Flaws begin to resurface as Forest suffer blows to play-off hopes

This blog must start by mentioning the magnificent stadium redevelopments. The blueprint looks fantastic, extending the Peter Taylor stand (brining the overall capacity to a whopping 38,000) and housing a mini-museum while drastically improving facilities across the board.

Photo credit to https://www.bbc.co.uk

It’s a credit to the powers that be for modernising the stadium, preparing for a prosperous future, while at the same time managing to sustain the historic aura about the place. Driving along Trent Bridge and gazing at the Trent End rising out of the water like some mythical beast never ceases to marvel you. The sleeping giant is waking up.

It was a month that Forest had to collect nine points out of to sustain a play-off push, but could only manage four. It leaves us in 11th, three points off the top six with eight games to go. What awaits us now is a hefty task, but by no means an insurmountable one. The mood around the City Ground, naturally, is veering towards the downbeat end, down in the dumps with the ‘if only’s’ and the ‘what could have been’s’. After all, had we picked up the three points at Ipswich and managed to beat either Stoke or Villa we would be sitting pretty in 5th on 59 points. But, taking a panoramic perspective, is this not what we, as fans, expected when O’Neill returned ? It was always going to be a bumpy road, peaks and troughs galore, up and down like a rollercoaster. That is what you get in the championship, especially with a new manager and especially with one that has such close affiliations to the club. Just like we were with Karanka, we have to be patient with O’Neill and stop racing in with these ‘dinosaur’ and ‘old-school’ accusations. At the start of the season top ten was the goal, with reaching the play-offs being a very good season. So to be on our 2nd manager and only four points off the play-offs isn’t bad going. As regular readers will know, I was skeptical upon the potential of O’Neill in the modern game, but that won’t stop me, and thousands of other fans, from supporting him and Forest until the very last match.

Month overview

The month kicked off with a trip to Stoke, not exactly the date everyone was counting down their sleeps to. Nobody likes Stoke, not even the residents. The football club have earned this gutsy, physical, long-ball reputation over the past decade but part of the reason they have slid from consistent mid-table Premier League seasons to 15th in the Championship is because they’ve stopped doing what Stoke are good at. They’ve been exposed at the back and have generally lacked the fight and spirit that characterised the Tony Pulis sides of 2008-2010. Nathan Jones is not particularly a manager famed for his ability to organise defences but he is a charismatic man that knows how to motivate a group of talented players like the team at Stoke. And that was the fate that befell Forest. Stoke were up for it, and Forest matched their fight. But ultimately, the Premier League quality of Stoke shone through in what was a dull,drab affair in dull,drab Stoke. Forest had some poor performances at the back, relied heavily on Lolley for creativity and looked a bit leggy, but needed to move on in what was Stoke’s day.

With accusations of resting on their laurels after the EM derby, Forest were determined to show that they mean business in this play-off race. O’Neill went for the 4-1-2-1-2 against Hull with Murphy (much to the dismay of Forest fans) and Bonatini up front and Lolley in the no.10 role while Pelé was also granted his debut. 29,400 turned up, strangely yet delightfully eclipsing the attendance of the Derby match. The first half was poor, we struggled to keep possession but when Carvalho and Ansarifard came on for Murphy and Bonatini the game changed. Suddenly, we were keeping the ball on the floor, feeding it in behind the lines to Lolley and Carvalho who was just peeling off the main striker. This was when we really began to see the benefits of he 4-1-2-1-2. We had lots of options in midfield and in between the lines, the full backs were bombing forward to provide width and feed the ball into the strikers, who were bouncing off each other very nicely. Murphy’s presence in the first half just initiated long, direct balls and when it did get to his feet, he wasn’t good enough. And the fact that Carvalho scored a screamer, after 10 minutes of begging for his unleash, made the victory all the more sweet for Forest fans.

Two points off the play-offs in 8th place, the idea of a shot at the top six was beginning to look more and more plausible. The game on Wednesday night, against play-off rivals Aston Villa, was unanimously perceived as the biggest game of the season. Win and we move into 6th. Lose and The Villa leapfrog us into 8th. Nobody wanted another 5-5, but the 29,200 fans in attendance were ready for a firecracker.

O’Neill, wisely, started with the same side that won us the game in 10 minutes against Hull, which meant a first start for Ansarifard. Evaluating the game before kick-off, it looked as though Forest’s midfield diamond would be too physical for the Villa trio of Grealish, Hourihane and Mcginn- all fairly diminutive, skilful attacking midfielders. However, logic did not prevail as all three shone in a magnificent Villa performance. Hourihane dropped into a regista role, while Grealish and Mcginn were afforded too much time on the edge of the box to work their magic, the latter scoring two beautiful goals. Forest were perplexingly deep.

