Wednesday, 19 July 2017

It ain't who you sell, it's the way that you sell 'em

Picture the scene. You score lots of goals, but concede even more. You end up finishing just outside the Championship relegation zone on 51 points. You've been through managerial turmoil - including caretaker management - but are now set to start a season with the man who ended the last campaign in charge. Promisingly, the manager is someone who has done well in the second tier before. Now, however, your free scoring star striker has just been sold to a side that has come down from the Premier League and is flexing its financial muscles thanks to its parachute payments.

Forest? No, that was Fulham this time last season. Clearly, it'd be foolish to think that Mark Warburton's men can follow in their footsteps and mount a play-off campaign just because the position of the clubs has parallels. However, Slavisa Jokanovic's Cottagers have shown that astute management, momentum and a combination of smart buys and up and coming prospects can come together and exceed expectations. Their success also goes some way to showing that the sale of Britt Assombalonga need not be a complete catastrophe.

Britt's £15 million transfer to Middlesbrough is hardly cause for celebration. The former Peterborough man's goal record speaks for itself; he's a natural at finding the back of the net. To lose him to a fellow Championship side is disappointing and - as Paul Severn's Seat Pitch article outlines - demonstrates the disparity between clubs that is furthered by Financial Fair Play and the rules surrounding parachute payments. We might be in the same division as Middlesbrough but we're barely in the same league financially. This is also Fawaz's legacy, however. While the rules are poor, a large part of the blame lies with our own for failing to build a club worthy of earning such a windfall. Boro are reaping the rewards of being well run.

But there were two questions to be answered about Assombalonga if he stayed at the City Ground - was he fit and did he fit. The first is perhaps a little unfair. I'm sure he's had a good pre-season and is in decent shape for the coming campaign. However, it's only right to say that there's a nagging doubt over his ability to perform at his peak on a regular and sustained basis post-injury. We might well have had to have a 'plan B' in mind for any games he'd have to miss anyway.

Did he also fit into Warburton's ideal line-up? I'm sure the manager is smart enough not to turn down the use of a proven goal scorer but I'm less sure that Britt would be his ideal main man. You get the impression he'd much rather have a more mobile centre forward, someone who offers more outside the box too. If the sizeable transfer fee can be used to further shape the squad into Warburton's style, then we might see progress. We might even have enough money to enhance other parts of the squad too.

Not only that, but there's also the question of Ben Brereton. I still live in fear that we'll lose him too, especially after his summer exploits in an England shirt, but there's no denying that he's shown an incredible talent in his breakthrough year. At times last season he was already outperforming Britt and you felt that he was eventually shoved further wide to accommodate his more experienced team mate during the relegation run-in (albeit sensible in the circumstances). If he continues to progress at the rate he showed last season, he'll be a better player than Britt by the end of the season and no-one should be put in his way to hold that progress back. Maybe this solves a selection headache?

Yes he's young and we should temper expectations, but if you're good enough you're old enough and boy did he look good enough at times last season. After being robbed of the chance to see Oliver Burke for long, I'd love to have a season of Brereton in a Forest shirt. You'd hope that he'd rather get games under his belt that rot in a vast Premier League squad too.

With the bitter experience Burke, and before him Michail Antonio, it'd be easy to become downhearted at a third summer transfer window in a row in which a star player is sold off. Yet this departure feels different. The club has negotiated the best price it could - given the release clause in his contract - and sold on a player who wanted to go. From what we're led to believe, Mark Warburton knew of this decision and has worked with the new structure at the club to draw up a list of replacements. In comparison to those last two big summer sales - in which we were subjected to Antonio being withdrawn from selection and finally sold on deadline day and Burke flogged behind the manager's back with no plan for a replacement - it's a case of so far so good.

Now, however, comes the first big test of the new managerial structure. Clubs will know we've got a bit of cash to play with and our rivals will be shopping in the same market. We'll soon see how much of that money is re-invested, how good Frank McParland's contacts book is and what sort of player we're able to attract. It isn't about who you sell - it's about what you do to replace them that matters most.

Britt might have his critics - and his faults - but I enjoyed watching him in a Forest shirt. His goals against Derby, his cheeky charm and ruthless streak, his fairytale finish against MK Dons and his swansong against Ipswich will all leave fond memories. You can hardly blame him for going to a club which should challenge for the title and which will certainly increase his pay packet.

We now need to build a club that doesn't have to sell star players, especially to sides in the same division. If we're sitting here next year without a fourth successive big name departure, we'll know that progress is being made. We also need to do something that this club hasn't always been great at doing - and replace a key player in a way that doesn't affect the team. The new regime offers promise that we can achieve this but it won't be easy. Those in charge at the club can at least take inspiration from Fulham's last year.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Forest Five Asides: Cummings and goings, the magic number, fixtures, Worrall

Here we are, slap bang in the middle of the off season - a time when a picture of some grass or a lick of paint on the stand is lapped up as the nearest we're going to get when it comes to news. Yet things aren't totally silent on the banks of the Trent. Here's my latest 'five asides'...


For starters, we've already made our first signing of the summer. The capture of Jason Cummings from Hibs is refreshing for many reasons.

Firstly, it's done and dusted nice and early and doesn't come after a tawdry game of cat and mouse and a couple of 'derisory' bids to test the water (or alert our rivals to the target's availability). It's also a fairly low fee - given the going rate for strikers at our level these days - for a player clearly known to Mark Warburton and Frank McParland from their days north of the border.

Cummings looks to be a confident character and should relish the chance to prove himself in England after 20-plus goals in each of his last three seasons in Edinburgh. At 21 (he'll be 22 by the time the season kicks off), he's also an up and coming player who can fit nicely into the squad we're trying to build and a far cry from the Bendtner-style vanity signings of the previous regimes.

....and goings?

The transfer rumour mill is in full flow. Amid the torrent of tiresome fake 'in the know' accounts and the duff clickbait gossip it's hard to work out which transfer titbits are genuine. Still, it does appear that Middlesbrough - with parachute payments burning a hole in their pockets - are interested in Britt Assombalonga. It'll be interesting to see if they do bid and, indeed, how serious their offer is.

Personally, I resigned myself to the fact that this might well be the window when Ben Brereton is snapped up by a Premier League club some time ago. We couldn't really stand in his way if that were the case - especially given that he was in the youth set up at Manchester United and Stoke before coming to us. He's destined for the top flight, with or without us.

I'd be gutted if either of those two left. Britt has a proven track record at this level and it'd be nice to see at least some of Ben's progress in a Forest shirt. Still, we have to be realistic. We survived by the skin of our teeth last season and might still need to make some money to avoid another FFP embargo while the new management team gets to grips with the mess they inherited. On and off the pitch we're not in a position to compete once a certain calibre of club joins the race.

If either did go, it'd be important to show some patience. It wasn't so much the sale of Oliver Burke itself that annoyed me last season - it was the fact it was done in a way that gave the manager no chance to plan to replace him. If Warburton loses a star, he needs the time, money and support to find a suitable successor. You'd like to think the Marinakis regime would give him that.

I wouldn't be surprised if we saw interest in Ben Osborn this summer either. Newcastle have apparently kept tabs on his progress and will have a decent transfer kitty to play with.

The magic number

Still, let's not dwell on all of that just yet. Want a positive? How about the fact that Huddersfield Town finished the 2015/16 season on 51 points and are now plotting trips to Old Trafford, Anfield et al? Fulham finished the same season with 51 points and also made last season's play offs. That just so happens to be the points total we amassed last season.

While I think it'd be far fetched to suggest we should aim for anything more than mid table in a tough division - both Huddersfield and Fulham have shown that you can quickly make progress at this level if everything clicks.

It's also worth remembering that we netted 62 goals last season - which is more than either Huddersfield or Sheffield Wednesday scored in their play-off campaigns. Just a shame about the 72 conceded at the other end eh?

Awaiting the fixture list

Tomorrow morning sees the release of the 2017/18 fixtures. It's the day when we all get a little too excited about the order in which we'll have to play every team twice, subject to Sky buggering it all up. Still, I'll freely admit that I always get caught up in the hype, especially when sniffing out the chance for a cheeky away day. If the computer could deliver nice convenient dates for games at Barnsley and Hull that'd be great. Yep, I know how to live...

Captain Marvel

It's worth ending with some praise for Joe Worrall. Fresh from a breakthrough season at the City Ground, he did us all proud by captaining England Under 20s as they won the Toulon Tournament in Provence. Joe was also named in the team of the tournament and was officially the competition's second best player.

As if that wasn't impressive enough, Joe also told the
“I’ve played a lot of first-team football this season which put me in good stead to come here and captain England, which I didn’t think I’d do but of course I’m very proud to have done that. 
“So to captain England is brilliant, it’ll give me more experience to go back to Forest and maybe get the armband there one day."
It's great to hear Joe talk with such passion about the club and the armband surely beckons if he can continue his progress next term.

I'm excited to see just how good he can be - and intrigued to see who might be next off Gary Brazil's conveyer belt of talent.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Marinakis makes postive impression with both actions and words

The bitter experience of the last five years has turned us into an odd bunch of fans hasn't it? Most sets of supporters who crave a takeover probably want to hear their new owners talk about spending big in the transfer market, with grand plans and big targets. We, on the other hand, went misty-eyed at the mention of a chief commercial officer, chairman and CEO.

This sweet sensation of structure, having been a rudderless ship in rocky waters for five long years, meant that Evangelos Marinakis and Sokratis Kominakis announced their arrival at the club this week with immediate action, not just words. With one statement they managed to put in place a professional-looking hierarchy for the club, something Fawaz and co never seriously managed.

While I'm not going to pretend I know Nicholas Randall, Ioannis Vrentzos or David Cook, their biographies show that they are people with real substance who know both how to run football clubs and how to run commercially successful operations. Both of these fundamental skills were completely absent under the old regime. In some respects this trio, alongside Sam Gordon, have a blank canvas on which to build a new business and, with their credentials, should quickly be able to make an impact.

In fact, in many ways, they already have. Remarkably we're heading into the summer with a shirt sponsor, a clear drive to sell season tickets (with a savvy discount for the existing supporters) and a new home shirt launched and up for sale. Again, fans of other clubs probably look on from afar with amazement that these things are such a big deal but, alas, that's where we're at. The tone and frequency of the promotional emails I began to receive after Gordon's appointment can only have helped to boost attendances and demonstrated a much-needed professionalism.

Marinakis' words were also encouraging. Yes, he clearly wants to get to the Premier League but he made no daft promises about when we might achieve a return to the top flight and he appeared to have understood the scale of the challenge if we're to match his ambitions.

On the playing side of things we have a manager and director of football in place who have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the current paying squad - as well as an appreciation of what is needed to succeed in this division. Both seem to have been drafted in with a fair bit of input from the new Greek ownership, meaning that we won't have to go through more managerial upheaval now that we're under new ownership (something that completely ruined Birmingham's 2016/17 campaign).

You only need to re-wind 12 months to appreciate what a difference this all makes. While we might have ended the campaign on a mild high - with a joyous returning goal from Britt Assombalonga - we went into the summer with no manager, no CEO, no scouting network and no plan to recruit new players as we emerged from a long transfer embargo. The summer was dominated by the attempted takeover - by Marinakis - and we were left with a slightly haphazard attempt to embrace a new continental style managerial structure with Philippe Montanier and Pedro Pereira, which was doomed to fail while Fawaz remained at the helm.

This time, we have a manager and director of football who don't need time to adjust to the division and the time and infrastructure required to have a more strategic approach to the transfer window. None of that means success is certain - but we've witnessed what happens without these foundations in place.

Indeed, we've all seen that the general off-field failure of the Fawaz era completely undermined any of his stated ambitions on the pitch. I've long thought that, no matter what we've seen in the last couple of seasons, we're further away from being a Premier League outfit off the field than we are on it.

Marinakis' statements seem to show that, while he knows he can't guarantee becoming a Premier League team next season, he can put in place the foundations that mean we start to look like a Premier League club in waiting off the field. He's reaching out to the wider community to listen to fans, businesses and academics in the city - rather than just seeing what people are saying on Twitter - and wants to bring former players 'into the tent'. You'd imagine that's not just a sop to the fans - but also a smart PR move to involve people with a big media profile who could otherwise end up being vocal critics.

