Two days to go and in the fourth of the series, Seat Pitch talks to Shaun Wheatcroft about his hopes and fears for the season ahead.
1. Were you pleased with the appointment of Steve McClaren?
The simple answer to this question is no. In fact, like many fans, I was distraught with the appointment of McClaren at first. Primarily because of the cloud that hung over him from his brief spell as England manager and the media reputation he subsequently gained.
But, after I had let the selection simmer for a few days, McClaren eventually grew on me. What impresses me most is that he oozes a desire to take this club back to where it belongs.
2. How do you think the squad could be improved?
With only days remaining until the start of the new season I think it’s clear that the squad is lacking goals. More specifically, a striker who can score 20 goals a season, which is vital if we can even hope to finish in an automatic promotion spot. The pressure on the squad, as it stands, to score goals will be hard to cope with but I hope they prove me wrong. However, if we fail to make any more signings I do have an underlying faith in Dexter Blackstock coming to our rescue at Christmas.
Furthermore, the left-back situation is one which we will have to get used to I think. So all I will say on that matter is, let us pray that square pegs can start squeezing much better into round holes in the Forest defence this season.
3. Who will be our most important player this season? And which youth player do you think will make a breakthrough?
I am a firm believer in the ability of Andy Reid and trust he will prove to be McClaren’s best signing to date. Not only is he a great crosser of the ball, which is something Forest have lacked in recent years, but he is also a player who can score a few goals at this level. He certainly isn’t afraid to have an effort at goal, as he has already shown in pre-season.
In terms of a breakthrough youth player we are not short of options, but I think it really is the year for Kieron Freeman, he not only plays at left-back but can also slot into midfield and has looked outstanding each time I’ve watched him play.
4. Who do you think will be the main rivals for promotion? And which team do you expect to be the surprise package this season?
Recently-relegated West Ham and high-spending Leicester City will definitely provide the biggest rivalry for promotion to the Premier League this season. The Hammers have managed to bring Big Sam on board which is a huge boost for them, if Forest can snatch four points off them this season I would be pretty content.
Leicester, on the other hand, are a different kettle of fish altogether. They have splashed out on numerous signings and are willing to pay wages that we just cannot compete with. However, when I look at their squad, the only big difference I really see is their defence, which has vastly improved. I still think they are beatable.
I am going to tip Barnsley and Brighton for my surprise packages; I actually think both might even be close to making the play-offs.
5. What would you most like to happen this season?
Of course I would like to see Nottingham Forest finish in one of the automatic promotion spots. In fact, I think it’s fair to say we deserve it but unfortunately the league does not run on merit. But other than that it would be great to see the team playing some beautiful, flowing football and scoring great goals. Wins over our arch-rivals Derby County are always pleasant but, all-in-all, I just hope we are there or thereabouts. I am definitely looking forward to seeing McClaren’s style of play being implemented.
6. What won’t happen this season?
Forest will not sign a permanent left-back, I think that’s a given. We will not be relegated and I feel extremely confident in saying that. But more importantly, I think we will stay out of the media stories of manager/board bust-ups this season. Not because our new manager is a ‘yes man’ but because when you sit back and look more deeply, you can see that McClaren is developing a fantastic structure for the future and, along with our board, he is preparing this club for being in the Premier League. And that is exactly what we all want.
7. Finally, where do you expect us to finish in the league?
In a league which is so famous for being unpredictable it can be hard to ponder where Forest might end up, especially considering our smaller squad size and lack of depth. However, if we can start well and get the momentum fizzing over I can only see the confidence growing. If the little nuts and bolts fit in place, and we bring in one or two more players, I can see an automatic promotion spot on the horizon — although I have to squint to see it right now.