Photo credit to https://www.birminghammail.co.uk

As Villa fought their way back to 2-1 up after a flukey Jack Colback opener it was now a case of seeing the win out and counter-attacking football, a seamless shift for this quality side. Tammy Abraham began to stretch the slow Forest defence while Tyrone Mings and Kortney Haust defended stoically. Villa’s fluidity shed light upon the lack of meaningful passing, impetus and penetration from Forest, with too much sideways football from Yates and Colback. Too often have we witnessed this under O’Neill. And as Forest couldn’t manage a goal from open play against bottom of the table Ipswich 3 days later, alarm bells started ringing.

Talking points

The answer to Forest’s lack of creativity lies outside not within

It’s easy, too easy, to point the finger at O’Neill for Forest’s lack of creativity and struggle to break down resolute defences with. True, his lengthy managerial career hasn’t exactly developed a godlike status among the aesthetes- the core values of O’Neill’s sides are hard work, fight, organisation and aggressive yet competent defending. And it’s far from the expansive, free-flowing, eulogised football credited to media-darlings Guardiola, Klopp and Pochettino. But Forest’s predicament- a lack of forward passing and impetus from midfield- goes beyond O’Neill’s debatably inhibiting tactics. When Guediora is taken out of the equation, Forest possess only defensive-minded midfielders, most suited to breaking up play, and keeping it simple. Pelé, Colback, Watson, Yacob, Bridcutt and even Yates are all natural no.10’s. And this doubtless translates into our clunky possession play, the reluctance to go forward and take risks, increasing the creativity burden upon the likes of Carvalho and Lolley. It was unmistakably evident against Villa when tasked with chasing the game, and similarly against Preston who were content to sit back in two blocks of four. The answer perhaps lies in the transfer market- a common theme these days, but a necessity for Forest right now. We need a box-to-box midfielder capable to drive with the ball and make those penetrative passes, but one that can also get stuck in. And then, the final, crucial question is whether our favourite Irish duo have the nous to stop starting Ben Watson.

Fantastic fans

Statistics don’t really do Forest’s support this year justice. I’m sure that if your a Forest fan you’ll have heard the “third highest Championship attendance” stat, or “highest average percentage of ground filled in Championship”. Oh, and how could I forget. This one rolls of the tongue ever so sweetly: “higher attendance than Derby”. However one must also consider the levels of disappointment Forest fans have had to deal with this year. Karanka’s departure and the subsequent on-pitch failings could have easily knocked the wind out of our sails, a sour taste lingering for the next man willing to take the baton. But we have gotten behind O’Neill, and although it helps when he is a club legend, there are still not many clubs that would reel in those sorts of numbers.

Player ratings

Costel Pantilimon- 6/10: Could have done better with all three goals against Villa. For a man of his size, he has to command his area better. Made some important saves against Ipswich though.

Jack Robinson- 5/10: Picked up a silly booking against Stoke, ruling him out for two matches. Been a bit rash recently and needs to relax into his old form. Perhaps trying too hard to impress Martin’n’Keano.

Ben Osborn- 8/10: MOTM against Hull at left-back. Got down the wing menacingly, eager to be involved in the attack like any good full-back is. If he wants to gain a regular place in this Forest side, he needs to focus his efforts on left back.

Alexander Milosevic- 6/10: Part of a poor defensive performance against Stoke but generally had another solid month.

Yohan Benaloaune- 6/10: Continues to exceed expectations at the City Ground. Along with Milosevic, he struggled against Stoke but apart from that the partnership remains a formidable one.

Photo credit to https://www.birminghammail.co.uk

You can tell he understands what it means to sport the Garibaldi as well- the Tunisian rock is always praising the fans in his interviews, elaborating over the high ambitions of this club and is even getting involved in some community work. What a man.

Tendayi Darikwa- 7/10: O’Neill’s decision to omit Darikwa from the starting 11 upon his arrival was clearly an unjustified one, but the Zimbabwean international has forced his way back into the side with some great performances. The development of this man is unbelievable. Struggling to make the bench under Warburton, Darikwa became the centre of criticism as fans were disgusted with another potential relegation battle on the cards. But he kept his head down, perfected his game on the training ground and Karanka managed to harness this spirit and translate it into stellar performances. He looks like a player that can take us into the Premier League and Janko will be rivalling him for the spot all the way.

Molla Wague- 7/10: Made it 2 goals in 3 games against Ipswich in a decent all round performance.

Jack Colback- 6/10: No doubt, Colback is at his most effective in the defensive midfield role, but his tireless work has still been creditable. Him, Yates and Pelé are far too defensive minded for a midfield trio, non of them really possessing the attributes of driving with the ball and penetrative passing.

Pelé- 6/10: An outstanding performance on his debut against Hull was followed by two error-laden matches against Ipswich and Villa. He is a physical presence and composed on the ball, looking to go forward. That composure, admittedly, can sometimes veer into laxity and he loses the ball often. But that could just be him adjusting to the rapid, intense nature of the Championship.

Ryan Yates- 5/10: Has a mediocre month after a breakout February.

Joe Lolley- 8/10: Carries this Forest side sometimes. He is one of the only players constantly looking to go forward and dribble past players, which he does with such ease and proficiency. We have to hold on to him in the summer.

