporters also deserve to know what an '80 per cent capacity' City Ground means in practice. Will it be sufficient to just not sell any more than 24,357 or do we need to shut sections of the ground? Are people going to be turfed out of their season ticket seats and shifted elsewhere because of this? Would they be compensated for this?

Sadly this isn't just one unfortunate cock up either is it? When seen alongside the transfer embargo and late payment of bills and wages, this just feels like the next episode in an ongoing farce. What next?

This also gets to the heart of the problem at the top of the club. It might all be a misunderstanding or a paperwork mishap but it shows a disregard for the detail of the day to day management of the club (over a pretty important issue). If the club can't handle this then is it any wonder it can't manage the difficult task of plotting a return to the Premier League? On field success is surely unlikely while isn't well-led. The current lack of an adequate safety plan has, in recent years, been mirrored by a lack of strategy for success on the field. We don't do plans, we don't do detail. As long as that's the case we almost certainly 'won't do' top flight football either. It's all linked.

You have to hope that change is around the corner. The appointment of a director of football is a positive step and you presume that other positions should follow, if and when the takeover goes through. If and when, that is, the FA makes a decision on the charges levelled against the would-be owner. The suggestion is that Fawaz would probably stay on anyway. If one of his first team managers had overseen a mess as bad as this, he'd have been sacked. Perhaps he should dwell on that.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Nottingham Forest 2016/17: Seven key tests to judge success this season


It's just two weeks on Saturday until the new season kicks off and offices and pubs up and down the country will be full of fans of rival clubs asking 'so, how are your lot going to do this season then?'.

How exactly do we answer that as Forest fans? I'm sensing a mild optimism among some of us about matters on the field (setting aside those alarming stories about the would be owner for the time being). Yet while that mild optimism exists there is also a sense that we're leaping into the unknown once again. Yes, we might like the look of our Phillippe, but we're stumped when it comes to knowing whether it'll all work out.

We've got a new manager who may or may not succeed when faced with the particular challenges of the Championship, uncertainty off the field with a still-to-fully-complete takeover and an 'unfinished' squad with some gaps left to fill. We're also in a league in which several big players hold a huge financial upper hand and many more have the benefit of several years of squad building under their belts.

With all of those variables, only the most super-optimistic of us could surely expect or demand promotion. I don't think that's negative and I'm not saying it's impossible to challenge for the top six, I'm just saying that it'd be unrealistic to set that as the only goal for the coming season and the sole way to judge success.

Here are seven ways that I think we can judge success instead:

Points and positions: Whether this become 'year one' of the Marinakis era or not, there is an immediate need to arrest the slide of the last four years. The first year of his reign saw us finish in 8th with 67 points, then 11th on 65, 14th on 59 and, last season, 16th on 55 points. Montanier has to reverse that gradual decline. A points tally and position that bettered the last two seasons would be a big step in the right direction. Context matters more than mere points and positions but 65 points and/or top 10 would be a decent aim.

Managerial stability: We've now been through five consecutive seasons in which we've ended with a different manager to the man in the dug out on opening day. If we don't end 2016/17 with Montanier at the helm then it's unlikely that the upcoming campaign will have been a success either. If he survives, it's likely to mean that things have been largely positive on the pitch.

Off the field turmoil: The club's reputation isn't helped by the threat of court action for unpaid bills, late payment of staff, Ben Hamer style transfer farces and the current situation in which the ground capacity has been reduced to zero. Whoever the owner is, whoever is pulling the strings, this has to stop. If the off the field operation of the club is quiet, no court action is threatened and all bills are paid on time it'll be a step up from recent times. The club also needs to reach out and do all it can to involve the supporters trust and at listen to the voice of fans (and not the Twitter mob).

Playing style: This is perhaps more subjective than some of the other points but is, nevertheless, a useful barometer of how the campaign can be judged. I'm not naïve enough to think that you can play like Brazil in the airport in that 1998 Nike ad every week. I want us to have a clear and effective style that helps us to compete, score goals and win games. That's easier said than done, but it's essential for success now and in the future.

