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Monday, 3 November 2014

Early Season Perspective

In the wake of Manchester United's injury time comeback to win the 1999 Champions League win, the Sir Alex Ferguson said "football, bloody hell". 

The same can be said for Nottingham Forest, albeit in different circumstances, following their disappointing slump in form throughout October. 

Forest left September unbeaten with the divisions best defensive record and sat in second. They found themselves level on points with leaders Norwich City - who just edged out Forest on goal difference.

Fans were proud to proclaim they were top of the league when allowed, and the catastrophic undoings of Billy Davies' second reign seemed a distant memory. 

The past 4 weeks, however, signifies how quickly things can change in football. 

Forest have endured a run of 2 draws and 3 defeats, and are now 8 league games without a win. The once watertight defence has leaked 12 goals in 5 games, and Forest now find themselves sitting in 10th, 7 points adrift of the new leaders Watford - a team Forest did pick up a good, away point from during this run. 

So what's happened? Has Pearce lost it? Are Forest doomed to mid-table obscurity? Not quite if you give things some perspective.

The 3-0 defeat to Huddersfield Town, saw a minority of fans calling for the instatement of a new manager. I should point out, these were the same bunch who led the top of the league chants just weeks ago. 

The manager and club legend Stuart Pearce, has seen these fans churn the clich√© 'tactically inept' without offering any further insight into why. 

Reality is, that things have unravelled since the home draw against Derby In September. 

Forest lost three key players to injury during that game; captain Chris Cohen, Jack Hobbs and Andy Reid. These were the cornerstones in our early season form, yet within one match, Hobbs and Reid suffered injuries that have put them out until early 2015, whilst Cohen suffered his third cruciate ligament injury which this time is likely to have ended his career. 

Since then there has been a switch from crisp, possession football to long ball. 

Long ball isn't always as bad as some fans have you believe if implemented correctly. 

The game following Derby saw Forest beat strugglers Fulham 5-3, with Michael Antonio scoring a wonder goal following an effective 'punt' from the back. 

Forest did throw away a 2-0 lead during that game, where for a 30 minute period, they switched off and allowed Fulham to go 3-2 up. 

Pearce recognised he needed to strengthen at the back and implemented the necessary action in the next game against Milwall. Pearce introduced Kelvin Wilson and David Vaughan to strengthen our core in defence and anchor the midfield respectively. 

The switch saw us keep a clean sheet but create little.

The lone striker in Britt Assombalonga and attacking midfielder Henri Lansbury, saw the ball whizz right over their heads and cleared away by the opposing defenders with relative ease. It effectively shut them out. 

This lasted for three games where clean sheets were kept but no goals were scored. 

Pearce mixed things up in October to get Forest scoring again. It's largely worked as we have started scoring, except now the defence is leaking goals. 

Forest have gone back to playing like they did that night against Fulham throughout October. Whilst that may scrape you a win against a struggling side you will be torn apart by strong, organised teams - like we have been against Blackburn and Ipswich and rejuvenated teams like Huddersfield. 

The balance throughout the squad is clearly not right, and although Tom Ince was signed to gee up the team with some exciting, attacking quality - it's the defensive centre where problems lie. 

It can't be forgotten that Pearce and this squad are learning more about each other with every game that passes. The summer saw 12 players come in and 14 players depart. 

The early season form was helped by the likes of Reid, Cohen and Hobbs being available and helping the new players to settle in. When we lost them, we were left with a largely new squad of players being forced to gel having only been together as a collective for 3 months. These things take time. 

It does remind me of Sean O'Driscoll's spell in charge at Forest, where he built a squad in the space of a few months. Things started slowly but on Boxing Day 2012, it seemed to all fall into place when Forest beat Leeds in a remarkable 4-2. Sadly, the win wasn't enough to save Sean as he was sacked that evening and the wheels then fell off. 

But that is how I see this squad fairing. It will click around Christmas time and we will enter 2015 strongly. What happens then is to be continued. 

Pearce will get it right and people who think otherwise, need to recognise the progress this club as a whole has made since his arrival. Bad blood has left, exciting talent has come in alongside people who genuinely care about this club with no hidden agendas. We even have a long overdue Chief Executive. 

Football changes quickly, especially in the Championship. Whilst we have fell to 10th, Bournemouth have risen from 15th to 2nd in the same four week period following 5 straight wins. It's the same for most teams at this level, a few wins and you're in with a shout of the play offs. 

Forest are in a great position, and three wins in a row will put us in the top 6. 

No need to panic just yet.

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