Joao Carvalho- 8/10: Came on and completely changed the game against Hull but like Lolley, is one of the only creative presences in this side. O’Neill has deployed him in almost a 4-1-2-2-1, partnering the aforementioned Lolley behind the striker. Against Villa, however, he had to come short to collect the ball as there was nothing getting fed through to him, which subsequently isolated Ansarifard. Only will we reap the real benefits of Carvalho when we have people capable to play off him. He has had a great first season of English football but there is so much more to come.

Daryl Murphy- 6/10: Started against Stoke and Ipswich but was isolated both times, with his presence just initiating long balls. It may seem harsh, but I wake up every morning and check my phone to see if he has retired.

Karim Ansarifard- 6/10: Was average when started against Villa, but didn’t get sufficient service.

Leo Bonatini- 6/10: Probably best as a lone striker, Bonatini and Murphy didn’t combine very well together in the first half against Hull.

English football back to it’s best

As Damir Skomina blew the full time whistle in Nice, it felt like English football had smacked rock bottom. The Three Lions, or the three kittens as it was, had just been embarrassingly overturned by Iceland. Yes, Iceland. The country whose population is roughly a third of that of. Birmingham. The country to have never qualified for a major tournament. The team made up of dentists and plumbers. They had outplayed England. And as we forlornly packed our scarves, flags and retro kits away for another two years , it felt like we were settling into a new normal. Mediocrity. But not just with the national side.

Courtesy of SkySports.com

From the 2009/10 Champions League to the 2015/16 there had been only four English semi-finalists compared to Spain’s thirteen. A very poor record. Gone were the days of English semi-finals, Benitez and Mourinho outwitting opposition coaches and teams actually fearing Man Utd. Dare we say that the tide has turned ? For the first team since 2008/09, four English clubs have qualified for the quarter-finals and there is a feasible chance that one of them could bring the trophy home. It seems a little hasty to claim that English clubs are back at the helm in Europe, but the fact of the matter is that this isn’t a freak season, rather a continuation of the gradual resurgence of English football.

We hear the same old slogans and platitudes time and time again in the Premier League. ‘The best league in the world’, it is marketed. Indeed, it is often the most competitive- no other league has 6 sides gunning for the title in such relentless manners. But you would have to stretch back to the Benitez, Fergie, Mourinho era of 2005-2009 for when the Premier League actually had the best teams in Europe.

Rafa and Mourinho were both very similar managers, joining their respective clubs in June 2004. What they both became renowned for was their reactive football and obsession with the opposition. Jose Mourinho demanded hours of research from his coaching staff and would dedicate a whole day to tactics every week. Rafa Benitez, meanwhile, once described himself as ‘a loner with a laptop’. Neither were gifted with an exceptionally gifted bunch of players, but their judicious tactics and squad versatility is what brought so much success.

And this success (a Champions league and an FA cup for Benitez, and two Premier leagues and an FA cup for Mourinho) was underpinned by three main qualities: clean sheets, defending from the front and organisation. This was epitomised most resoundingly in Mourinho’s scorning comments over Arsenal’s 5-4 win against Tottenham in 2004. “5-4 is a hockey score, not a football score,” he mocked. “In a 3v3 training match, if the score reaches 5-4 I send the players back to the dressing rooms as they are not defending properly.” They only conceded 15 goals all season.

United were a different prospect. Sir Alex Ferguson’s 2006-2009 side were not just mesmerising to watch, but were serial winners, collecting three consecutive Premier League titles and winning 9 knock-out Champions league ties in three years. Unlike Mourinho and Benitez, Ferguson had the enviable yet difficult task of trying to fit as many of his stars into one team. His system relied upon the fluid movement and interchanges of the likes of Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez on the counter-attack. United would absorb pressure in the big games, with Vidic and Ferdinand forming an impermeable defensive partnership, and then look to terrorise teams with pace and intensity on the counter-attack. It was electric.

At this point, the Premier League had the best players, best managers and were the most competitive sides in Europe. However, unlike the Spanish dynasty over the past decade, this dominance was only to be short-lived. By 2011, both Mourinho and Benitez had been sacked, Pep’s Barcelona were becoming too hot to handle ( beating Man Utd in two finals in two years ), and then in 2013 Sir Alex Ferguson saw it rational to step down as Manchester United manager after 27 glorious years. With Arsenal and Wenger also strangled with the financial wrath of moving to The Emirates, the quality of the Premier League seemed to be crumbling away. Indeed, for the next 5 years, English clubs were  outthought, outwitted, and outclassed in the Champions League. Enter Klopp, Guardiola and Pochettino…

Klopp, Pep and Poch have no doubt revolutionised English football, but it is easily forgotten that they all needed one or two seasons to perfect their system, and really stamp down their blueprint and philosophies. Klopp’s tactical imprint was immediately visible- high-pressing, high-intensity, rock and roll football. Guardiola, influenced by the tutelage of Cruyff, believes in patient possession play, moving the opponent around until gaps are created in the defence. Pochettino’s system is something of a mixture of the two, but is lauded most for his work with young players. However, all three encountered huge defensive problems in their inaugural seasons.


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

With Guardiola it was adjusting to playing out from the back, Klopp’s issue was a case of personnel while Tottenham just lacked organisation at times. Yet this year, we have seen a newfound resilience from these sides. Spurs capitulated against Juventus in the Champions League last year, City were far too open as Liverpool blew them away in 20 minutes and we all know how shaky that Liverpool defence used to be. Compare that to this season with Tottenham keeping two clean sheets against an in-form Borussia Dortmund, no Bayern Munich player scoring against Liverpool over two legs and Manchester City conceding only 21 goals all season in the Premier League then the transformation is stark. It is gaining that perfect blend of an attacking football philosophy and a strong, sturdy spine that has seen four English sides rise into the quarter-finals for the first time since 2009. English football is back. The best coaches, the best players, the most competitive. Who nows, maybe this really is the beginning of an era of pure English dominance. Even the national side aren’t doing too shabby.

Champions League predicitions


Ajax 2-1 Juventus, Juventus 3-0 Ajax (Juventus 4-2 Ajax)

Liverpool 2-0 Porto, Porto 1-0 Liverpool (Liverpool 2-1 Porto)

Tottenham 1-1 Manchester City, Manchester City 4-0 Tottenham (Man City 5-1 Spurs)

Man Utd 2-2 Barcelona, Barcelona 0-0 Man Utd (Barcelona go through on away goals)


Manchester City 1-1 Juventus, Juventus 2-1 Manchester City (Juventus 3-2 Man City)

Barcelona 1-0 Liverpool, Liverpool 0-2 Barcelona ( Barcelona 3-0 Liverpool )


Juventus 2-2 Barcelona (Juventus win on penalties)




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.


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 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 ).


Current position: 19th, 17 points

My prediction: 19th


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.


Current position: 15th, 25 points

My prediction: 17th


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…


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.










Abramovich and Chelsea must keep faith in Sarri


Maurizio Sarri is on thin ice at Chelsea. An incredible start to his campaign- which saw The Blues go 18 matches unbeaten in all competitions- has bizarrely been followed by a gradual disintegration in form- Chelsea now perch precariously in 4th . Once lauded for his team’s vertical, fast-paced, ruthless attacking football, now maligned for his ‘stubborn, rigid tactics’ and, most recently, for his public criticism of the Chelsea players. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger rarely, if ever criticised their players in public; it is a mistake Sarri must learn from.

Notice anything though ? Once again, the manager of Chelsea has become the scapegoat. Once again, the dressing room has gone cold on their manager. Once again, the fans have turned on him.  The club have to start looking towards a more sustainable model. 5 titles in 16 years is no mean feat since Abramovich bought the club in 2003 yet it lies behind a backdrop of hundreds of millions of pounds of wasteful investment, an endless cull of managers and a talented yet teased academy. Sarri’s ideas are positive, but need time and patience from the powers that be. And the powers that be may have to rebuild that hot and cold dressing room to do so as at the moment, Chelsea are in disrepute.

Sarri needs time

As I say, Maurizio Sarri was revered for his breathtakingly attacking football at Napoli: Sarrismo (Sarriball) it was labelled. It’s principles consist of vertical interchanges in the final third, rapid transitions between defence and attack and patient possession play when necessary. Sarri uses the 4-3-3 with a regista ( the defensive midfielder where most attacks stem from, Jorginho plays this role ), a box-to-box midfielder (Alan played this role at Napoli) and a creative midfielder in the 3 in midfield. Jorginho, the regista, has come under much criticism.


Image from vimeo.com

“Can’t run, no assists, can’t defend,” ranted Rio Ferdinand on BT Sport after their 2-0 loss to Chelsea. Other journalists have blamed Sarri’s rigid tactics for their recent drop off in form while Matthew Syed spoke on behalf of many in his criticism of Sarri’s positioning on Kante. All, I can’t help but notice, are misguided. Jorginho is, at the moment, a clear problem. Teams have recognised his integral role to Sarrismo and therefore used their common sense and deployed an attacking midfielder to cut out his supply line and impact on the game. It all sounds so easy, so simple, so how did Sarri finish 2nd place last season. Well, they had a Plan B. If Jorginho was not an option, Koulibaly would step out of defence into midfield and the wingers would come short. All of this takes hours of work on the training ground, and if not that then investment.

Of course, Kante is not going to instantly be at his most effective in the box-to-box role, but obviously Sarri has seen something in him that has assured him that he will develop into that position over time and it is nonsensical to believe that one knows better than the Italian. Do his skills not translate as well ? Klopp.jpgKante has an abundance of ability driving forward and passing the ball while he has bags of stamina and can use his interception skills to break play up but higher up the pitch. The buzzword is time. Sarri may not be the right man to lead Chelsea into the future. We know he values continuity over youth development, we know he is yet to win a major trophy but at least give the man a chance. Klopp had three seasons to tweak the gegenpress- it is unlikely Sarri will have the time to do that to Sarriball.


Forget it, let’s have Keane as well for the fireworks.

