Thursday, 31 March 2016

Martin? Oh no! Don't fall into the disappointment trap

As a Forest fan it's best to expect disappointment. That way you'll either be prepared for the worst or pleasantly surprised.

It's the hope and expectation, after all, that kills you. Whether it's Cloughie's chance to win the FA Cup, relegations, play-off debacles, players on strike or off-field 'events', experience has taught us not to get carried away.

That's why I'm worried about any talk linking Martin O'Neill with the annual vacancy at the City Ground.

For him to take the job, some very big hurdles would need to be overcome. Firstly, O'Neill would have to want to jack in his current job with Ireland after leading the side to the Euros in France. In doing so he'd forego a shot at qualifying for the World Cup in Russia too.

Then, if and only if he doesn't fancy the World Cup, we'd also have to hope that O'Neill is something of a footballing romantic. Although things didn't end too well at Sunderland, O'Neill's record in the domestic game does not suggest that he'd have to go back to club football with a side treading water in the mid table of the second tier (at best).

We'd have to hope that he's got a similar pair of prescription strength Garibaldi-tinted specs that we all sometimes don and that he is sucked in by the chance to return us to success from roughly the same state in which Clough found us in the 70s.

We'd have to hope that that fairytale would be enough to blind him to Fawaz's paper thin club structure and the spending limitations (even if the embargo is lifted) we face.

Kenny Burns says the feeling in his gut (no jokes about Kenny's gut please) is that O'Neill is an unrealistic prospect and I'd have to agree. I don't think sentiment is enough on its own and, let's be frank, Martin is too good for us.

Of course John Robertson is right. We should 'give Martin a call'. You never know if you don't pick up the phone but I suspect it'd be a fairly short and fruitless conversation.

My worry is that, having flirted with the idea during this grim post-Sheep international break, whoever we do eventually get might feel like an almighty let down in comparison. When Ian Holloway or Steve Clarke come riding into town the collective sigh of disappointment will be even greater having dared to dream of O'Neill.

Part of the reason the O'Neill story lasted, I suppose, was because it was at least more positive than some of the alternatives. A couple of overseas names - men who seem to be a) cheap, b) failures elsewhere and c) used to owner interference - have been floated. I'm gritting my teeth and hoping these are just people who have applied and aren't serious contenders.

Beyond that Nigel Pearson remains the bookies favourite. He's from Nottingham, has had success at this level and is available which, to be honest, is probably all that those odds are based on. Barring the odd bit of bizarre behaviour on the touchline and that 'ostrich rant' he's actually shown himself to be a smart manager and laid the foundations for Leicester's current title push. He has also been linked to the now-vacant Villa job though and, interestingly, wouldn't come with the team that surrounded him at the Crisp Bowl, making him both a diminished force and likely to hold out for something better. If Mick McCarthy and Neil Warnock can turn us down then Pearson might also resist our advances.

Second favourite is Nigel Clough who seems destined to appear in the running every time the vacancy is available (every Feb/March). Is there an inevitability about Clough Jnr's return to the City Ground? He's apparently engineered a clause in his Burton contract that would allow him to talk to the club if approached. It seems a little odd that he's that interested in Forest to me. Of course talking and agreeing to come are not the same. He does have a chance to take his current club to the Championship and carry on the building job he began years ago and that might seem a better prospect than jumping into the Fawaz firing line.

Nigel's record suggests he'd bring through young players and could hunt out bargains if we're still hampered by FFP. But, post-Pearce, do we really want to return to another club legend? (That's how he should be viewed too, not as an ex Sheep boss). I'm uneasy about both that and the fact that Nigel seems someone for the long term. This post, as we all know, doesn't have a long shelf life.

The trouble is, who else? Neil Lennon is third favourite but seems broken by his Bolton experience and joint third favourite is a certain William McIntosh Davies. Anyone know much about him?

Mind you, even Ricardo Moniz is only 20/1 which suggests that the bookies are as baffled as the rest of us. It's a list ridden with unrealistic ideas, failures and unsuitable candidates. Like Alan Sugar's Apprentice contenders.

Still, whatever happens, I certainly won't be dreaming of an O'Neill fairytale. That will only, surely, end in nightmares...

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Freedman sacked as Fawaz's Forest farce continues

I've tried to give Fawaz the benefit of the doubt. Even now I think his heart's probably in the right place. He's got money and he wants to make a success of Nottingham Forest. But, let's face it, he hasn't got a single clue how to bring that success about. We're further away from being a Premier League club off the pitch than we are on it and - as anyone who saw us put to the sword in the second half yesterday will attest - that's saying something.