Some fans, rightly, are nervous about the allegations previously levelled against Marinakis. Indeed, it does appear that questions about his activity in Greece got in the way of him buying the club last year. We shouldn't condemn someone who hasn't been, to my knowledge, found guilty of an offence but nor should we ignore the need for some caution amid the joy of Fawaz's departure.

The Fawaz years ought to have taught us not to take everything we're told at face value and to challenge the club to deliver on its promises. While what we've seen so far has undoubtedly been impressive, it's still worth being vigilant with the people in charge. Through the advisory council, fans have the opportunity to have a voice and this needs to be used in a constructive way. Fans can be critical where necessary while still being supportive of the club and treading this fine line well could be as key to the long-term success of this new regime as anything else.

Still, while we shouldn't allow ourselves to get completely carried away, there are plenty of reasons to feel positive. We have the right manager (who wants to play attractive football) and the beginnings of a good squad who, together, managed to just about secure our status in the second tier. They will be supported by a director of football with a track record for astute buys and a football club that looks set to be operating on a professional footing at long last.

Next season won't be easy. All three relegated clubs should be strong at this level, Sheffield United and Bolton should be better than Wigan and Rotherham and the likes of Villa, Derby, Leeds and Cardiff will all be expecting to come stronger. The target for the club, as Marinakis says, has to be to be better than last season. That means we're likely to need to improve substantially even to make modest gains in our league standing.

We've got a long way to go to get where we want to be but, for now at least, we should be buoyed by the fact that everything is in place to at least start the journey. Let's hope that this time next season we're even more optimistic about the future of the club.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Heaven knows I'm not miserable now: Smith's stunning save sets up vital win

Jordan Smith, take a bow. The outpouring of relief that greeted Forest's safety-securing 3-0 win on Sunday might well not have been possible without the 22-year-old stopper's intervention.

I'm sure you'll all have seen it by now but it's worth stressing just how good his save at 0-0 was. Smith has looked remarkably assured for a man who only made his Football League debut on February 11, but this was something truly special and deserves to be remembered for a long time to come. The way he contorted to adjust to Dominic Samuel's deflected effort and claw the ball onto the bar with his left hand was sensational. Mark Warburton felt it was world class.

In a season full of rising stars, Smith shouldn't be ignored. We really don't need to go shopping for a replacement for Dorus De Vries any more, Jordan looks the real deal and the unlucky Stephen Henderson will have to make do with being his deputy.

Anyone who thinks that our safety was never in doubt on Sunday is kidding themselves. With news coming in that Blackburn and Birmingham were both ahead, the impact of a goal for Ipswich could have been devastating for our fragile confidence levels. Especially since we had looked disjointed after having to take Muzzy Carayol off through injury early on. Jordan's fingertips kept us in the fight and set up everything that followed.

Britt Assombalonga then seized the moment by stepping up when we needed him most. His penalty calmed nerves on and off the pitch and he then came out in the second half with the bit between his teeth. Not even a missed spot kick could knock him off course as he dusted himself off and thundered in his second of the match - and 30th goal for Forest - soon after to set the seal on an excellent win. He was purposeful, powerful and tireless in working for the cause, leaving high hopes for more of the same next season.

But, in between Britt strikes, came another big moment to savour. You can't fail to be overjoyed for Chris Cohen. There must have been some dark moments during the long road back from each of his three serious knee injuries but here he was with a well-earned day in the sun. His left footed strike might have been deflected, but it whistled past Bartosz Bialkowski in emphatic fashion and sent the vast majority of the 28,249 crowd into raptures. As moments go, it was reminiscent of Julian Bennett's piledriver against Yeovil.

Joe Worrall headed and kicked everything, Jamie Ward was a pest and earned two penalties and David Vaughan came into the game in the second half to add composure when and where we needed it.

I tweeted at half time that Jordan Smith's save might turn out to be the most important since Shilton's title-winning heroics at Highfield Road. Of course, we won't really know the significance of this result until further down the line. Sunday has the potential to be the launching pad for a better future if we can take the bull by the horns in the summer. We've got the makings of a decent squad, a good manager/director of football combination and the prospect of more professional ownership on its way. Sunday's game was an opportunity to secure Championship status; this summer is the opportunity to start making proper progress towards a better future.

For now though, it's time to breathe a sigh of relief and reflect on the positives of the completed rescue mission. There are some killjoys who will tell you that survival isn't much to celebrate. It is when it was so perilously close to being lost, however. And it all started with 'that' wondrous save...

Monday, 1 May 2017

Fragile Forest need to find some fight for 'Survival Sunday'

Well, that's another fine mess we've landed ourselves in. With a depressing familiarity, Forest slumped to an away defeat at QPR and left us facing a nerve-biting 'Survival Sunday' clash against Ipswich. Two threads have been constant amid the chaos of 2016/17: a failure to capitalise on good results against big teams at home and an inability to dig out a result away from home. Both continued at Loftus Road and both could yet cost us our place in the Championship.

Sunday's clash is the biggest game at the City Ground for some time. Indeed, the last play-off semi-final against Swansea six years ago probably wasn't quite so pivotal. It threatens to be a nerve jangling affair, especially given the prospect that we could, technically, win and still go down. Indeed, it could even pan out that both us and Blackburn lose and we still switch places.

But, freak permutations aside, this is one last chance for us to earn our place in the second tier for next season. We've blown the golden opportunity to bury Blackburn at home and the chance to win at QPR and make life more straightforward. In a season defined by missed opportunities - on the field and off it - this one really has to be taken. Momentum is with a resurgent Rovers but we do, still, have home advantage in our game (thank goodness), a better goal difference and the benefit of having scored more goals if it comes to that.

However, I don't know about you but I'm not overly confident. The fact that the game is on Sky and a 'Kids for a Quid' fixture only ramps up the pressure. It's probably a sentiment that rests more on fear than fact but neither strike me as positive omens. Memory of our performances in the 'big occasion' play-off home games weighs heavy too.

More importantly, however, is the fact that this is a fragile team that has frozen on so many occasions this season. After the kamikaze early days under Montanier faded, we've often looked overcome by panic and dread when we've gone behind in games. Ipswich aren't a great side, let's be honest, but they probably have all of the attributes that we lack. They're organised, tough, streetwise and are a more coherent team put together by an astute manager. They've only won the same amount of games as us this season yet they've earned enough draws to be clear of safety. Yes, they lost to Rotherham and have been beaten by Lincoln this season, but they also recently put Newcastle to the sword. If we let the occasion get the better of us on Sunday, they can easily punish us.

Indeed, a friend of mine said a few weeks ago that he feared a Luke Chambers and David McGoldrick inspired victory on the final day, two ghosts from the past coming back to haunt us in the worst possible way. Maybe it'd be apt if Mick McCarthy, a man who turned down Fawaz right at the start of his tenure, were to put the final nail in the coffin at the end of his failed ownership?

Of course, it has been suggested that Evangelos Marinakis will be taking over regardless of what happens on the pitch against Ipswich. There's perhaps even a train of thought that suggests that relegation wouldn't, therefore, be the disaster that it would be under Fawaz. That's a dangerous mentality.

Firstly, there's absolutely no guarantee that we'd come straight back up. We didn't last time and neither did the likes of Sheffield United. For every Bolton, Leicester and Norwich there are plenty of examples of clubs who have floundered in the third tier. League One was a heck of a slog last time - there's nothing to suggest that it won't be just as tough again. It'd be far better, in my view, to build ourselves up in this league as Brighton, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday have all done.

Secondly, let's not get carried away about Marinakis. Would relegation really not matter to him? Until the deal is signed and Fawaz is finally gone nothing should be taken for granted. The events of the last year should show that. Surely the only attraction of buying Forest is the vague prospect of getting the club up to the rich boys playground of the Premier League anyway? Maybe there's no risk that the sale will fall through, I'd rather us not create an excuse for it to do so though.