Martin O’Neill, appointed on Tuesday as Forest manager after 38 years away from the City Ground. A decision where sentimentality overruled sense. It has been a mixed 38 years, for O’Neill, it must be said. 32 of those have been as head coach in a period where football has evolved at a pace unprecedented in any other walks of life. Tree hair.jpgPlayer power, false 9’s and laceless boots continue to irk the traditionalists and Martin O’Neill has been around for a long, long time. Failure at Forest will ,doubtless, be the death of his managerial career. He has 18 months and I’m skeptical.

For me, the appointment lacked logic. Marinakis bemoaned Karanka’s style of football so appointed O’Neill, infamous for the insipid football in his final months as Republic of Ireland manager. ‘He didn’t have the players at his disposal’- nonsense. Look at Eddie Howe and his free-flowing, attacking football at Bournemouth with minnows like Simon Francis and Steve Cook. And it is not like Forest have Iniesta’s and Xavi’s lying about the place. Marinakis bemoaned Karanka’s supposed inability to invigorate his players so appointed O’Neill, infamous for his fall out with Irish Matthew Doherty after the full back labelled his approach ‘a bit old school’.

Marinakis is no die-hard Forest fan but he will have known what O’Neill means to these Forest fans. He will have known that in a time of great anguish, Forest fans could endear themselves to this club legend. But lets not get it twisted, O’Neill was not only hired solely for his affiliations with the club- the man is an incredibly successful manager and an unbelievably intelligent one too. keanoHe led Aston Villa to 3 consecutive 6th place finishes between 2007 and 2010, spearheaded a Celtic resurgence at the turn of the century after a decade in the shadow of Rangers and before that he managed a Leicester side to promotion after joining halfway through the season in 1995, then finished in the top 10 for 4 consecutive seasons which will really stand out to Forest fans. Yet so will his last year with Ireland where the crazy game that we call football had unmistakably overtaken him.

You pray, as a Forest fan, that his diligent mentality will drive him to learn from those past mistakes but we are clutching at straws really. “He just told us to go and play five-a-sides,” said Doherty on an Irish radio. It was reported that O’Neill then said he ‘would give Doherty a piece of mind’. A rollercoaster looms for wounded Forest fans so forget it – bring in Keane as well just for the fireworks.

Anguish for Forest

“Aitor Karanka has asked to be released from his role as the manager of Nottingham Forest Football Club. The club have agreed to this request,” read the words on my phone on the Friday morning while on the way to school. First came a wave of incredulity, then a pang of anger and then a deep, deep despondency. My Friday was ruined.

Context is the bedrock of judgement yet we, as fans, have been given so little information. We can only unpick past events. Initially, the furious finger of Forest fans was aimed at Marinakis. The initial speculation was that he had pressured Karanka into leaving. We all know his track record of sacking managers at Olympiakos and after he set those ludicrous goals of “Promotion or nothing” at a training session in October feelings of discontent from the hierarchy hung heavy. Considering an abysmal last five years, a more realistic target would have been a top 8 finish with an aim to push for promotion the following season. karankaIf that season brings no success, then maybe it is time to start looking elsewhere for a manager. But Marinakis is one hell of an impatient man. He has invested a huge amount of money to be fair to him, but as fans we want to see consistency and stability at our club in the future- not a new manager every 6 months. Karanka had been at the helm for only a year and has overseen a rapid transformation at what was a neglected club this time last year. Relegation dogfights, empty seats and Jason Cummings leading the line quickly transformed into over 20,000 season ticket holders, Grabban top scorer in the league while we were even pipping The Rams.

Until 8th December. Our loss against Preston that day was the beginning of a wretched run of form which saw us go 5 matches without a win. We continued to back the manager though as although we were in 10th, a win against Leeds that weekend would take us back up to 7th and only 3 points of 5th place, still a drastic improvement on past seasons. A win it was and an emphatic one at that – which is why the timing of Karanka’s walkout was so bizarre- it was only 9 days after the victory against Leeds. The fact of the matter is that it is rather more complex than Karanka leaving because of pressure from the board.

Aitor is an authoritative manager, he likes to control multiple sectors of the club- an old-fashioned methodology really. That didn’t sit well with Marinakis, who himself doesn’t mind the spotlight. So, in reality the timing of his departure wasn’t such a surprise. After  a triumphant victory with a very limited squad Karanka was expecting public support from the board- which he never got. MarinakisIt was the straw that broke the camel’s back after arguments over game time for Arvin Appiah ( Marinakis wanting to give the youngster more game time because he wants to sell him off), Karanka’s poor communication with the players ( he simply dropped Grabban a text to tell him he wasn’t going to play one weekend ) and the style of football (Marinakis upset that it was too reactive and defensive). On some occasions the Greek shipping merchant actually has a point. Karanka is a great manager, not world-class by any stretch of the imagination  he is no Pep Guardiola, no Jurgen Klopp, no Marcelo Biesla. His substitutions can be poor, he hasn’t given Appiah enough minutes, some players have indeed struggled to connect with him on personal levels. Yet I will say it again, Forest’s huge improvement under the Spaniard can’t be dressed up or forgotten. He has given the club an identity back. And as for the complaints about negative football, I feel as though we have played some brilliant stuff this year at home against the smaller teams. Yes, we tighten up away from home and against the top teams but it has worked wonders for us. Had Kemar Roofe’s goal been disallowed our record against the top 6 would have been P8 W4 D3 L1. This is why Forest fans are so enamoured of Karanka- we were back competing again. And, similarly, this is why the 2-0 managerless defeat to Reading yesterday was so painful.

