Friday, 16 February 2018

Karanka needs ruthlessness and results

Never mind words, we're starting to see what the Marinakis regime will be like in practice. The sacking of Mark Warburton after a month of poor form with the team in 14th was followed by the sanctioning of ten new signings in the January transfer window. The team, you feel, now needs to show the sort of ruthlessness on the pitch that the club has shown off it.

That certainly wasn't the case in Saturday's horror show against Hull. The 2-0 defeat to the previously-toothless Tigers left open the very real threat of a relegation battle. The last ten games have now yielded a pitiful five points - repeat that in the next ten and there's no doubt that we'll be in a mess.

It was baffling - but so very Forest - that we'd signed so many new players and were still watching the same old rubbish, not least at the back. Every new manager comes into the club and learns the hard way that Danny Fox can no longer cope at left back, it seems, while we merely have to be subjected to the same painful lessons as they play out in front of us. Michael Mancienne isn't a player I particularly rate but, my position notwithstanding, he is clearly woefully out of form and ill-suited to the role of captain. After Hull's first goal you could see several of their players geeing each other up but there were no such signs of encouragement on our side, from the captain or anyone else. Joe Worrall, too, is a young player who looks like he might need some time out of the firing line to fine tune a few things, with a worrying tendency to make mistakes creeping into his game.

In fairness to the defence, it can hardly have been easy for them. From Freedman's emphasis on defensive solidity to the gung-ho days of Philippe Montanier and the short passing mantra of Mark Warburton, these players have borne the brunt of dramatic changes in style in recent seasons. Now again, half way through a season, we're expecting them to adapt to another manager and yet another way of playing.

It'd perhaps be impatient to expect all of the new signings to be match fit and ready to go, but it did still feel odd not to see more of them against Hull. Karanka and the board were clearly concerned enough by the quality of the squad to make drastic changes in January, but the team selection didn't seem to reflect this. I can't help thinking that the introduction of Ben Watson or Lee Tomlin, for example, might have helped to signal the change in mentality and attitude that we badly need. As Karanka himself said, when Hull's goal went in we were a beaten side. The fact that that goal came after nine minutes - and that Hull are a poor side - said everything you need to know about Forest's lack of confidence and poor powers of recovery.

Whether the selection was wrong or not, however, Saturday's game was worrying. Managing one shot on target all game (it's now only five on target in our last three and no goals at home in the last five) showed a lack of fight. Had we bombarded the opposition's goal in the second half and lost 2-1, say, we might at least have had something to cling to. The team also looked a mess. What exactly was the plan going forward? Who was going to score the goals we needed? Out of form top scorer Kieran Dowell did not look at home on the left. Under Warburton, the criticism was that we lacked a plan B to change games when we were losing. On Saturday we didn't appear to have even a plan A.

Aitor Karanka has a big job on his hands to turn this around. He has the pedigree to suggest he can do the job - and he's been backed in the transfer market too. We have to hope that, given time, Karanka's ideas and his new personnel can deliver the results needed to avoid getting sucked into a basement battle. The January window certainly saw players come in in a greater volume and quality than seen in previous years.

It could be argued, of course, that signing ten new players is, in itself, an alarming sign. No club should need quite such drastic surgery mid way through a season, certainly not if things are going well. However, the signing spree did see us snap some quality players several of which - Ben Watson, Joe Lolley, Jack Colback - have experience of promotion to the Premier League. On face value, the glut of midfield additions flies in the face of the fact that we can't currently score goals and we're shipping them at an alarming rate at the other end of the pitch. Midfield changes can, of course, screen the back four better and help to create more chances and it has to be hoped that Karanka can find a formula that does both of those things. He'll have to be ruthless - that word again - and that might mean leaving out talented academy graduates, an out of form Dowell, some of his own new signings or even a combination of all three.

We've often argued that a manager will need two or three transfer windows to truly shape his squad. Maybe the owners have heard this and sought to deliver two or three windows worth of signings for Karanka in one go? I certainly think they'll be expecting to see some results between now and the end of the season. Rightly or wrongly, does anyone think they'll be happy to hobble on, scrape 15/16 points and limp to safety? I actually think they believed that switching Warburton for Karanka left open the outside chance of a play-off push. If that was the case, we're all seeing how deluded that was now.

While you'd like to think it's not a case of 'top six or out' this season for Karanka, I still fear he'll need to show real signs of progress if he's to continue going forward. If that sounds daft, it's because football is daft. The owners want a promotion challenge next season, that much is now clear.

The immediate priority is, however, to stop the rot. Games against Hull, Burton, Reading and QPR had looked like an opportunity to pick up some points - now they look like games that could drag us into the dogfight if we're not careful. With ten new players in the bag, it'll take Karanka a long time before he knows his best 11 but he needs to find a formation and combination to work from; one that can tough out the odd draw. Burton might well be bad at home, but Hull were in horrible form away too and no-one should be in any doubt of Forest's magical ability to breathe life into an out-of-form opposition.

No comments: