Gutsy Forest finally reclaim The Brian Clough Trophy

Derby days are always special, but few will ever reach the heights of Monday night. Familiar faces adorned the technical area, spicing up an already flaming-hot occasion for the Sky Sports cameras. Few are bigger than the East Midlands derby. Yes, three points were vital for both sides: Derby were looking to escape a February rut while Forest were hoping to kickstart a win streak in an attempt to sneak into the play-offs. Yet the stakes stretch so much further in this fixture.

Ancient grudges are fought out, families are torn apart and, on Monday night in particular, reputations were on the line. Can Lampard emulate his success as a player in the dugout? Roy Keane: bully or motivator ? Is Martin O’Neill a competent manager in the modern game ? The latter, as regular readers of this blog will know for sure, FTT are skeptical of. But if winning the European Cup wasn’t enough, beating Derby has certainly cemented his place in the hearts of Forest fans.

Build up

Since a drab Forest were taught a lesson or two at St Andrews, things had started to look up. O’Neill’s men had beaten Brentford at home and then managed to get a point away at West Brom and Preston though it should have been so much more. Had it not been for Dwight Gayle’s pathetic swan dive and Tim Robinson’s baffling decision to disallow Lolley’s goal at Preston, The Reds would have picked up an extra 4 points. O’Neill’s tactical imprint is also beginning to shine through after a few games of tinkering and experimenting. Compact and stout at the back, physically competitive in midfield and generally very difficult to break down while possessing the pace in wide areas to wreak havoc on the counter-attack. Though the secret to success with this Forest side is no tactical revolutionary- it is the fight and aggression.

If there was one thing that Karanka lacked at times it was charisma. That elusive ability to inspire a group, that fervour, that pure love for the game. Let’s not get it twisted, O’Neill is far from a zesty Jurgen Klopp but it is the sheer aura of the man that is invigorating this Forest squad. We are up in the oppositions faces from the get go, we win our 50/50 battles, we thunder into challenges – traditional virtues inspired by one very traditional man. Awkward, unorthodox and annoying- yes, FTT likes the new Forest.

The match 

The City Ground was at it’s magical best. A 5th sell out crowd of the year saw 29,500 fans flock in for the big day- and they certainly weren’t disappointed. As Mull Of Kintyre rattled the seats and goosebumps prickled the skin of Forest fans it felt like a city united. Yet with those incredible ‘rebel’ banners and the sea of red and white scarves it also felt like a city of culture, diversity and acceptance.

The historic despise for Derby is not just about local bragging rights. Passed down through generations, the inexplicable hate strays beyond logic or reasoning-  just thinking about them makes a Forest fan’s blood boil.

When Robert Jones blew his whistle you just knew that it was not going to be an ordinary 90 minutes of football. One of the biggest derby’s in the history of English football was commencing with everything on the line.

After only 2 minutes, The City Ground erupted when Yohan Benalouane, an unlikely hero, popped up at the far post to stab in what would be the only goal of the game. The goal was a reflection of the stark contrast between the desire and impetus of Forest and the limp, lax Derby County. Murphy rose uncontested to win the 2nd ball while Benalouane was sharp on his toes at the far post. An utterly raucous start to the match. On 13 minutes , against the run of play, Waghorn broke clean through on goal but could only dink wide Derby’s best chance of the game. Forest were happy to sit back for a bit and let Derby control the ball as our blocks of four held strong. And as Ryan Yates ploughed through a black and white shirt for the 7th successive time it really felt as though the atmosphere was fuelling the Forest players, making them go that extra mile. Colback was a warrior in midfield while Murphy and Lolley pressed and harried the brittle Derby defence. However, it was now Forest’s turn to rue a missed opportunity. Lolley won the ball of Tomori high up the pitch and cooly laid it off to Murphy, one on one with the keeper, but the Irishman stumbled over the ball as Roos dived in and collected.

Benalouane and Milosevic were faultless at the back. Derby had no answer. With explicits hailed at Frank Lampard, heated bust-ups and Roy Keane squaring up to the 4th official the rest of the game was certainly not void of entertainment. And when the 90 minutes were up hundreds of fans prolonged their stay to soak up that glorious feeling of winning an East Midlands derby. It had been a long time.