Emphatic victory against Leeds brightens up a dire month for Forest

It’s been a long time. Remember the 2-0 victory over Ipswich on December 1st ? That was the last Forest match I covered ; it seems like years ago. From Derby day drama to capitulation at Carrow Road and travesties on the Trent- there has been no shortage of festive treats for the neutral, nor has there been much to shout about for Forest fans. Three losses, and two draws from the 17th to the 29th saw The Reds plummet from 5th to 10th and a 4-2 victory against Leeds on New Years Day could only nudge us back up to 7th and 3 points off the play-offs. MarinakisWhether righteous or not, Karanka’s position in charge has come under serious scrutiny from the owner, who, if anything doesn’t go to plan at Reading on the 15th, is ready to pounce. Marinakis, that is. The Greek shipping merchant has been imposing unrealistic goals ever since he set foot at the City Ground. “Promotion or nothing,” he waffles. When you are Nottingham Forest and you have been out of the Premier League for 21 seasons, narrowly avoiding relegation to League 1 only less than 2 years ago, a lump of cash and a decent manager isn’t going to bring instant success. Just like Farke had last year at Norwich, just like Guardiola and Klopp were given in their inaugural seasons – a transition period is paramount. Karanka’s project is incomplete. Besides, if a slump in form leaves us only 3 points off the play-offs, I for one am not complaining – top 6 is the goal.

“Aitor Karanka, we want you to stay,” sang the Forest fans on NYD. The fans, the players, the pundits, everybody is behind Karanka- apart from pesky Marinakis. A whopping 17 managers in 8 years at Olympiakos he has been through. Whatever the circumstances, Karanka will be hanging by a thread.


This was a golden opportunity for Forest to move into 3rd and put themselves in the best position possible heading into the EM derby, but we spurned it. The Trees were outfoxed by a savvy Preston side and finished the day in 7th place. Don’t get it twisted, Forest were by far the better side and were somewhat hard done by to come away with nothing. We started the game excellently, with zest, impetus and verve on the attack, including some delicious interchanges in the final third that just needed a cutting edge. The Lilywhites held on, though rather fortuitously it must be said. And their goal in the 56th minute was farcically against the run of play. prestonThe Forest reaction, however, was nothing short of disgraceful. Our game plan folded and we began to try to compete physically with Preston, but were outmuscled and our struggles exacerbated by Karanka’s decision to bring Murphy on in the 77th minute as his presence merely initiated more long balls and ultimately less success. Preston saw the game out astutely while Forest left the City Ground ruing their profligacy.

It was billed to be the best East Midlands Derby for the past decade. Two teams, both fierce rivals, a separation of only 3 points, two feeble defences alongside 2 in-form front threes. Like it or not, Forest and Derby had a lot in common that day- and it showed. It was a match where both teams kept cancelling each other out, an attritional affair both tactically and in tribal terms – crunching tackles, splenetic elbows and flying boots didn’t let you forget which two teams you were watching. Dreadful injury luck limited Forest to a very makeshift back four of Janko, Darikwa, Robinson and Hefele (only one of which is a centre-back, and a 4th choice one at that) while The Rams found themselves in a similar predicament – Tomori and Bogle aged 20 and 18 respectively, occupied centre-back and right back with Curtis Davies out injuried. The first 20 minutes were understandably cagey, but as the game opened up both sides were exchanging spells of dominance in what proved to be a wildly oscillated match for a 0-0. Karanka was proud of his team’s performance and rightly so. Forest were brave and bold in a game where they could have easily absorbed pressure and tried to nick a point. They were composed and confident in possession and playing out from the back while Joe Lolley and Lewis Grabban, who had a poor game in all fairness, both missed fine opportunities. On the basis of play, a point was a fair result- Derby should have had a penalty but then again Bogle should have been sent off. Not Keith Stroud’s finest hour that’s for sure. Couldn’t say the same for the Forest fans, though, who, accompanied by Danny Fox in the stands, chorused with their upmost fervour from the first minute to the last. But the 12th man couldn’t secure all three for The Garibaldi or, for that matter, lift them out of 7th place.

QPR was plain dreadful. An abysmal showing by The Reds saw them loose once again at home, this time 1-0 to 13th placed Queens Park Rangers for whom it was their first ever victory at the City Ground. We were lethargic, our passing was wayward, deliveries into the box poor. There was no real explanation for this performance – Forest just weren’t at the races. Indeed, days like these will happen to most teams but that didn’t quell those feelings of incredulity walking out the ground.

