Another season came and went for Nottingham Forest without much to celebrate in between. Ricky Loscalzo gives his thoughts on where it went wrong (and occasionally right) for the ‘Tricky Trees’ in the 2015/16 season.
So, after the final whistle went at Stadium:mk on Saturday afternoon, another year of Forest-footballing-tepidness was over. Although Nottingham Forest ended on a high – beating MK Dons 2-1 thanks to goals from long-term injury absentees Chris Cohen and Britt Assombalonga – it was just paper over the cracks; but everyone knew that anyway.
I’m not sure if you will find a Forest fan anywhere in Nottingham, or indeed anywhere, that actually enjoyed the season just gone by. Beating Derby at home back in November was probably the only thing to remember of what was in truth a very forgettable season. What a way to celebrate your 150th birthday.
I’ll start at the beginning – Forest were under the guidance of Dougie Freedman, who steadied the dramatically sinking ship of Stuart Pearce’s team the season before and guided them to a respectable finish. This season however, Forest had broken financial fair play rules which meant they couldn’t sign any players permanently and had to rely on the loan system.
Obviously, this was never going to help matters, especially with an owner who I believe has his heart in the right place, but just doesn’t have a clue. Even with all that, Forest fans were still ever so very slightly optimistic for what lay ahead. Then they signed Chris O’Grady, and then all hope for the season evaporated quicker than you could say “O’Grady scored a goal” (which was said twice in 20 games).
Maybe that is a bit harsh. He works hard for the team, it’s just a shame he’s not very good at everything else. Another loanee (from Portuguese champions Benfica no less) was Nelson Oliveira, who was actually half decent most of the time, finishing the season as Forest’s top goal scorer with nine. Although he went and got himself injured at the end of the season. Typical. And then Federico ‘The Next Ronaldo’ Macheda was brought in; he didn’t score a goal and was tackled by a player who was on his knees.
Anyway, I digress. Forest began the season by losing away to Brighton & Hove Albion (who themselves just missed out on promotion on the last day of the season). The Reds subsequently only lost one of the next six games, winning three and drawing one. Nice and steady wins the race.
Then Forest lost the race. No wins in their next eight matches was met with plenty of discontent with the fans and there were murmurs Fawaz was ready to axe Dougie Freedman. Steady on, it’s only November.
Then it was time for Forest to stand up and give the fans something to shout about – bitter rivals Derby County came to the City Ground. Nelson Oliveira, or Lord Nels as he was referred to by fans, opened the scoring with five minutes on the clock, sending the Forest faithful into raptures. The Reds went on to hold onto the slender 1-0 for the rest of the game, with commanding performances from stand-in captain Henri Lansbury and David Vaughan. Finally something to shout about, and it was clear the players were playing for the manager.
After the derby victory, Forest agonisingly conceded a last-minute winner away at Brentford. But that sparked a run of form which saw The Reds go 13 games unbeaten, winning six and drawing seven (with four 1-1 results in a row; at least they weren’t losing).
Things were looking up. The mist was rolling in from the Trent and Forest fans desired to be at the City Ground once again.
Soon after that the inevitable happened. Forest lost five from six games.
This run of form ultimately lost Dougie his job; Fawaz had struck again, perhaps unsurprisingly, a portion of the City Ground were baying for Dougie’s blood for quite some time. He had lost the fans and reportedly the dressing room – when that happens we all know you’re on borrowed time.
The players were not without their share of the blame though. Their performances at that stage in the season had been nowhere near acceptable. Having said that, maybe Fawaz felt that a change needed to be made swiftly rather than riding the storm, as Forest were – for the second season in a row – staring down the barrel of a relegation battle.
So, out with the old and in with the new. Or rather some temporary new, as Paul Williams was given the task of taking the reigns for the remainder of the season. The fans also familiarised themselves with Andy Reid’s face again, as he was appointed one of Williams’ assistants after finally deciding to end his year-long bender and get back to being involved in football in one form or another.
Apathy filled the air around the Forest supporting half of Nottingham. This season, like many others previously, had started with some form of optimism and ended in usual despair. Forest fans were even nonplussed about playing Derby. Who can blame them though – Macheda was starting up front again. He looked like he was running through treacle the entire game.
That started a four game losing streak, with The Reds slipping ever closer to the wrong end of the table. Once again, this is Forest, so this run of form is to be expected of course.
William’s eventually steadied the sinking, relegation headed Nottingham Forest ship (much to the help of some chronic teams below them) and towards the end of the season got Forest playing the good football that the squad is capable of. The ‘trequartista’ version of Lansbury and the rejuvenated left-back-turned-centre-back Danny Fox made some post Dougie Freedman comments – something about complaining about being played out of position/not played enough/blah blah. Admittedly Lansbury did look like the player we all know he is behind the striker, but he should just let his football do the talking and let Dougie look at what he was missing out on.
There were some positives to take from the season. Chris Cohen returned from his third serious knee injury and played a large portion of the final third of the season. Also returning was last season’s top scorer (with a lot more than Oliveira’s nine this term) Britt Assombalonga, who struck the winning goal on the final day of this season.
There is cause for optimism next season for Nottingham Forest. The striker Forest have desperately been missing is back and no doubt will be firing again; a new manager is to be announced, with talk of ex-Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson in the frame; Forest are officially out of the embargo, so they don’t have to rely on loaning sub-standard players; and the team at the end of the season showed signs of the potential they can play to. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if all that goes up in flames, the Forest way. Let’s hope not.