Despite several good performances in recent weeks, Nottingham Forest’s results aren’t exactly improving. With Derby County the next visitors, Jack Grummitt says it’s time for the fans to get behind Dougie Freedman
Nottingham Forest are clearly a CLUB (not TEAM) in turmoil, being run with a reactive and panicky nature from the top; and Dougie Freedman has one heck of a job on his hands to try and turn it around.
No reasonable supporter could have expected a season embedded in the top echelons of the Championship table and, to be frank, I stick with my assertion at the start of the season that staying in the league, keeping a manager and coaching staff in post for a whole season and escaping FFP in June would represent progress.
It’s immaterial if you think Michael Mancienne is the best defender in the league, or Britt Assombalonga should score 20 goals when he’s fit. We are not at a level to demand such luxuries. Nottingham Forest can’t fully flourish on the pitch until change is made off it.
However, there is a particular problem that is seeping into Nottingham Forest – us, the fans.
Maybe it’s Twitter’s fault. It’s a nirvana for reflex calls and snap judgements, where supporters are firmly placed by their peers into two camps: negative whiners and the one I am accused of being in — happy-clapper idiots who can’t see what’s really happening. Recently though, it’s become a cesspool of aggravation and pernicious vitriol, which is beginning to border on the plain eerie.
When Liam Trotter scored a deserved injury-time equaliser against Ipswich a couple of weeks ago, the reaction was astonishing. Cries of ‘we’ll still go down’, ‘Dougie is clueless’ and other such obscenities were hurled towards the club. There simply has to become a time where you remember why you support a football club – because you love the game. A last-minute equaliser at home is something that at the very least should trigger a sense of relief, and a small sense of pride that your team has fought till the bitter end. I for one was impressed that Academy product Jorge Grant kept a good technique and his head down at a time of pressure, which ultimately led to Trotter’s finish. However, such was the sheer lack of any sort of ‘support’ that it was lost in the myriad of sheer misery.
This then leads us on to the worldwide issue of football managers, and the increasing trend of them being scapegoated for every error that occurs on and off the pitch. I realise this is common. But it doesn’t stop the fact that Dougie Freedman is doing an okay job in horrendous circumstances.
Imagine the scenario. You’re handed a management position in a job where the previous incumbents of the role have been fired on a roughly annual basis. You’re given no budget to hire any staff, so have to make do with temps and juniors. Administrative errors out of your control mean some of these temps don’t even get recruited. Your best staff are off on the sick, or are sent elsewhere to free up cash. The company is making increasingly large losses, your boss doesn’t understand business or accounts, and your fellow senior staff are walking away from the chaos. Plus, you’ve got a large sector of your support claiming the job you’re doing isn’t good enough, and that you should be propelling them into the Forbes Top 100. We’d all leave that role within a month.
Amazingly, Nottingham Post journalist Paul Taylor came under fire when live-tweeting the Preston game because he reported that despite being 1-0 down at half-time, Forest had played well and created chances. There were more than a handful of replies complaining that the performance didn’t mean a jot when we were losing matches (or words to that effect).
This view, one I realise commonly held, is completely misguided and absolutely incorrect. There, I said it.
Dougie Freedman cannot put the ball in the net for the players. However, he seemed to appropriate the lion’s share of the blame for Forest not scoring in the first-half, whereas really, Nelson Oliveira was clearly the main culprit for missing more than one opportunity from good build-up play. The notion that a good performance is meaningless is ludicrous. If that were true, then why not just check the result after every game? Why watch live? Why follow the Videprinter? Why bother?
The facts can’t be plainer. Our best two goalscorers are injured. Dexter Blackstock, though a hard worker, has never been prolific. Tyler Walker is a good finisher who can’t be expected to score at a rate of knots as he still adjusts to the Championship. Gerry McDonagh, James Thorne and the like are learning their trade well in the Under-21s. Chris O’Grady and Nelson Oliveira were probably the best we could have brought in on loan with no money for transfers, and more importantly, limited wages.
Which brings us to the word that strikes fear into me whenever it’s mentioned: TACTICS. Have a browse through the Nottingham Forest timeline on Twitter, and it will suggest Freedman is ‘tactically clueless’. For those not on Twitter, how it tends to work is that our manager is clueless when Forest lose, but begrudgingly correct when Forest win. I simply don’t get this. Football is a game of fine margins. Even the games where teams play better than us hang on these margins. Take Sheffield Wednesday. Two moments, one from Dimi Evtimov, and one from Jamie Ward, both went against Forest. This is sport. It is not a computer game. Currently, our fans are failing to realise that.
Let’s also take a quick look at the players Freedman has lured to the City Ground. Matt Mills and Jamie Ward took pay cuts to come here. In terms of pedigree, Ryan Mendes, Jonny Williams and Oliveira were impressive loan signings. And let us just, for a minute, move to Dani Pinillos.
Here, Dougie Freedman has achieved what no Forest manager has done since Paul Hart with Jim Brennan – found Forest a quality left-back (I’m not counting Cohen as he’d never play there when fully fit). Plucked from a relegated La Liga team, Pinillos has built himself up, adapted to the physical nature of the Championship, and is starting to become a good outlet going forward. Write out your best Forest XI now. You’ve put Pinillos at left-back, haven’t you? Didn’t even stop to think about it I assume? Yes, I realise Danny Fox is not great competition, but still, there’s a 10-year problem solved and the manager and staff deserve credit for such moves.
I am fully aware that people will think I’m ‘blinded’, that I’m a foolish liberal who isn’t appreciating the facts. I am not. I have my issues with the manager. Blaming Dimi Evtimov for defeat against Wednesday, despite saying he played well otherwise, whilst Henri Lansbury gets gushing praise for stamping on somebody after the team he captains broke the deadlock against Burnley, was not smart. I don’t like it that he continually refers to our performances as ‘outstanding’ when they’re probably nearer ‘good’. I thought it was an error to tell Bristol City pre-match that we were going to basically not attack for the first 20 minutes. By all means, vent when we lose, and speak up if you’ve got something constructive and interesting to say. But, as so many have said more articulately than myself, constant change doesn’t solve anything.
So, to Friday. Well done Mr. Freedman, for stating that you’re looking forward to the game. Why shouldn’t you? It’s on Sky, and it’s a huge opportunity to boost some confidence in the team. I’m not expecting us to win. Derby are a better team with better players who play flowing football that I doubt we can deal with. However, I’ll be happy with a fully committed performance where the team works together to play well and cause Derby problems in their final third. Results do come from performances, and Forest will get their reward if they continue to create good spells of pressure on teams.
I’m not asking for blind faith. I’m just asking our supporters to take a deep breath, and really consider your team’s position, and what you believe is best for it. If we can all work together to try and provide that spark, that bit of fortune, it may just bring some much-needed contentedness to proceedings. After all, if you can’t enjoy your sport once in a while, you may as well do something that makes you happy.