Commercial: We need to be much more savvy about the way we make money. An investor, provided they are 'fit and proper', is to be welcomed but the club must do much much better at bringing in revenue to help it thrive in the long term. It's abundantly clear from going to away games or, in fact, popping over for a T20 at Trent Bridge, that others do this far better than us. Selling shirts, tickets, sponsorship (the kit sponsor is a step in the right direction) must all improve - as must the match day 'experience', as naff as that sounds. A simple thing such as having a better pint on offer would be a massive start. Some of the commercial side of football might make us feel queasy but we can't fight against the tide.

As the excellent Swiss Ramble pointed out in an epic post on Forest's finances:
Surprisingly for a club of Forest’s admirable tradition, their commercial income of £3.1 million, up from £2.6 million the previous season, was one of the smallest in the Championship in 2014/15, way behind Norwich City £12.8 million, Leeds United £11.3 million and Brighton £8.9 million. In fact, it was only ahead of four clubs: Charlton Athletic £2.5 million, Brentford £2.4 million, Millwall £1.9 million and Wigan £1.5 million.
That speaks volumes. The finances have to improve if we're to avoid future FFP-style penalties. For all the worries we might have about Marinakis, the smoother running of a football club certainly seems within his capabilities.

Signings: We need an end to signing mediocre players on big wages such as those we've had to offload in recent years and no more poor loanees coming into the club ahead of youth players who are better (Akpom ahead of Walker, Ebecilio of Grant etc). I've been heartened to see Montanier have a long look at some of the up and coming talent at the club in the friendlies so far. If they're added to  with smart acquisitions - be they cash signings or quality loanees - from Pedro Pereira then we can properly improve the squad. If this time next year we're having to buy in the same old positions to replace another batch of failed newcomers we'll know it hasn't been a successful season on that front.

Attendances: Linked to many of those points above is the worrying downturn in attendances experienced last season. While many factors feed into the number of paying punters through the gate, one look at the attendances at the end of the season will give you another useful measure of success.

Address all of these points and we'll be in for a heck of a ride. Big ticks against the majority should at least mean we've got something to smile about come May.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Bonjour Philippe Montanier, Olá Pedro Pereira

Bienvenue Philippe Montanier. Welcome to the City Ground mad house. Let's hope it's a little less mad with you at the helm.

Today came the fresh new start we've been waiting for. Of course, we've been here before. Most managers come in and sweep us off our feet with their opening press conference. They're media trained to say the right thing after all.

Yet, cynicism aside, Montanier did his duty well. With his Gallic good looks and decent English (the interpreter only provided small assistance) he made a smart introduction. His CV is not to be sniffed at either, even though it is difficult to gauge how relevant this will be. His record at Rennes was mixed but at Real Sociedad he pulled off the amazing feat of getting the San Sebastian side into the Champions League. Both clubs, it should be noted, were performing at a higher standard than the one Montanier now finds himself. Perhaps it's getting Boulogne into the French top tier, at the start of his managerial career, that is most relevant and impressive in a Forest context.

Esteemed French journalist Philippe Auclair described the appointment as an 'ambitious good' and described Montanier as being quite a catch, although did stress he's yet to decide what type of coach he really is.

It's clear that it's not so much his words that he needs to translate as his management style and adjusting that to England and the Championship and only time will tell if that happens.

That translation should be helped by the fact that Montanier is fitting into a structure at the City Ground, albeit one that is still under construction. The new boss, a head coach, comes in after new director of football Pedro Pereira joined the club. In many ways you could argue that Pedro is the more important of the two appointments and it will be he that sets the tone for the club going forward.

I found it striking, for example, that German side Schalke recently made a decisive move for Mainz sporting director Christian Heidel to try to challenge at the top of the Bundesliga. Heidel has been an important part of the club that launched the coaching careers of Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel and the Gelsenkirchen club want him to replicate that magic on a bigger stage.

It's clear that big clubs value people like this very highly. These are the men who sit behind the scenes, establish a clear playing style and strategy and pinpoint the right managers and players. They're there before anything else and underpin the structure with the sort of smart thinking that we've seen scarcely little of in recent times.

It's also wrong to see this as a 'continental style'. Football has moved on since we were last sitting at its top table. With the sums of money so eye-wateringly large and the competition so fierce, the vast majority of Premier League and top Championship clubs fall back on a solid structure to chart a path to success. We need to match this. It's not about being continental, it's about being professional.

