Yohan Benalouane was shown a straight red card for handball on the line in Nottingham Forest’s defeat to Birmingham City. 

Che Adams converted the subsequent penalty on what was another dismal afternoon for Forest. The Reds now find themselves five points off the play-offs with their Premier League dream slowly fading away.

If Martin O’Neill is to mastermind a dramatic upturn in form, then they’ll have to start producing soon.

There’s no doubt that time is running out and with every defeat, their chances of finishing in the play-offs become slimmer. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they can go on a good run. However, for a side that’s only won back-to-back games once all season, it’s unlikely.

In this case, O’Neill has inherited a number of problems which led to Aitor Karanka leaving the club. The main issue remains in defence.

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O’Neill inherits defensive injury crisis

O’Neill has been without Michael Dawson, Michael Hefele, Tobias Figueiredo and Sam Byram since he arrived at the club. Tendayi Darikwa is also yet to feature under the Northern Irishman due to his suspension.

In that respect, it has certainly been a difficult situation for O’Neill to walk into.

The Reds did look to address the situation late in the January transfer window. Molla Wagué arrived at the City Ground on loan from Udinese, whilst Alex Milošević signed on a free transfer.

Due to the lack of centre-backs available to O’Neill, Milošević was immediately thrown into the deep end against Birmingham. Considering he hadn’t played since early November, the 27-year-old produced a competent performance.

 

In this case, Wagué and Milošević weren’t the only defenders to move to Forest last month. Benalouane also made the switch from Leicester City for an undisclosed fee.

The 31-year-old centre-back has made a very positive impression at the club so far. He may be reckless at times, but he’s put his body on the line and shown a passion that other players haven’t recently. With some fine tuning, he can go on to become a very valuable player to the Reds.

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Benalouane’s red card adds to defensive headache

However, he’ll now also be unavailable for the visit of Brentford this weekend. This is an additional problem that O’Neill could do without.

Speaking to BBC Radio Nottingham after the game against Birmingham, O’Neill hinted that Wagué may be given an opportunity to make his debut, depending on his fitness.

He said: “That’ll be disappointing of course for next week. We’ll see how his (Wagué) fitness is, he hasn’t played for a while.”

Considering Benalouane’s performances for the Reds so far, having to replace him with a centre-back who has only made three first team appearances all season is far from ideal.

However, after moving Jack Robinson back to his natural left-back role, it’s unlikely that O’Neill would ask him to move back into the centre again. This means that a partnership of Milošević and Wagué is his only option.

Whatever defence O’Neill decides to name, it’s vital that they help the Reds secure a vital three points against Brentford at the weekend to help restore some positivity around the club.