It would have been typical of Forest this season to, after bowing down to an average QPR, go and add another promotion-contender’s scalp to their illustrious collection. However it wasn’t to be. For 80 minutes, Forest produced one of their guileful, savvy away performances that we know they are capable of- but then the unthinkable happened. Norwich fought back from 3-0 down back to 3-3 all inside the final 10 minutes. Our defence was torn to shreds ; we had bottled it again. Suddenly our defence had disappeared, suddenly Norwich came to life and suddenly we had thrown 2 points away. Inevitably, Karanka’s job was put under some serious scrutiny…

2 games to save his job, the press reported. Milwall were up first, a trip to The Den not being the ideal destination for a team short on confidence. Don’t be blinded by Milwall stereotypes, Forest were not bruised or battered or bullied ; we were too flat and unimposing. Having 66% possession is one thing, but it was slow and sideways instead of into the channels. Milwall did frustrate Forest after their early goal, their rigid blocks of 4 a struggle to penetrate yet the post-match talk focused around a 5th game without a win for the tripping Trees. The team that walked out at The Den were doubtless a jaded one -the festive period taking its toll – but also one lacking symphony with Dawson, the heart of the team, out injured. The boys would have to regroup quickly ; their manager was on thin ice.

The Karanka banners and unadulterated support shown from the fans for the Spaniard proved to be in vain last time out, and it would take some mean feat to top that on NYD. Yet The City Ground was raucous, amassing the biggest attendance of the season. Fans waxed lyrical on their love for Karanka throughout and cheered their team on not in hope, but in desperation. Murphdog.pngThis was the epitome of a must-win game. Aitor Karanka had dragged this neglected club from turmoil to promotion-contesters in only 12 months. We, as fans, have felt reinvigorated this season, a sense of purpose after a painful 5 years. Over 20,000 season tickets were sold this season and our lowest league attendance has been 25,750 against Millwall while our highest was a whopping 29,500 against Leeds. To put that into context, in 2015-16 we averaged an attendance of under 20,000 while our support this year in the Championship has been bettered only by Aston Villa and Leeds. Through the work of Karanka and the board, chopping ticket prices down, connecting fans and players, this has been made possible. The fans knew that to sack Karanka would be a massive blow to all the positive work of the past year and a sign that we really haven’t learnt from our past mistakes. So that is why everybody knew that the game on NYD would be a seminal hour and a half. It was simple : win to save your job Karanka.

As the two teams walked out, heavy clouds of angst hung over the Trent. The atmosphere was pure desperation. Yet as Mull O’Kintyre rattled across the ground there came this overwhelming sense of certainty. We had to beat Leeds and we were going to. With Dawson and Grabban out injured and Hefele limping off early on, this was a Forest team stretched to its bare bones, they would have to battle their way through against a much more technically gifted Leeds side. Colback was making crunching challenges, Murphy was over Pontus Jansson like a rash and Danny Fox was squaring up to anybody he could find. Yet we were still very cagey, very awkward, very jittery in possession, still lacking confidence. Admittedly, part of it was because we were being shown up by a fantastic Leeds side whose press, quality of delivery, playing out from the back and interchanges in the final third were all top draw- Premier League standard really. But nevertheless, when Jack Colback had scored in the 5th minute this match was only ever going one way.  Leeds fought back to 1-1 and then 2-1, even when down to 10 men they were controlling things. Forest hung in there though and equalised through Colback again in the 69th minute. Two managers prowled around the technical area, both in the zone, eyeing their next move. 7 minutes later The City Ground was in ecstasy. Forest were 4-2 up ! A bullet header by Murphy and a bit of magic from Osborn had sealed the game. It wasn’t vintage Forest, Leeds were down to 10 men don’t forget, but it might well have nudged The Reds back on track and provide some much needed confidence. “Aitor Karanka, we want you to stay,” sang the departing fans for the umpteenth time.


One particular peeve from Forest’s month has been their incapability to bounce back from the first setback. Against Preston our game plan folded after their goal, at Norwich our heads dropped after their first goal went in and then it seemed like we carried those blows with us into the Millwall match. Which raises the question, are our players spineless ? Well, in truth, it is not as simple as yes or no. If you remember at the start of the season we were grinding out results even when not playing well, nicking goals late on and winning lots of our points from losing positions. One factor is doubtless the injury to Michael Dawson. The calming influence he has on this Forest team is indispensable. Even when he is not on the pitch due to his old age, one suspects that his presence in the dressing room is as effective. You wonder how much more his legs can take though, which means Forest really need to begin scouring the market for another defensive leader like him. Somebody charismatic, that can really connect with the fans. It may seem too simplistic too consign our failings to the presence of one mere player, but the power of leaders in a team should not be underestimated.