Pedro has completed his first task in finding a manager that he wants to work with. It sounds like he's also got a few signings up his sleeve too. He needs to provide the best possible tools for the coach to do his job and in turn needs support from Fawaz and the new investor, should he come to the fore. The element of support is often what has been lacking - in terms of patience if not money - in the past. While Fawaz and Marinakis play a part in this, so too do we as fans. We wanted change, a clear structure and some better football to cheer about. The first two have begun, let's hope we get the third come August. In turn we need to be welcoming, patient and supportive. I'm game if you are? Allez les Rouges?!

Saturday, 21 May 2016

A social media summer survival guide for Forest fans

The football season may end, but football doesn't. Instead of fixtures and on the pitch action - at least until the Euros - fans face a long summer of speculation. Especially so if you're a Forest fan, with takeover news, managerial rumours and - eventually - transfer gossip on the menu.

Social media is the 'grapevine' to pick up the latest news on all of this but, as we all know, it can be hard to know what's right and wrong. At best, you're right up to speed with the very latest. At worst, you're mired in a timeline of clickbait, banality and untruths.

From bitter experience, here's a few lessons to help you cut through the garbage:

Follow the right people. I've always thought we're lucky, as Forest fans, to be served by a decent set of journalists and have a good selection of people in the national media who support the Tricky Trees. Here are the essentials (sorry if I've missed anyone off):

Clearly you'll want the official account, and Fawaz
Paul Taylor
Nottingham Post Sport
Radio Nottingham
Robin Chipperfield
David Jackson
...and then the national journalists who are Forest fans
Daniel Taylor
Nick Miller
Daniel Storey
...and the journalists who seem to know their onions about Forest/the Midlands
Alan Nixon
John Percy
Pat Murphy

Don't be too trusting. The above list isn't exhaustive and wisdom doesn't solely reside with that lot. However it's important to keep an open mind. Some people on Twitter do have genuine information about the goings on at the club. Many don't. Journalists such as the one's mentioned should, by and large, have stood up their stories through one or more trusted sources, people on Twitter won't have done. That's why people on Twitter might sometimes appear to have 'got it first' - they don't need to bother getting it verified. Sometimes journalists get information that they are not able to publish as it would compromise their source. Basically, you can pick up juicy titbits on Twitter that journalists won't have put out, but it pays to consume all of your gossip with a tablespoon of salt. Whenever you see a rumour it's well worth asking - 'who has this come from?'. If it's some bloke who has never tweeted before who looks like they've paid for some made up followers then ignore it. Also, no-one who has ever seen a player 'looking round houses' or 'shopping in West Bridgford' is telling the truth.

Tomorrow never comes. The worst Twitter rumours always promise news at a certain time or by a certain date. Many a hyped 'press conference' has never materialised, many a deadline gone by without delivering on a promise. Don't allow yourself to get sucked into being glued to your timeline at the 'promised time' and don't get angry or frustrated when it emerges it was garbage all along. It normally is.

Parody accounts aren't funny. Twitter is only ten years old but it probably ought to be growing up. One of the oldest and lamest of jokes is the 'parody account'. Some of these can be funny, granted, but for every one that is there will be countless rubbish ones.

Fakes are a pain too. Parodies are set up to make you laugh, fakes are set up to catch you out. Brace yourself for false Fawaz accounts and fake Henri Lansburys. People often set up spoof Sky Sports News accounts and tweet transfer 'breaking news' and 'done deal' snippets at various points in the summer. Colin Fray is a favourite for Forest fakers too. He isn't on Twitter but someone will, at some point in the summer, set up an account pretending to be him. Expect it, expose it and don't fall for it.

Give Paul Taylor a break. There are plenty of people who love to give Paul Taylor stick but most of it seems unfair to me. He wasn't the man behind the infamous 'It's Baggio' headline - and we should probably drop that now anyway. He's a Notts fan, yes, but so what? He isn't responsible for the annoying ads on the Post site either (they're a sad reality that we have to accept if we want to get our news for 'free') and he doesn't write the more clickbaity stuff that every paper is sadly forced to do to meet web targets and keep people in jobs. Paul Taylor keeps fans up to date, runs an interesting weekly web chat and does a good job of making sense of the mess that is our football club.

