A 5-0 defeat to their bitterest rivals. Six managerial changes in less than three years. A season that began full of promise but might yet turn once more into one of underachievement. It is clear that all is still not right at Nottingham Forest.
The Reds endured a turbulent weekend as they lost the Brian Clough Trophy in demoralising fashion in front of the Sky cameras on Saturday lunchtime. The trophy is contested each time Forest and Derby County play each other, but in truth there seemed to be only one side interested in the victory as the home side outfought, outplayed and outscored their opponents with comprehensive ease, scoring five unanswered goals to give them the local bragging rights for a long long time to come. The Forest hierarchy acted swiftly, and the following Monday lunchtime confirmed the sacking of manager Billy Davies, bringing to an end his second spell in charge.
The fiery Scotsman had his fans, but eight games without a win that concluded with such an embarrassing defeat was enough for Kuwati Chairman Fawaz Al-Hasawi. Strong indications were that former Sheffield United, Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers manager Neil Warnock would take over until the end of the season, and both the Nottingham Forest and Leeds United website confirmed that full back Lee Peltier had joined Forest from the Whites on loan until the end of the playoff campaign. Both stories have since proved to be untrue; Warnock citing worries that interference from above would play a part in his management style whilst Al-Hasawi confirmed that Peltier had not signed at all. It leaves Academy Manager Gary Brazil in charge until a successor is appointed, and perhaps more importantly a huge amount of questions left to be answered as Forest battle to achieve a top six place come May.
The season had started with such intent and purpose. Davies had been brought in last February after Alex McLeish managed to win just one of his seven games in his 40 days in charge, and ‘King Billy’ oversaw a run of six straight victories before a final slump meant that Forest missed out on the playoffs in the final game at home to Leicester City. Summer rebuilding took place, and Henri Lansbury, Kelvin Wilson and Jamie Mackie all arrived with Jack Hobbs signing on loan from Hull City. Forest sat top without having conceded a goal after three games, and they stayed well within contention for a top six place past Christmas until a 16 game unbeaten run came to an abrupt end against Sheffield United in the fifth round of the FA Cup. The January transfer window was not utilised as well as it could have been, with Danny Fox the only signing that so far has looked to have been a positive. Forest had been crying out for a striker, and Algerian Rafik Djebbour, signed from Olympiakos, has not been the answer. The club was then left decimated by injuries with Lansbury, Hobbs, David Vaughan, Eric Lichaj and Andy Reid all suffering long term problems, joining Wilson, Dexter Blackstock and club captain Chris Cohen who were already out injured for the season. Since the cup defeat Forest haven’t won, a run that has lasted eight games and has now seen them slip out of the playoff places.
What is possibly the most worrying aspect of the problems is that the fans are split on believing what the problem actually is. Many blamed Davies, namely his attitude to fans, his bosses and certainly the media, who were unable to speak to the manager at all as the Scotsman imposed a media blackout around the club. The Daily Telegraph’s Henry Winter said via Twitter that he had “no sympathy” and that Davies was a “charmless man” when news of his sacking came to the fore. Sky’s Geoff Shreeves agreed. Two mainstays of the British sporting media hold opinions that are worth listening too. Negative tactics and constant tinkering also meant that certain sections of the fan base were happy to see Davies relieved of his duties.
There were however many that sat at the City Ground every other week that had support for the manager, blaming the catastrophic run of injuries to arguably the club’s most influential players. Hobbs and Wilson had forged an impressive centre back partnership when playing together, and although youngster Jamaal Lascelles stepped in well with some outstanding performances he is still rather unexperienced. Lichaj and Cohen made up the full back positions in Forest’s first choice back four, and Reid, Vaughan and Lansbury were all also named in what many would consider Forest’s strongest available line up. It is an argument with some standing; take Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Nasri, Kompany, Nastasic, Zabaleta, Kolarov and Dzeko out of Manchester City for the long term and even they would struggle to mount a successful Premier League challenge.
So what of Al Hasawi? Is he to blame for any of the shambolic goings on at the former European Cup winners? Maybe so. He has the support of almost all of the fans and rightly so after being so open with them. A regular tweeter, Al Hasawi recently offered the fans free coach travel to Middlesbrough and opened the City Ground doors for a couple of hours, meeting and greeting many of the Forest faithful. Nonetheless the last couple of days have seen a change, possibly to be predicted. Quoted as saying that he expected the club to be top of the league by now – coupled with Warnock’s reasons as to why he wouldn’t take the job – both are worrying points that edge towards Al Hasawi being less of the people’s chairman and more of the foreign totalitarian that Vincent Tan, Roman Abramovich and Assem Allam play so well at Cardiff, Chelsea and Hull respectively. Of course, this may just be his frustrations boiling over at what looks like another season of disappointment for the red side of Nottingham. What is certain is that Al Hasawi is not the only one being left frustrated by Nottingham Forest again.