Tactical points from February

O’Neill’s system compared to Karanka’s.

Regular readers of this blog will know that in the heart of FTT, there still lies a special place for Aitor Karanka (though lets not get into that today). His system, and the one O’Neill is currently using, are quite different. Karanka’s 4-2-3-1 could be adapted depending on the opponent. Away from home, or against the more dangerous sides attacking-wise we would play two very defensive minded midfielders in a compact 4-2-3-1. When in possession, we would look to quickly feed the ball into the likes of Lolley or Cash in wide areas. They would then form triangles with Carvalho and Grabban to create openings on goal. At home, against teams where we were the ones expected to be on the front foot, the full backs would bomb forward to provide extra attacking options. In addition, Guediora would also come into the base of the midfield to give us that different passing dimension.

O’Neill, on the other hand, has favoured the 4-1-4-1. The 4-1-4-1 has, in the past, been used as a possession-based formation, with the midfield triangle looking to keep the ball patiently until gaps appear in the opposition defence. With O’Neill though, the system is all about being compact and well-stocked with players behind the ball. Watson is at the base of the midfield but he is no regista, no Busquets, no Jorginho. His job is simply to pick up the scraps and make sure the midfield are organised and aware. The full backs will very rarely push onwards as Lolley, Cash or Osborn will be occupying the wide areas. In possession of the ball we look to instantly go forward with the striker dropping deep to link up with the wingers and then Yates or Colback will bomb forward to provide extra options. The issue, though, is that against teams who will sit in back in two blocks of four, we might struggle to break them down. O’Neill did switch to the 4-1-2-1-2 against Preston to give Lolley a bit of positional freedom and it worked to a degree. However, it is the choice of personnel that could prove to be the most restricting aspect of the system. Carvalho, Guediora and Gonçalves are all technically gifted talents but are constantly dismissed. Meanwhile, Colback, Yates and Watson (all of whom are essentially defensive midfielders) construct a very negative midfield trio. It is a system that is best-fitted for the Premier League when facing the Man City’s, the Chelsea’s, the Liverpool’s. Although, for the Championship, it may need a bit of tweaking.

O’Neill answers FTT’s call

FTT has been crying out for quiet some time now to give the young Ryan Yates a chance. Our calls have been answered emphatically- he has started all of the last 4 matches winning two man of the match awards and he even got on the scoresheet at The Hawthorns.YatesStarring on loan at Notts County, he struggled for game-time under Karanka but O’Neill has instantly taken to the young man and seems to have unearthed a real gem. Yates is a tough-tackler, strong in the air,  knows when to keep his passes short a simple but also has the eye and technicality to make those 50 yard balls. But most importantly, he understands what it means to sport the Garibaldi having risen through the ranks of The Nigel Doughty Academy.

Player ratings from February

Costel Pantilimon- 8/10: The Romanian beast seems to have miraculously improved his form under the reign of O’Neill. Distribution is still suspect, but he has made some fine saves at crucial points in matches (particularly against Preston) and is commanding his area much better. Great to see.

Jack Robinson- 7/10: Struggled at centre-back against Brentford. Him and centre-back should be a perfect match- he is quick, strong and composed on the ball. However, he just needs to understand his positioning in that role better. Looked much more comfortable against Preston and West Brom at left-back while his performance against Derby was exceptional.

Alexander Milosevic- 8/10: Excellent debut month for Milosevic. His calmness on the ball can easily be mistaken for nonchalance and laxity but that couldn’t be further from the truth. He is a strong-tackler, a presence in the air and constantly aware of his surroundings. Forming a formidable partnership with Benalouane.

Yohan Benalouane- 9/10: What can I say, he scored the winner in the East Midlands Derby. Forest fans will forever remember him for it, but his defensive qualities should also be noted. Much like Milosevic, he is very strong in the air and organises the defence very well- you can always see him talking on the pitch.

Tendayi Darikwa- 6/10: O’Neill favoured Janko firstly, but is now opting for Darikwa. The Zimbabwean international performed fantastically against Derby and was also solid against Preston. Him and Janko are very similar players, and FTT aren’t too bothered which one O’Neill ends up going for. However, Janko is younger and definitely has more potential.