Don't feed the clickbait monster. There are hundreds of websites and social media accounts that leech off football fans. Yes, 'HITC', I'm looking at you. These accounts will make a whole story from a single tweet, regularly rehash the bookies odds and trot out endless unfounded transfer and managerial rumours. Even in the last week or so you'll have noticed Forest being linked to a number of transfer targets, despite the fact we have no manager, no scouting network and are in the midst of a takeover. They'll continually link us to Steve Evans too, despite the fact the club has said he's not a candidate on two or three occasions now. It's garbage, avoid it all.

Don't bother with 'banter'. There are some opposition fans who will genuinely want to discuss news and views with you and this can be one of the joys of Twitter. But those from D*rby or other clubs who are on the 'wind up' need to be ignored. Plenty of people go 'fishing' looking for a bite and an argument. Leave them alone, they'll soon crawl back under their rocks.

Polls? The jury is out. Should Twitter have made it so easy for polls to be created? A - Yes, I love seeing the same question asked every day. B - No, I'm sick of the sight of them. C - Some of them are good (In The Top One's superb 'World Cup Of Shirts for example) but I'd be happier if there weren't as many of the buggers clogging up the NFFC hashtag. I'm saying C.

Fawaz being on Twitter is a recipe for disaster. Some might think it's refreshing that a club chairman is on Twitter and interacts with the fans and, on paper, it is. Yet this also opens him up to any Tom, Dick or Harry with a smartphone. Sometimes I fear that when Fawaz says he's trying to 'please' the fans he's referring to a very narrow cross section. I regularly wince and cringe at some of his posts and 'interactions'.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Brilliant Britt strikes to end the season on a high

It was the perfect way to end a decidedly imperfect season. Britt Assombalonga stepped off the bench, bagged the winner for a 10-man Forest and left us all singing his name as the curtain came down on the 2015/16 season. Perhaps only the home win against the Sheep could rival this as the campaign's most satisfying moment.

Ending the season on an Assombalonga winner was heartwarming but also fitting too. Ordinarily, if we'd been pegged back to 1-1 and then reduced to 10 men then the very limit of our ambitions would be to cling on to a point. In fact, even with 11 men we've struggled to turn draws into wins and defeats into draws. With Britt we had the firepower we'd so badly needed to make a difference.

Look at the final table and you'll notice that we conceded just two more goals than Sheffield Wednesday and four more than the Sheep  the sixth and fifth placed sides. Yet we scored 23 goals fewer than both sides. Of course it's too simplistic to put this solely down to one man, but the Britt shaped hole in our strike force is there for all to see. That he returned with a goal in this game at least gives hope that he can return to his deadly best from the start of next season.

The identity of the first goal scorer also helped to make the occasion special too. Chris Cohen, for so long a treatment room buddy of Britt as he recovered from a third serious injury, rose to head home a superb curling cross from Ben Osborn.

At that point, Paul Williams' men looked capable of running riot at the expense of their already-relegated hosts. The home side's midfield gave up far too much time and space to allow Forest to play in. Cohen stepped forward very ably into Henri Lansbury's usual advanced midfield role and Chris O'Grady returned - presumably for a last appearance - and made a nuisance of himself.

Oliver Burke, let loose at last, was also making hay down the right flank, beating Dean Lewington for pace and strength and generally warming to the task in hand.

Then came two setbacks that shaped the game. First Nicky Maynard - who spent the summer on trial at the City Ground - swept home after the brightest and breeziest bit of some bright and breezy MK play. That caused the visitors to doubt themselves all over again. The passing was less crisp and the decision making slapdash. Josh Murphy, the architect of the goal, had the beating of Eric Lichaj and looked dangerous.

Then, renaissance man Danny Fox harshly saw red for a sliding challenge. From my vantage point it certainly looked like he'd won the ball and while he had undoubtedly slid in so too, surely, did Jordan Spence. Fox's main crime seemed to have been to win the ball and tackle. Still, his reaction probably didn't help too much when the referee made his decision.