Finally, the core of young talent at the club might well be broken up by a relegation. We lost the Paul Hart academy core before, let's not allow the Brazil generation to be scattered across other clubs. I'm tired of having to be happy for our prospects when they thrive elsewhere - it's time that we built a club and a team fit to capitalise on the academy's ground work. The vultures are circling, safety makes it easier to get rid of them.

Yet, oddly, you do feel that there's light at the end of the tunnel if we could somehow stumble over the finish line. This manager, with this batch of young players and fresh ownership (with the right structure and backing) could well put us on a positive course. This team is more talented than the miserable Megson flops but it just lacks some key characteristics. On the days when it clicks, we can all see that there is 'something' there - but the current situation risks stamping out that spark of promise before it can develop. We're at a big crossroads and Sunday might well decide which path is taken.

One of the main problems is that Warburton has a big squad but little resembling a balanced team to pick from the mishmash of players he has inherited. Yes, there's plenty of talent, but there are also lots of flaws - with many players lacking experience, fitness, form or all three.

It's such a shame that the post-embargo shopping has been so awful. Indeed, our transfers were probably better when constrained by the FFP straitjacket. It says much about the club that only one of the five January deadline signings is in with a chance of starting on Sunday. That window was one of the many, many missed opportunities we've had - a chance to shop for players to plug gaps in the playing staff not waste time and money on ridiculous loanees like Joao Texeira who will never see the light of day.

Still, it remains the case that there should, just about, be an eleven in there with the ability to overcome Ipswich. The question might be whether or not we're ready mentally to overcome the occasion. There will be much talk in the build up to the game about this being like a 'cup final' yet the stakes are higher. Defeat won't just bring the disappointment of a missed opportunity (another one) but could define the club for years to come.

There is of course one other hope. Maybe Mark Warburton's good work with Brentford will have laid the foundations for his old side to beat Blackburn and do him a favour? The sad truth is that this might be the best card left in our hand on Sunday. Still, I'm not fussy. Safety, however it comes, is all that matters.

A nervous week awaits before the big game - for everyone from the players to those of us who persist with this daft old club come rain or shine. We can, of course, do our bit on the day to roar them on. There's a chance to seize the moment and create an occasion that we can look back on as a turning point. It could be a day for young guns to come of age and to set off into the sunset for a positive future. The grim alternative is the stuff of nightmares and might well give us a few sleepless nights in the next week.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Forest Five Asides: QPR, Marinakis, Mancienne, Lichaj, Villa

Starting a new blog format at the end of a season might not be the brightest idea I've ever had but, nevertheless, I'm doing it anyway. My new 'Five Asides' posts will aim to give a short, sharp views on five key talking points to fit between longer rants/posts. Well, that's the theory anyway.

Any comments, thoughts or suggestions are always welcome...

QPR and the ghost of Megson

The trip to Loftus Road tomorrow brings back bad memories of the last time we were relegated to League One. The 2-1 defeat in West London put the final nail in the coffin, confirming our pathetic demise. Worst of all, I went down to the game on a supporters' bus that had the BBC's Natalie Jackson among its passengers. It meant that we had to hang around in a car park while she conducted her post match interviews, leaving us to stew and fester for a while on the fact we'd fallen through the trap door before we could go home. It was grim. No-one was really in the mood for a 'looking forward to League One' vox pop on the way back either - it was time to pretend to sleep.

The fact that QPR is our penultimate game this season too isn't, of course, the only parallel with that last relegation under Gary Megson. The Derby home and away results were identical in 04/05, Rotherham also went down that year and it was also a season in which just two away wins were earned (those, like the two this season, were also both in the same week).

The positive thing is that we now have a better manager and a better team. The 04/05 lineup was: Gerrard, Curtis, Morgan, Taylor, Melville, Robertson, Evans, Powell, Gardner, Commons, Dobie. If we can stumble over the line, there might be light at the end of the tunnel.

The ghosts of 04/05, our record against Holloway teams (3 wins in 15) and the pitiful away form this season mean that I still can't rest easy when it comes to survival though.