Saidy Janko- 6/10: Featured against Brentford and West Brom, performing averagely.

Ben Osborn- 6/10: Always gives 110% for the shirt but FTT can only see his future at Foret as a squad auxiliary man.

Ben Watson- 7/10: Watson has had another decent month but I still don’t think he is a great player. He is slow, leggy and his first thought when he gets the ball is to blast it up the pitch. Don’t know what O’Neill sees in him.

Ryan Yates- 9/10: *Already spoke about Yates

Matty Cash- 6/10: Always a threat on the counter attack with his pace and trickery. Too often runs into blind alleyways though and you hope that with more experience he can perfect his game.

Joe Lolley- 8/10: After a couple of months of ineffectiveness, Lolley has been back to his blistering best. The way he torments defenders with his direct running and dribbling is incredible to see. He is part of that rare breed that can run just as quick with the ball as without it.

Leo Bonatini- 5/10: Started against West Brom and has had a few substitute cameos but hasn’t really made an impact.

Daryl Murphy- 7/10: Held the ball up very well against Preston and Derby but still isn’t FTT’s first choice striker. His attitude and determination is admirable though.

Lewis Grabban- 7/10: Back among the goals against Brentford, linked up well against West Brom but struggled to get into the game against Preston. Picked up an injury in training before the Derby match.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Has the Champions League lost it’s magic ?

Since Porto won the Champions League under Jose Mourinho in 2004, many argue that the competition has descended into monotony. After all, the past 3 competitions have been won by Real Madrid and extending that even further, Barcelona and Los Blancos have won 7 of the past 10 – it has been a decade of pure Spanish dominance. Yet with a Juventus side tearing up Serie A with Cristiano Ronaldo, a star-studded Manchester City and PSG and Kylian Mbappe looking to dispel European myths, a Champions League mutiny has never looked so ripe.

Image courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com

But this is not the question in focus. The question is whether the Champions League has become a giants playground and whether we will ever see another European underdog fairytale.

The issue lies with the governing body of European football, Uefa, and it’s unfair financial distribution. Uefa supply around 1.3 billion Euros to the 32 participating clubs every year. 55% is prize money (which obviously increases in accordance to a team’s progression in the competition), 30 % is for the 10 year coefficient ranking and 15% is the TV rights market pool. The 10 year coefficient ranking was introduced last year and it rewards clubs over their performances in Europe over the past 10 years. The higher ranking you are, the more money you receive each year. An immoral system to satisfy the bank accounts of Europe’s elite.

Well, surely if the smaller, less rich clubs wanted to be more involved with this lucrative pool of cash then they should pick their performances up in Europe ? But no, it all stems from the group stage draw. The clubs who have performed best domestically in the season prior ( usually the richest clubs ), are put in hat one, then hat two is the second best clubs and so on and so forth.

It gives the richest clubs the best possible chance of going through, and makes it near impossible for the more modest clubs to qualify and improve their coefficient ranking in what manifests into an unyieldingly vicious cycle. The big clubs are rewarded for doing what is expected of them, yet the smaller clubs aren’t. As a result, the financial rift mercilessly expands.

Yes, the magic of an underdog story is the rarity of it. Yes, the raison d’être of the  Champions League is to find the undisputed greatest club in Europe that year. Yes, seeing la crème de la crème lock horns is often a captivating spectacle. However, the concerning thing is that as each year goes by in the Champions League, the underdog will find it increasingly difficult to make a name for himself on the biggest stage in Europe. The drastic financial disparity points towards one, universally dreaded conclusion: The European Super League…

Relegation scraps in the Premier League never fail to dissappoint.

Nobody is safe in this division- well, unless your name is Man City, Liverpool, Man Utd, Arsenal, Spurs or Chelsea. It is a hallmark of the modern financial disparity in football that we can comfortably speak of such crisp boundaries. Gone is the ‘mid table’, gone is the ‘too good to go down’, gone is the ‘too big a club to go down’- just ask a Newcastle fan. Across the continent Europe’s elite are speeding in front in their domestic leagues, spearheaded by some corrupt country in the Middle East. A league inside a league, but who will fall short ?