That left Williams with a tactical headache. He resolved the issue with the first of three well-timed substitutions on a day that was surely his finest showing as manager too. On the face of it, shifting the effective Burke up front, hauling off O'Grady and putting Mancienne at the back could be seen as a negative move, with no recognised striker left on the pitch. However, the interim boss realised that he needed all of his ten men to run hard and display the sort of movement, pace and energy that isn't O'Grady's game.

That's not to say Burke was completely effective on his own up front. The young winger ran at defenders, twisted and turned and put in a good shift but did lack support from his colleagues.

The hosts continued to be bright and breezy, firing in plenty of shots and crosses but mostly to little avail. That said, Kevin Long and especially Nick Maynard - him again - should've done better with their chances.

It was clear something needed to change and Williams, to his credit, delivered again around the hour mark. Robert Tesche was replaced by Britt Assombalonga and, soon after, Burke was replaced by Ryan Mendes.

The Cape Verde man's fresh legs breathed life into the ten men, with his pace and trickery proving a real handful for the Dons back line. He capped off one cracking run with a shot that seemed goal bound. The fact it kissed the bar summed Mendes up. So near yet so far.

Luckily his fellow sub proved more clinical. The winning goal began with an outrageous flick from Ben Osborn which got him past his man and allowed him to tee up Assombalonga. With time, Britt weighed up his options, fooled the keeper and stroked the ball into the corner of the net to send 4,000 travelling Trickies into raptures.

A goal from Britt, the calming influence of a mature and fit again Cohen, three points and an away win. It was a small glimpse of what we hope to see next season. Now we just need a manager, a CEO and a few signings. Another quiet summer then...

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Fantastic Mr Fox helps stop the rot in Rotherham

This is what progress looks like. It may not have been always been pretty, it could well have gone either way, but a toughed out 0-0 in South Yorkshire was just what the doctor ordered.

I'm sure I wasn't the only travelling Tricky concerned about what we might see on Saturday. A rampant Rotherham, managed by Neil Warnock, didn't seem the ideal fixture for a hapless side that had registered a meagre one win and one draw in its previous 11 outings.

A managerless (Paul Williams, bless him, doesn't really want this poisoned chalice does he?) mishmash of a side would surely be outfoxed by a wily Warnock and outfought by his confident charges.

Yet, it wasn't to be. Building on a promising second half against Brighton, Forest held their own. Yes Richard Wood could - and should - have done better with a series of headed chances but the fact that the best chances fell to him is testament to the way in which the Millers' attack was largely kept in check.

Chief frustrator for the Men in Black was Danny Fox, the man brought in from the cold by Williams and Reid after yet another injury crisis. A full back by trade, Fox has slotted in to the heart of the defence - a position he did play under Stuart Pearce - and deserves high praise for his performances. Pearce himself once said Fox possessed one of the best left feet at the club. We laughed at the time but Fox's distribution at the New York Stadium showed that his dreadful displays at full back haven't done him justice.

Perhaps most impressive of all was that Fox was strong in the tackle, good in the air and quick to intercept any danger - proving he was up to the physical test that the hosts posed and making him a good foil for the also-solid Matt Mills.

It was a day for unlikely star men. Ryan Mendes, an often frustrating figure, was undoubtedly Forest's main - if not only - attacking threat. His pace proved a major headache for the Rotherham back four, forcing Warnock to tweak his tactics at half time to try to nullify him. While he was quieter after the break, he was still a threat - setting up Lansbury, drawing a save from Lee Camp and dancing into the box Knockaert-style in injury time (sadly without the same end result).

The Cape Verde man is desperately close to being a decent player yet if he could finish - or provide more killer final balls - he wouldn't be on loan with us. Saturday proved that, if nothing else, pace alone is enough to give most Championship sides a real headache.

Speaking of unlikely star men, quite why Lee Camp was given man of the match for barely two saves was a mystery. Sadly he went on to prove the decision right by making a smart stop to deny Mendes.

Had others around Mendes been sharper then more points were there for the taking. Henri Lansbury's afternoon was best summed up by the fact he slipped on his backside when put through by Mendes, while Dexter faded badly in the second half. Neither were helped by the fact that Gardner and Tesche were never fully in control and able to give them the service required.

Rotherham's superior crossing ability and Greg Halford's long throws ensured the hosts always posed a threat and the 2,001 away fans could never sit comfortably. Maybe it was these nerves that resulted in Warnock only receiving one chant by way of abuse - or maybe it was that people feared Fawaz might still have to go back to him with a begging bowl in the summer.