Takeover talk as the Greeks wait in the wings

It seems that the takeover of the club is edging closer - although it also seems like we've been saying that for some time. Sky Sports today reported the fact that Fawaz is going to sell the club to Evangelos Marinakis but it's not really clear if this was based on anything that we didn't already know from other media outlets. ('Sky Sources' covers a multitude of sins doesn't it?) 

There are question marks over the Greek investor, of course, but the fact that he's run a club - and a big one at that - suggests that things should surely be better under him than the current regime. We've had a lot of false dawns, let's hope this isn't another. The club is at a crossroads - again. Survival and new ownership could give us a huge boost going into the summer but neither is certain.

Need to be convinced by Mancienne

I'll admit that I'm not exactly bowled over by the news of Michael Mancienne's new contract. I wouldn't have been at all bothered if we'd have let him go when his deal came to an end in the summer. He's got a great pedigree but I've been disappointed with his performances and always worry that we'll concede a goal from a cross when he's in the lineup. The fact that he's struggled to establish himself - even over a converted-to-centre-half Danny Fox - isn't a ringing endorsement either.

It is a positive, however, that he appears to have taken a pay cut (since he was rumoured to be on £25k a week or so) and it might well be the case that Warburton can get more out of him and utilise his talents in his style of play. One thing is for certain - we've got to stop messing about with him in midfield.

Eric The Red deserves the crown

While voting for the official 'player of the season' carries on until Wednesday, many supporters club branches seem to have opted for Eric Lichaj as their choice and the American will surely take the main crown too? It might seem odd to say that in a season in which our defensive record has been so poor but I do think Eric deserves the nod. He's been consistent, has given his all and provided leadership at times when things threatened to go off the rails. He looks like he loves to play for us, provides a decent attacking threat when given the chance and has even bagged a couple of goals. Frankly, we could with a couple more characters like him.

Who are the only other contenders? David Vaughan? Ben Osborn?

Let's hope the award isn't as much of a curse as it has been in recent times, though. Of those last five winners, Garath McCleary, Michail Antonio and Dorus de Vries all left pretty quickly, while Chris Cohen and Andy Reid both suffered serious injuries not long after earning the title.

Would Villa's fans rather they lost?

Aston Villa did us a decent favour by beating Birmingham on Sunday. Interestingly, having put their city rivals in the mire, they now travel to Blackburn to take on the team directly below the Blues. I wonder how many Villains actually want their side to lose tomorrow to pile more misery onto Harry Redknapp's men? For our sake, let's hope the team isn't 'on the beach' anyway (although it worries me that the influential Mile Jedinak looks set to be missing for them). The hope same goes for Huddersfield, who go into their game against Birmingham merely waiting for the play-offs to begin.

I really don't want a nerve-jangling last day and, while I appreciate that we need to pull our finger out and get the job done ourselves, any more favours will be more than gratefully accepted.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Pinillos peach plunders sweet point as Warburton plots Forest rescue mission

It was the new haircut that did it. Perhaps. Daniel Pinillos, the freshly shaven headed Spaniard, headed home the sweetest of injury time headers to let loose a roar of joy and relief around the City Ground. Muchas gracias Dani.

Maybe one day, we'll view the Pinillos goal in the same vein as 'that' Blackstock finish against Bristol City. There's still a long way to go - but it certainly felt like an important moment. Not least because it helped to ensure we didn't face a two week international break consigned to the bottom three to lick our wounds.

New boss Mark Warburton now needs to use the next fortnight to plot how he'll keep us out of the drop zone come May. He'll have plenty to ponder after a fiery first taste of the East Midlands derby.

In some respects, he can save himself a lot of research time by just re-watching this game as it pretty much summed up the season so far. Energy, endeavour and promise followed by a lack of ruthlessness, little or no control and an underlying fragility all mixed in with just enough spirit to give us hope of avoiding a bigger mess.

While we didn't create bucket loads of chances in the first half, we had at least approached a game of this magnitude with the right mindset. The experience and guile of Cohen and Vaughan gave us a good launching pad and the twinkle-toed talents of Zach Clough were there for all to see. What a player he could be and what a joy it is to be cheering Clough goals at the City Ground again. Not least in 'El Cloughico'. Apt indeed.