Huddersfield and Cardiff

Let’s be frank, Huddersfield and Cardiff make a mockery of the Premier League at times. It is built up to be this competition of razor-thin margins, fiery duels and astronomically high stakes yet one simply can not comprehend why Keneth Zohore and Sergio Aguero are sharing the same pitch.

Mooy

Aaron Mooy in action for Australia.

Perhaps even more mind-boggling is the idea that Huddersfield have won 11 points this year, and you wouldn’t bet against that total remaining the same for the rest of the season. In fairness, The Terriers performed well at times under David Wagner this season yet their lack of a competent striker has cost them myriad points, as well as their over-reliance on Aaron Mooy for any real attacking guile. Wagner will remain a club legend for not only leading Huddersfield into the Premier League, but keeping them their for another for season. It was, in my opinion, the most underrated feat in the history of the Premier League. A return to the Championship is no embarrassment. Cardiff, on the other hand, have just won their first consecutive Premier League matches since 1962 and look increasingly likely to stay up against the odds. They are annoying, awkward, tedious and, even worse, managed by Neil Warnock. Yet you find yourselves rooting for the villains. Cardiff have a direct yet versatile set up but it is their fighting spirit that has won them matches this season- The Bluebirds have won 6 points in the final 10 minutes this season. Their fight is admirable, but I think the quality of sides around them like Southampton and Newcastle will shine through.

Cardiff City;

Current Position: 17th, 24 points

My prediction: 18th

Huddersfield Town:

Current Position: 20th, 11 points

My prediction: 20th

Fulham

Fulham have squandered a massive opportunity. Alexander Mitrovic, Ryan Sessegnon and Andre Schurrle looked set to tear the division up, but harsh reality bit, chewed and spat out The Cottagers. Slaviša Jokanović’s expansive, pressing football left Fulham extremely open for a team who, although possessing an abnormal amount of individual quality for a side just rising from the Championship, were still not ready to go toe to toe with the elite.

Image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

Their brittle defence and goalkeeper compounded their woes as supporters began to lose patience with Jokanovic. Ranieri was brought in to bring a bit of defensive stability and has done so to a minor extent, but failed his most important job : bringing in a defender. Want to know who came instead ? A 32 year old Ryan Babel. Baffling. Transfer dealings and tactics aside, certain players have not stepped up when the going gets tough. Sessegnon has struggled with the step-up in quality, Schurrle goes anonymous too often and Jean-Michael Seri just seems despondent at times. However fans of the Premier League are well aware that Ranieri loves a miracle, their remaining fixtures don’t look too foreboding ( yet to play Cardiff at home and Newcastle at home ) and the minimum points total to stay up has been decreasing since the 2015/16 season so never say never. But for me, in a relegation scrap, you can’t be shipping in the amount of goals Fulham are for a feasible chance of staying up ( 2.2 goals a game ).

Fulham;

Current position: 19th, 17 points

My prediction: 19th

Burnley

Burnley are back being Burnley again. Stout defending, winning 2nd balls and Ashley Barnes being a fox in the box conceived the Royal Dyche (a pub in Lancashire), and the Europa League looked to have destroyed it. There was this malaise around Turf Moor at the start of the season. Part of it was the hangover from the failed European qualifiers, where the disruption of a pre-season break really took its toll on the small Burnley squad. Although it was also a mental distraction. For whatever reason, Dyche’s men were straying away from their core values. After 15 games they were 19th with a mere 9 points, plagued by this melancholy. Burnley weren’t going down without a fight though, and, with a wave of that envied claret and blue wand, Dyche had found a way for Burnley to get their mojo back. It started as the festive period began to draw to an eventful close, with 3 emphatic victories against West Ham and relegation rivals Fulham and Huddersfield.James Tarkowski.jpg Tom Heaton returned to the side, pushing Joe Hart on to the bench and has put in some solid performances while Wood and Barnes look to be rekindling their fiery partnership of old. It’s a credit to the man-management skills of Dyche to pull Burnley out of that abyss. Burnley are also an example of how the 4-4-2 can still cut the mustard- they just abuse crosses into the penalty area and rarely have less than five men behind the ball due to the positional discipline of the full backs. Burnley will marginally survive, despite still having to play five of the big six.