Dougie Freedman's sacking is the latest piece of nonsensical management from the club. And by the club I mean Fawaz and that bloke that looks 16 and has seemingly never heard of a direct debit since there seems to be little else resembling a 'structure' at the City Ground. His departure means that the current owner still hasn't stuck by one manager for a whole season.

Dougie wasn't the messiah, let's not kid ourselves. His style was stodgy at times and he wasn't the most charismatic of figureheads. But he's rolled his sleeves up, worked with the twin pressures of an embargo and crippling injury list and done some much-needed dirty work. He's started to build a side - from the back as you should - and has helped to trim the budget and mop up Fawaz's financial mess. Ironically when he's tried to be more attacking (was he leant on by Fawaz?) it has cost him his job.

We did need to see more goals and more style in time if we were to be capable of contesting promotion but Dougie had earned the right to be given a chance at the job with his star players fit and a transfer budget. Now that he's been denied that chance his rebuilding work is put at risk. The whole of the last year might well be for nothing. The style won't magically improve by sacking the man who has moulded the current 11. In fact the risk of relegation, something Fawaz told Natalie Jackson in mitigation, has just been made worse. Freedman at least knew how to batten down the hatches and tough out a few points.

Fawaz has to understand that their is a direct relationship between the style and substance on the pitch and his actions off it. Attendances, another concern, are hardly going to rise when the owner himself has pretty much written off the season by leaving a caretaker in charge.

Fawaztells me he tried his best to keep DF & wants stability for #nffc but is worried about relegation, fans concern over style of play 1/2
— Natalie Jackson (@NatJacksonsport) March 13, 2016

.. and falling attendances. He also says he wants to take his time over appointing a new manager and won't rush. 2/2 #nffc
— Natalie Jackson (@NatJacksonsport) March 13, 2016

Paul Williams now takes charge for the run in. He's a Freedman recruit of course but looks to have some promising and progressive ideas learned under the tutelage of Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton and has a small amount of experience at Brentford. He seems a bright prospect, which means he'll have no chance of getting the nod full time. Quite how he's supposed to impress is anyone's guess. Not getting our trousers unceremoniously pulled down at Hull and Derby would be a start. Good luck with that.

The Freedman regime didn't just include Williams of course. You doubt that the wise old words of Lennie Lawrence will be heard around the training ground for much longer and Dougie clearly had contacts in France and Spain who dug up some decent transfer targets. He'd also just recruited a 'head of sport science' from Charlton and, most frustratingly of all, had lined up a striker to try to fill the goalscoring void in his team. Little else symbolises the ridiculousness of the situation better than sanctioning the loan deal of a striker and then sacking a manager before he gets the chance to use him on the pitch.

If it's not Williams, then who next? This is, after all, a hotseat turned down by Neil Warnock. The same Neil Warnock that fancied the Rotherham job (and I genuinely mean no disrespect to Rotherham there). Most managers would probably need a minimum of two seasons to gain promotion - and that's if everything goes in their favour - yet it's highly unlikely that anyone appointed will get two years. In that sense it's a near-impossible job.

Perhaps most frustratingly of all is the situation regarding the running of the club. I'm under no illusions that operating a Championship football club is easy but Fawaz is clearly struggling. He has the money and the ambition but he badly needs someone to run the 'business' on his behalf. So far he hasn't shown willing to let anyone do that.

It's highly likely that the 'Fawaz out' ranks will be bolstered by Freedman's sacking. Yet even that makes me nervous. If he does decide to pack his bags but asks for as much as a third of the £67million-plus he is owed in loans to be paid back, then the club's future is in jeopardy. This club - supposedly celebrating a 150th anniversary - has been had many firsts in its history, being the first big name to fold is too horrific to contemplate.

The feeling towards the owner could well turn even more sour in the coming week. By taking this course of action Fawaz has put himself in the spotlight. If we lose heavily at Derby he'll undoubtedly bear the brunt of the fans' ire. Is he ready for that? Given that he seems unable to ignore people on Twitter I fear not. Those fans willing to go along with him before aren't likely to stand up for him too strongly either. It could turn ugly.

Just a final thought: is anyone really that confident we'll come out of the embargo in the summer? Our track record in delivering paperwork, meeting deadlines and working around FFP isn't great, to put it mildly, and I'm not counting my chickens that it'll happen.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Dougie needs a more ways than one

Dougie Freedman needs a goal. I don't just mean in the ball in the back of the net sense either although, actually, some of those would be nice too after just two in the last seven games.