Give the young lads a chance

Forest’s academy is one of the most revered in the Championship. Since it opened in 1997 (it was later renamed The Nigel Doughty Academy) Forest have graduated 51 scholars on to the first team. That conveyor belt of talent includes the likes of Jermaine Jenas, Wes Morgan, Gareth Williams and most recently Oliver Burke, Matty Cash and Ben Osborn. Two, though, have been flitting in around the squad : Arvin Appiah and Ryan Yates. Appiah, who turned 18 yesterday, is regarded very highly by the academy as the next young prodigy and came off the bench to score in a 3-2 cup defeat against Burton but has barely featured since. appiahYates, aged 21, starred in defensive midfield on loan at Notts County and impressed for Forest in pre-season but again has been deprived of real game time. Especially considering some of our recent performances have been a bit lacklustre would it not be a bad idea to give these two a game ? They are young and hungry to make their mark.

Injury issues and January window rumours

January is the window for the desperate. Teams looking certain to go down, teams explicitly deficient in one area and teams struggling with injuries will all go fishing in January. It is not a time to try and sneak a little deal in, make a bit of profit on a player, especially when it could be postponed until the summer. Neither is it good idea to make any landmark signings in January ; clubs are more reluctant to part with their prized assets midway through the season, causing an inflation in fees and wages. As for Forest, January should be about the outs rather than the ins. As I said on my last piece on Forest, some of our new signings haven’t even started a match yet so to go looking for more players would be ludicrous. The main aim in January should be to offload some deadwood. Bridcutt and Watson definitely need go while a new goalkeeper can wait until the summer.

Player ratings

Costel Pantilimon- 6/10: The Romanian keeps on making the same mistakes. Admittedly, he has made some important saves this month, most notably in the dying embers of the game against Leeds. But his distribution has still been poor and his lack of agility continues to hinder us. A relatively decent Championship keeper, but not good enough to take Forest forward.

Tendayi Darikwa- 5/10: Had a poor game against Derby, and has struggled like the rest of the team have this month. Can’t criticise him too much though as he has improved, especially the defensive side of his game, so much over the past 12 months. A solid player to have in the team, but for me Janko is the more well-rounded full back.

Saidy Janko- 6/10 : Featured a couple of times but at left-back which is not his natural position but continues to impress me. His pace and composure in the final third matches that of a natural winger but is also disciplined defensively and has that tenacity of your modern day full-back.

Michael Hefele- 4/10: Not the best month for The Rhino. I said after his debut for Forest that he didn’t fill me with confidence and that he has a mistake or two in him but now that is really beginning to show. He is bit clumsy and struggles to concentrate for a full 90 minutes.

Danny Fox- 5/10: Looked a bit rusty on his return from injury against Norwich and Millwall but was back to his domineering self against Leeds. He has passion and is fiery but is not level-headed enough to control a defence. I think he still needs Dawson alongside him.

Jack Robinson- 4/10: Has been very rash recently and was close to being sent-off against QPR and Norwich. Part of a poor defence as a whole this month.

Jack Colback- 8/10: The shining light of a terrible month for Forest. Bagged 2 goals against  Leeds but thats not why he earned himself an 8/10. Colback.jpgAlways puts in a shift for the team, runs his heart out every match, a tough tackler, positionally astute and constantly thwarts opposition counter attacks. He is easily one of the most underrated players in the Championship.

Claudio Yacob- 7/10: Does a similar job to Colback and probably deserves a similar amount of praise. The two work excellently together away from home.

Adlène Guediora- 5/10: A puzzle wrapped inside a mystery in an enigma. I  just can’t work this player out. It’s been another poor month for Guediora, giving the ball away too carelessly in the midfield. Yet at the start of the season he was in scintillating form and added a different midfield passing dimension for Forest. He looks as though he has put a bit of weight on as well after his injury this season. I hope he gets back to his best as he can be such a key player for Forest on his day.

Ben Osborn- 5/10: Disappointing month for Osborn who was given the opportunity to stake his claim for a place in that front three. At Derby he was quiet and against QPR his delivery was dreadful. He then scored a belter against Leeds in true Benny Osborn style.

Gil Dias- 4/10: Terrible when he has been coming off the bench. After that pre-season game with Bournemouth I thought we had found a fantastic player in Dias. Pace, power, finishing, the lot. But since then he has been ever so poor. He just thinks he can run straight through defences and always makes the wrong decision in the final third.

Joe Lolley- 6/10: Quieter month for Lolley. Nothing more to say really.

Joao Carvalho- 6/10: Too often anonymous when we really need him. Contributes with a wonderful pass or bit of skill every now and again but needs to assert himself across a full 90 minutes.

Matty Cash- 7/10: In clinical form against Norwich and always a nuisance running in behind. Needs to add a bit of consistency to his game.

Lewis Grabban- 5/10: A poor month for Grabban. Missed a fantastic opportunity against Derby, didn’t score in the next two and then picked up an injury. In fairness, he hasn’t had much service recently in a team that went 3 games without scoring this month.

Daryl Murphy-7/10: Featured against Millwall and Leeds and used his physicality to ruffle up defences. Can sometimes initiate bad habits of just lumping it up and trying to play off him but is a very useful player to have in the squad. Also a very different player to Grabban so when they are both used at different times in matches it unsettles opposition defences. Gave Pontus Jansson a runaround as well.