Ben Brereton also took to his task impressively. Stationed on the right, he ensured that Martin Olsson - a classy player who has tormented us in these fixtures the past - was given a big test all afternoon. It's performances like these that convince me that Ben is destined for bigger things. The maturity and skill he showed, despite being 'out of position', belied his tender years. At times in the second half, he was the only hope we had to cling to. You can't help feeling (and fearing) that he'll very quickly be too good for this level.

The subplot to the game had, of course, been the arrival of new men at the helm of each side. Gary Rowett's presence in the away dugout was especially intriguing since he was said to have been the man that John Jay Moores and co would've installed as Forest boss if Fawaz hadn't pulled the plug on the takeover. This could have ended up as one long 'this is what you could've won' cruel Bullseye-esque display, although that was somewhat diluted by our own capture of Warburton.

Rowett certainly rallied his troops well at half time. They came out for the second half with the sort of energy and drive that we'd showed in the opening 45 minutes - and we now froze and showed exactly why we're so dangerously close to bottom three, with a performance suddenly strewn with errors and nerves. Vaughan and Cohen struggled to regain control and Russell, Johnson, Bryson and Ince stepped up their influence, smelling blood.

No-one was surprised at the identity of the scorer of the equaliser surely? Matej Vydra now has eight goals in seven games against us - more than he's scored against any other team. When David Nugent doubled the advantage I can't have been the only one fearing the worst.

The frustration at having let our grip on the game slip boiled over when the superb Clough was taken off, to be replaced by Ross McCormack. His removal did seem a little premature - and the Villa loanee certainly struggled to fill his void - but the jeers that greeted the substitution were harsh on Warburton. Still, let's put that down to the heat of the moment, in the context of a game and a season that were slipping away before our eyes. In a far-from-ideal world, far-from-ideal things happen.

Luckily, a defeat that then seemed inevitable didn't materialise. The fact that it didn't was down to a few key factors.

First, came Jordan Smith's intervention. He made a couple of crucial saves to minimise the deficit - the best coming from an Alex Pearce header. Like Brereton, he's come in and looked like he's already been in the team for ten years. With him and Henderson, there's no need to go shopping for goalkeepers this summer.

Next, enter Matty Cash. Unfairly maligned by some in recent weeks, Cash came on to give us fresh legs in place of Cohen. But 'fresh legs' is an understatement. He came on like a man possessed, pressing players and driving forward with the ball, pushing us on for that one last chance and grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck. He was instrumental in the move that led to the goal and deserves great credit for his energetic cameo.

Apostolos Vellios also made a difference when replacing an out of sorts Assombalonga. He was close to writing his own name into folklore with a superb turn and shot that struck the inside of the post.

Smith, Cash and Vellios all did their bit, but it was up to Ben Osborn and Pinillos to seal the dramatic late point. Osborn whipped in an inviting dead ball, Pinillos did the rest. Cue pandemonium and surely the best full length of the pitch goalkeeping celebration from a Forest player since Mark Crossley against Spurs in the cup.

Warburton has much to sort, but he'll have known that anyway. He needs a fit Eric Lichaj for a start and the return of Jamie Ward from suspension - both of which might have given us more balance, solidity and experience (despite my reservations about Ward). On top of that he needs to try to engineer a threat from the flanks. Brereton did well on Saturday but his long term future lies in the middle. The new boss will need to try to get something from Carayol or the lesser spotted Ariyibi or Texeira - even if it's just as subs to help stretch a game.

There's also the question of Assombalonga. He might look in poor form but, equally, I can't remember us creating a proper chance for him in a while. Britt's a player who thrives off getting goals. You feel that if he can get one, he'd have a spring in his step with his build up play.

What can be done with McCormack too? He's got the talent to fire us to safety, but we're yet to look like we have a clue how to use him. Is fellow Villa loanee Tshibola ever going to be fit for the battle? How do we kill games off when we're on top? What can we do to keep more clean sheets? How can we turnaround the torrid away form.

Good luck with all of that Mark. That's some in tray with just eight games to go. In the meantime we'll be staving off the boredom of the international weekend by watching that equaliser on loop.