Burnley;

Current position: 15th, 25 points

My prediction: 17th

Newcastle

There comes a point where lambasting Mike Ashley only gets you so far. You have to concentrate on what matters the most at this moment time, and that is making sure Newcastle remain in the Premier League. Not only for TV rights and commercial money, but to hold on to that magical Spaniard, Rafa Benitez. It is through his tactical   guile that Newcastle are not in the relegation zone- though they are only 1 point above it. And that, in itself, is a real concern. For all their positives results recently, the threat of relegation still hangs cripplingly heavy for the Toon army.

The problem is that Newcastle are just a bunch of cheap misfits, dumped in by Ashley to temporarily subdue fan rancour.

Mike Ashley, image courtesy of https://www.standard.co.uk

Christian Atsu, Mohamed Diamé and Ki Sung-Yeung are all respectable players, but chuck them together in a midfield and you can say goodbye to three points. Pundits moan when Benitez sets up in a 5-3-2 formation against the top six but what are you expecting him to do ? Run a gegenpress with Matt Ritchie, Ayoze Perez and Kenedy ? Newcastle have a favourable fixture list and desperately need six points in their next two games ( Huddersfield and Burnley at home ). Whatever happens, it may not be enough for Benitez to put pen to paper.

Current position: 16th, 25 points

My prediction: 16th

Eagles, Seagulls and Saints

Southampton: Impressive start to the Premier League for the Alpine Klopp, Ralph Hassenhüttl. Has been a breath of fresh air after the tediousness of Hughes. A couple of poor results recently that they shouldn’t read into too much- they have been desperately unlucky.  Southampton fans are back on their feet again with his captivating, high-intensity pressing game- The Saints will stay up. In the summer, Hassenhüttl will most likely look to bring in personnel to fit his favoured 4-2-2-2 system from RB Leipzig.

Current position: 18th, 24 points

My prediction: 14th

Crystal Palace: Roy Hodgson has proved this season that he is not just your archetypal ‘English, 4-4-2, long ball, emergency man’. Palace have played some fine football this year but have just lacked a cutting edge to their attacks at times.

Ralph Hassenhüttl

Christian Benteke is a lost cause. The man has been struggling for confidence for years now, he needs to get out of the Premier League to rethink his career. Meanwhile, Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been one of the breakthrough stars of the season.

Current position: 13th, 27 points

My prediction: 13th

Brighton: There has been a lot of talk about Brighton at the moment, suggesting that they are in some sort of crisis. It’s true, they are only 3 points above the relegation zone and have a terrible away form- The Seagulls have only won 7 points on the road this season. But Brighton have a fantastic squad with a lot of quality players and the lucid Chris Hughton will no doubt be a calming influence if things get heated. Though looking at the direction of the club panoramically, their recruitment must improve. Brighton have spent over £130m in the past two years on average foreign players like Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Jürgen Locadia and José Izquierdo and Brighton are certainly not the wealthiest of clubs. Doubtless, the quota on foreign players enforced by Brexit will help a club like Brighton move to a more sustainable model and grant more opportunities for young English players to develop at the highest level.

Current position: 14th, 27 points

My prediction: 15th

 

 

 

 

 

O’Neill and Keane suffer insipid return to Forest

“Sentimentality has overruled sense,” I wrote on O’Neill’s return to the City Ground. It is indisputable that tedious football, outdated tactics and a lack of charisma cost him his Ireland job while it is similarly indisputable that these facets of O’Neill’s have plagued his return to Forest -bar the latter. It’s true, there has been no purer sight than the 66 year old darting about the technical area, sleeves rolled up in -32 degrees, ferociously analysing his stomping ground. Yet neither has there been more of an eyesore than Carvalho and Grabban sitting on the bench while Watson and Murphy fight over who can give the ball away most times.