What the Glasgow gaffer desperately needs right now is a sense of purpose. The current campaign is in severe danger of ending in ignominy and games against Preston, Sheffield Wednesday, D**by and Hull offer little respite in a tough March.

When the Freedman honeymoon ended last season - and the over-zealous talk of the play-offs was silenced - the wheels came off. Defeat against soon-to-be-promoted Norwich City started a run of eight games which saw six defeats and two draws.

A similar run now - further out from the end of the season - could undo the hard work Dougie has done to start to 'build from the back' and forge his side under the shadow of the FFP embargo.

But arresting the slide and avoiding 'going through the motions' are easier said than done. The manager tried to be more attacking in his outlook at Portman Road but, after spurning chances in the first half, the result was a sadly predictable 1-0 defeat.

Yet it'd be sad if Saturday is the end of the road for 'Action Dougie'. With the play-offs and relegation zone both a decent distance away now has to be the time to experiment...and not just to counter the critics of Freedman's normally cautious style.

In the next 11 games I'd like to answer at least some of the following ten questions:

*Is Dimitar Evtimov a good enough back-up to Dorus De Vries?
*Can Jorge Grant cope with the hustle and bustle of a Championship midfield?
*What type of midfielder is Robert Tesche and is he worth keeping in the summer?
*Can Tyler Walker make the step up?
*Is Deimantas Petravicius ready to make the matchday squad?
*Can Ben Osborn play in the middle?
*Is Oliver Burke ready to be a regular starter?
*Do we want to try to keep any of the loanees?
*Where is Chris Cohen going to be best utilised?
*Can Britt Assombalonga be the same play post-injury?

A productive final 11 games will answer a fair few of those questions and save us an awful lot of time and effort in the summer and beyond. The biggest gripe I had last season was that we continued to waste game time on the ineffective Chuba Akpom and the likes of Mo Barrow when we could and should have taken stock of other options.

If Dougie were to experiment, give some young players a chance - gradually and not all at once - and learn some important lessons for next season I'd be happy. In some respects these games are a golden opportunity, the chance to start next season early and build some momentum.

My main worry is that the fear of poor results might cause him to be more cautious. If he loses games by experimenting Fawaz's trigger finger might get twitchy again. The trouble is, if he bows to that pressure - and his critics - he might well end up taking the 'worst of both worlds' option. Toughing out a few draws and 1-0 wins might save him his job and earn him the right to carry on next season, but should he try this and fail he'll get even more stick and be even more likely to get the bullet.

To be fair to Dougie he's ridden out a few mini storms so far this season (the transfer window, the home game against the Sheep) so he'll be used to this feeling. If he's brave he deserves our patience and support to see off this one too (not least because we are a club that, lest we forget, were turned down by Neil Warnock not so long ago).

For inspiration Freedman need look to the south coast. Chris Hughton's dour, shot-shy Brighton side finished with a mere 47 points and 44 goals last season. The Seagulls kept faith with their boss and have gone from strength to strength. They can now look back on last season as the important building blocks for their play-off push.

If Dougie can set and achieve a positive goal between now and the end of the season he should back himself to follow suit. I sincerely hope he does.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Unlucky for some? Forest and the dreaded number 13

I’m not one for superstitions - although I’ll confess to avoiding popping my 'unlucky socks' on on matchdays – but plenty of fans and sportsmen and women are aren’t they?

Australian cricketers even get nervous when they reach 87 not out because they are 13 away from 10 (that probably says a lot about the Aussie mindset, we’d probably be delighted to even reach 87).

With that in mind, if they were Nottingham Forest fans, they'd probably be royally spooked by the following :

We're currently 13 points off the play-off positions
We're also 13 points above the bottom three
We had a 13 match unbeaten run under Dougie
February 13 was the date when the run came to an end against Huddersfield
Until Saturday we’d not lost any of the previous 13 games in which we’d taken the lead
There are 13 games to go
Dougie is the 13th full time appointment since relegation from the Premier League (counting each Billy stint separately)
A below-£13 million loss is the financial target to come out of the FFP embargo
…oh and ‘used to be good before he signed for us’ Danny Fox sports the number 13.

Now before you start calling up Barry Fry to wee on all four corners of the ground to lift a curse (like he did at St Andrews), it's worth saying that I don't think this is all some sort of spooky proof of something sinister. It's all harmless trivia, a statistical quirk and if it's proof of anything it's that I think about these sort of things rather too much...