A strangely inactive staff in the dugout made just one change - to run down the clock in injury time - while an animated Warnock threw on fresh legs and tried to orchestrate a winner.

A point was probably fair though and it should prove useful for both sides, keeping MK Dons at arm's length. It also meant that a fifth defeat in a row wasn't forthcoming (something we'd apparently not 'managed' since 1992. Even under Megson) and was the first clean sheet since Freedman departed.

One more coherent display against Blackburn would surely be enough to end the relegation nerves. If Fox and Mendes can step up to the plate, is it too much to ask for one last push from the others to see us over the line?

Millmoor is just across the road from the new ground

Rotherham: Home of legends

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Blackstock and Lansbury: The accidental attack that almost toppled Brighton

No-one is sitting comfortably yet are they? No matter how much logic tells us that a nine-point cushion from the relegation zone with five games to go is 'enough', it doesn't pay to take anything for granted with a side that has won one in the last 11 games.

The Calderwood promotion came after we'd been 11 points off with seven games to go. In that respect a 2-1 defeat at home to Brighton should offer scant hope and, yet, strangely there was a crumb or two of comfort.

For about the first half an hour of the second period Forest produced their best football of the Paul Williams caretaker regime. After a tepid first half we landed upon a vaguely useful formula by accident and should have taken at least a point against a below-par Brighton as a result.

Plan A had been to ask Jamie Ward to be Jamie Ward and annoy his way to a goal. There was a lot of running and chasing but, let's be frank, the usual lack of end product followed by the all-too-familiar injury.

In his place came Dexter Blackstock. I recently described Dexter to a colleague as a man who resembles a bag of limbs jumbled up and rearranged in the wrong order. Sometimes things work, other times arms and legs flail and the ball flies off in all directions. Sarcasm aside though, it's clear that Dexter isn't the sort of player to be a like-for-like swap with Ward.

Williams instead pushed everyone a little further forward and it paid off. Lansbury's 'free role' almost became a second striker position as Blackstock was given some support. Osborn was more comfortable on the left and suddenly we attacked with energy and purpose and had the game in our hands.

Blackstock, fittingly, got the goal. It was arch Blackstock too, a brilliant header from a whipped free kick after he'd fought to muscle himself into an inch of space.

It confirmed that Dexter probably is the best we've got available (wince at the thought if you like). It's surely worth a manager asking themselves what a defender would least like to face and Williams, a decent defender himself in his day, should know that a physical Blackstock is the best answer from our severely depleted arsenal.

Dexter might well have enough left in the tank to scramble us over the line to safety this year. He won't be able to plough a lone furrow up front on his own these day though. Equally we haven't got two strikers useful enough to play a pair. That may well mean that Lansbury playing in and around Dexter as a second striker is the best thin sheet of paper we have available to tentatively stick over the cracks in our 'strike force' right now.

The formula provided a couple more chances to the accidental attack take the lead after the equaliser. The first, to Lansbury, was fired over and the second, an awkward header to Dexter, squirmed wide. At that point Dexter was dominating Connor Goldson and looked in the mood for another goal.

Yet, sadly, the chances dried up. Vaughan and Gardner had to come off, Cohen tired and Brighton sent on the subs. Knockaert bamboozled us again and Steve Sidwell swept home an ill-deserved winner. It summed up the season - we simply weren't ruthless enough in both boxes to capitalise on the opportunities in the game.

You'd have to hope that the midfielders might be fit again for the tough looking trip to a rampant Rotherham. We also might as well bottle that unlikely Blackstock/Lansbury formula in the short term and see if, somehow, it can stop the freefall and cobble together a more comfortable finale.

Having bagged his 44th in Garibaldi Red, Dexter is slowly edging towards being the first man to score 50 for Forest since David Johnson. Lansbury himself had scored 18 across the last two seasons but just two this time around. He's apparently been craving a more forward thinking role and, while this was probably further forward than he meant, it's time for him to deliver and rediscover his goalscoring touch. It's not ideal, it's not what any of us would've stuck down on paper as a first choice attack and it's not the solution in the long term but little else has worked recently.