Following a deeply inconsistent few weeks and a disappointing derby day defeat, Peter Blackburn considers the route to survival for Nottingham Forest.
The famous author of the American Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, once wrote ‘on matters of style, swim with the current – on matters of principal, stand like a rock.’ Recent results and performances for Nottingham Forest have confirmed that the inconsistent Reds are hardly doing either.
Style seems to have become a secondary consideration at the City Ground with an anachronistic footballing philosophy creeping into a once progressive side that has shown a flair for attacking play in glimpses against various opposition teams this season. Rather than swimming with the current, Forest are seriously struggling to keep their heads above water.
Forest should by now have established a relatively attractive and attacking style making full use of the squad’s best assets, namely the exciting talents of two prodigious wide men in Garath McCleary and Andy Reid.
For Forest, both swimming with the current and standing for principle like a rock should mean the same thing. With regard to Jefferson’s principle, the often over-talked traditions of this football club are borne in the philosophies of such a dominant and successful manager that they have stuck fiercely, and have become one of the rallying points around which Forest fans are so proud to stand.
Despite the reality that pragmatic footballing styles are a necessity in modern football, the evidence from the 2011/12 season is that Forest are a side at their best when going forward and providing their attacking players with a platform to perform. This is not a team of deeply organised and highly drilled military-style footballers, but a squad with enough talent to be utilised in an entirely more exciting manner.
This Nottingham Forest side is one that has been through more turmoil since the summer than many will go through in a decade – changes in managers, the tragic death of an owner, the departure of a mentor and deep financial uncertainty. What should have more clarity than anything else is that such a fragile, flickering flame — such as the Forest fire was after recent wins against Birmingham, Coventry and Millwall — must be treated with respect and with absolute care. The moving of players out of position, and making significant changes to the line-up simply cannot happen in these circumstances. When confidence is fragile, man management must be gentle and should breathe more life into the side, making full use of momentum. Clearly, there are circumstances outside any managers control, such as fitness or any personal issues, and without doubt it would be foolish to blindly ignore these things, but the point stands regardless of this.
The way forward, and indeed the path to steer clear of relegation is clear, and Forest have, at times, trodden this path in recent weeks. In order to succeed, the retaining of the solid, familiar formation with players in their most comfortable positions that allows McCleary and Reid, Forest’s wing wizards, to shine is of paramount importance.
As important as anything for a Forest side with strong wingers and athletic central midfield players in Guedioura and Moussi is to get back to a more high-tempo pressing game. Recent matches have seen a backing off policy which allows Championship players of limited quality the time and space to pull something quality out of their usually unimpressive box of tricks. When Steve Cotterill first arrived at Forest it seemed that he had brought with him an intensity and enthusiasm for pressing and harrying the opposition that was supremely welcome. Forest would do well to return to this style, starving their opponents of time and space and winning the ball back quickly to allow Reid, Guedioura and McCleary the time on the ball to win games for the Reds.
The race for survival may not be a marathon or a sprint, but is certainly a fight. Losing to Derby was without a doubt one battle lost but the war is not over and Forest have all the tools in their armoury to emerge victorious. It won’t be easy, but with togetherness, consistency and enthusiasm the Reds will find themselves still in the Championship come next season.
Follow Peter on Twitter: @petermblackburn