Courtesy of http://www.thetimes.co.uk/

Nevertheless, we have to keep on backing the boss as unless something goes horribly wrong, O’Neill will see out the end of the season and it will be next year where we really see whether he can still cut the mustard as a manager. Interesting to see how Keano’s return unfolds…

Overview

One thing you can see about the appointment of O’Neill is that in a time of great anguish, the fans have a smile back on their faces. It was prevalent none more so than the 29,000-fan strong Mull O’Kintyre prior to kick-off, a sharp reminder to O’Neill of the grandeur of this club. Support couldn’t translate into a performance though, as Forest slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Bristol City. It wasn’t a surprise to see O’Neill set up in a traditional 4-4-2 with Grabban and Murphy up top yet the system was disastrous. We had nobody to link midfield and attack, nobody in-between the lines. It was simply a case of work the ball to the wings, cross it in and feed off the scraps. Carvalho was on the bench while Yacob and Colback served as an incredibly defensive midfield partnership. Bristol deserved the 3 points, attacking with fluidity, verve, and zest while our ball movement was slow, clunky and disjointed. We slipped to 12th- Hull, do you remember them ? Yes, the side we sent into 23rd in November- they had overtaken us.

It couldn’t get much worse against Wigan, really. Forest simply had to bounce back, they had to repay the fans for another 28k+ turn out. O’Neill opted for the 4-1-4-1 and it worked a treat. Fans were initially horrified at the return of Watson- he rightly slipped into no man’s land under Karanka but the ginger ninja put in a star performance to carry Forest to their first victory under O’Neill. Murphy started up front again and was (no surprise here) utterly awful. In fact, the performance was barely better than last week, the major difference being that we came up against a Wigan side lacking any real philosophy or style of football. 3-1 was flattering for a dull, dull affair- moments of magic from Lolley and Guediora decided the contest.

Whispers of a play-off push could only materialise if Forest went on a ruthless winning streak, particularly against sides like Birmingham who, with no disrespect, aren’t one of the big 7 of the championship this year. However Forest sincerely let down the 3100-strong fan support with a poor first half performance that couldn’t be repaired in the second. Robinson was giving the ball away needlessly in stupid areas, Watson just lashed it up field whenever he got the chance- we seemed nervy and fidgety on the ball. The introduction of Grabban, Carvalho and Bonatini saw Forest grow into the game and brought some much needed composure but we couldn’t make any late pressure count. Che Adams and Jota made our defence look like a pub side in that first half.

Talking points

Ludicrous transfer window leaves no room for youth development

The January transfer window had to focus on the outs and not more ins. Appiah and Yates, two young prospects, have found it difficult to break into the first team due to the obesity of the squad. We now have five strikers expecting regular game time : Grabban, Murphy, Bonatini, Soudani, Ansarifard; myriad players on loan : Worrall, Dias, Tachtisidis, Walker while Bridcutt, Gonçalves, Figueiredo and Byram are all quality players that are either injured or have just been lost in the bowels of the club. To then go and add another average defensive midfielder on loan in Pelé (when we already have Colback, Watson, Yates, Yacob or Osborn to play there), three defenders (Milosevic and Wagué on loan, Benalouane on a permanent deal) and another out-of-form striker is nothing short of absurd.

Arvin Appiah , courtesy of http://www.Nottinghampost.com

Excluding players on loan, Forest have a 32 man first team squad- that is not what you call squad depth, that is what you call deadwood. Compare that to the great Man City who have 26 players in their first team while Birmingham, our opponents on Saturday have only 22. Yes, our defence needed bolstering for the rest of the season due to a few injuries but Benalouane would have been enough…Some players need to have a long think about whether their future lies at this club and hopefully when the congestion of our 7 loan deals are over in the summer, O’Neill can look towards integrating Appiah and Yates into the team.

Forest crying out for Carvalho

In his first game, O’Neill went for the 4-4-2 yet we had nobody creative enough in the midfield to get in behind the lines and link the defence and attack. He then opted for the 4-1-4-1 with Watson at the base of the midfield which he used again against Birmingham. The 4-1-4-1 is good at thwarting counter attacks as you always have 5 men behind the ball. However, if the striker can’t drop deep to link with the wingers and if you have no creative, attacking midfielders it is difficult to work the ball forward. The 4-1-4-1 also relies heavily on link ups down the wings and crosses into the box which, if you ask me, isn’t the most exciting way of playing. I can only speak on what I have seen of Forest’s use of the 4-1-4-1 so perhaps it can be adapted into a more possession-based style with the midfield triangle linking up to make space in the centre of the park.

Joao Carvalho, courtesy of http://www.nottinghamforest.co.uk

All I can say, though, is that Forest have looked a shadow of themselves without Carvalho on the pitch. The Portuguese man offers the option in between the lines and just makes Forest that bit less predictable. Although, it is too early to criticise O’Neills tactics as he is still learning about his squad but if I see Murphy leading the line again against Brentford I will physically walk onto that pitch and drag him off.

Player ratings

Costel Pantilimon- 6/10: An up and down month for the Romanian. Made some important saves, particularly the double penalty save against Wigan. Distribution still suspect though and was undoubtedly at fault for Wigan’s goal.

Jack Robinson- 4/10: Level of performances have waned since the departure of Karanka. Has featured at left back and centre-back under O’Neill and has not been convincing in either. Gave the ball away too easily against Birmingham and generally seems flustered by the change of manager and change of system. Has the character and resilience to push through poor spells like these though.

Yohan Benalouane- 7/10: Has been a great addition to the squad in a period plagued by defensive injuries. A towering figure that is dominant in the air, tough in the tackle and is rarely knocked off the ball. Not necessarily a Guardiola centre-back- the Tunisian tends to launch the ball upfield instead of playing out from the back and is practically a walking red card due to his infamous disciplinary record at Leicester. Was unlucky to receive the red card against Birmingham though – he couldn’t have moved his hand.

Ben Osborn- 6/10: Average month for Osborn. Favoured by O’Neill for the left-back role against Bristol and Wigan, then moved into midfield against Birmingham. You can never fault his commitment and passion in games, he wears his heart on his sleeve and is always up for a physical battle. Yet I couldn’t tell you where his best position is which is never a particularly good thing. He isn’t particularly strong in one position or area which is why I think he will never be anything more than a utility player for Forest in the future.

Saidy Janko- 6/10: A difficult month for Janko in what was a difficult month for the whole club. Still think he is technically a more adept option at right-back and is less prone to errors than Darikwa. Hopefully we can renew his loan next season.

Ben Watson- 6/10: It pains me to say it, but on his return to the team against Wigan Ben Watson put in a fantastic performance. He swept up the mess in midfield and kept it simple, but felt the need to balance it out though with an awful display against Birmingham. His passing is just sideways and backwards while he doesn’t show for the ball enough in a position that should be the fulcrum of most attacks. I think one of the reasons Forest fans have this sour feeling towards Watson is because Forest are trying to move with modern football and break away from that traditional, intensely physical, long ball style that some may argue Watson represents.

Jack Colback- 7/10 : Always puts in a shift and has surely been our most consistent player of the season. I think his future under O’Neill lies at the base of that midfield 3 in the 4-1-4-1 formation. Injured against Birmingham where we lacked his tenacity.

Adlène Guediora- 4/10: A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in an enigma. This man is the definition of mercurial. When will we see that scintillating form from the start of the season again ? He looks quite unfit at the moment and is giving the ball away too cheaply in the middle of the park- just hasn’t looked as sharp ever since he got that injury around the Autumn period. Still has a trick up his sleeve though, as we saw with that extraordinary assist and an even better finish against Wigan.

Joe Lolley- 7/10 : Had a much better month after dropping off the boil a bit recently. It’s a thing of pure beauty watching him glide last defenders and then nestle one in the bottom corner.

Matty Cash- 6/10: Hasn’t lit up the City Ground in recent weeks but nor has he been that poor. His finishing is clinical and his pace his always a threat but I don’t think he has the class on the ball to take Forest up.

Lewis Grabban- 5/10: Started against Bristol and struggled to get into the game alongside Murphy up front.

Daryl Murphy- 3/10: Very disappointing month for Murphy. Failed to live up to the lofty expectations set upon him by O’Neill and Keane – although they probably think he had a fantastic month. He can’t hold the ball up, has a poor first touch and is just too slow.