Thursday, 28 September 2017

Forest Five Asides: Matching Montanier, Twitter, new style, defender shopping, old boys

I try not to get too carried away by league tables until ten games have been played. Until you've played a decent range of teams both at home and away it's impossible to judge what constitutes a 'good start' but now, having reached that landmark, it's worth seeing where we're at.

Memories of Montanier

A total of 12 points from ten games means we've achieved exactly the same tally as this time last season (although the points came from three wins and three draws a year ago). The comparative calm off the field - and lack of a Burke-shaped deadline disaster - does still give hope that things might not turn as sour as they did under Phillippe Montanier. The Frenchman's reign was just another in a long list of false starts, but it's not just the points total that feels familiar. An inability to keep things tight at the back and a struggle to find a settled starting lineup do, to some extent at least, continue.


None of that means I'm 'calling for Mark Warburton's head'. In fact, I can't help feeling that barely anyone really is. It seems these days that a few angry people on Twitter probably get a little too much attention and I've seen many more posts denouncing the 'Warburton Out' cries than I have genuine calls for his removal. Surely only a tiny minority would actually want to see the manager sacked at this stage? The vast majority of fans had modest ambitions for the season and, despite a run of five defeats in the last six games, there's no need to panic and presume that these can't be achieved. Indeed, anyone prone to panicking ought to have 'we stayed up on goal difference on the last day of the season and then sold our top striker' printed out and stuck on every wall of their house as a timely reminder. There's a long way to go.

Yet it's easy to see how one or two tweets can become a 'story' which, in turn, creates a skewed impression. Especially in a click-bait era in which cheap 'Twitter reacts' stories are churned out on an all-too-regular basis. Twitter can sometimes end up in a race to the bottom, with the most outrageous views getting shares and attention, and no-one is ever willing to admit a rash comment made in the heat of the moment was misplaced.

The Guardian's Football Weekly podcast remarked on Monday about the fact that Forest fans had been venting their frustrations on Twitter, which made me wince a little. It'd be a shame if we became known as 'one of those' fanbases that overreacts at every twist and turn. I mean, we're not Liverpool, right?

That's not to say that I'm calling for us all to be nodding dogs who slavishly go along with the 'regime'. Forest are making plenty of mistakes at the moment, and it's clearly fair to be worried about this. I think Seat Pitch summed up the balance to be struck in a piece this week, arguing:
"It doesn’t mean anyone is beyond criticism. It doesn’t mean we meekly stand by and watch a side give away soft goals week in, week out.But it does mean we’re in a process of renewal. It does mean that we trust the owner and the manager to have a plan and to stick to it. It does mean that there will be ups and downs."

Building from the ball, not the back

It's fair to say that the Warburton Way isn't going to be easy to adopt. He wants to develop a system that, by its very nature, will take longer to bed in. He certainly doesn't seem to have adopted the mantra of 'build from the back', in which received wisdom suggests you focus first on setting up a solid defence before anything else (although, conversely, 'build from the back' is what his sides do quite a lot!).

He prefers, it seems, to try to build a style that dominates possession - 'building from the ball' if you will. We shouldn't be afraid of new ideas and plenty of better teams than us try to starve the opposition of the ball. You can't, after all, concede if you're in charge of possession.

The challenge now is to avoid giving the ball away cheaply, learn how to cope with teams who put us under pressure by pressing high up the pitch and to become more dangerous on the ball in the final third. It's a different way, but that doesn't necessarily make it the wrong way. We've shown tantalising flashes of getting it right so far, if we can click then we might well be able to produce some exciting football.

Defender shopping

Still, a defensive recruit seemed an absolute must after last season's troubles and I can't help wondering if he regrets not prioritising this position now. Let's hope Frank McParland is scouring the leagues as we speak and can unearth another gem. His track record so far suggests that he's up to the task.

The current mob might've been tighter defensively under Dougie Freedman but we're not going to be playing 'Freedman football' under Warburton and it seems wishful thinking to me to think that they're good enough in the long run (although I hope I'm wrong, obviously).

Old Boys

If you needed a reminder about how long we've been out of the top flight then it was perhaps sobering to consider the case of Ryan Sessegnon on Tuesday night. The Fulham man wasn't even conceived, let alone born, when Forest last played a Premier League game.

I once used to fashion fantasy football teams from ex Forest players in the top flight in a vain attempt to cling on to our connection to the big time. I found out recently that I'm not alone - other fans of ex top flight teams have, apparently, been known to adopt a similar tactic.

But, could you even muster a Premier League XI from ex Reds now?

This is the best I could manage: Darlow, Kane, Bertrand, Lascelles, Morgan, Chalobah, Ramsey, Ince, Antonio, Burke, Akpom. It's a stretch given the number of loanees, that Todd Kane is a Chelsea player in name alone and Chuba Akpom is a footballer in name alone, but there you go. Did I miss anyone?

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Daryl Murphy and the men who love to play against Forest

Daryl Murphy's arrival at the City Ground does at least one thing. He won't - barring a 'Bendtner at Derby' moment - be scoring against us this season.

The former Newcastle and Ipswich man has five goals in ten games against Forest (including both goals in 2014's 2-2 draw below) - his joint best record against any opposition (although his five against Rotherham came in just five games, so it's a shame they've disappeared down the trap door).

Since I love a good stat that got me thinking about who else always seems to do well against us, the pesky players who save their best for the times when they're up against the Tricky Trees.

Thanks to the superb resources of the Transfermarkt website I was able to satisfy my curiosity. So, here are the men who have their career best goalscoring ratio against Forest:

Rudy Gestede: He's netted seven goals in seven games against Forest, tormenting us with his strength and aerial ability for Cardiff, Blackburn and Aston Villa. He's back in the division with Middlesbrough now, although the arrival of a new £30 million strike force in the North East might at least spare us from seeing him on August 19th if he's still there. His next best tally is four, against Birmingham, so we're far and away his favourite side to play against.

Matej Vydra: The Czech striker might have drifted around clubs since his arrival in England, but his failure to settle down hasn't dampened his enthusiasm for playing against Forest. He has eight goals in seven games, including Derby's first goal in the 2-2 at the City Ground in March, and two assists.

Darren Huckerby: Huckerby's loan spell at the City Ground was a joy to watch, even if it was a huge shame that we never made his move permanent. It was also a welcome change from seeing him put Forest to the sword. He has seven goals in five games against us, his best record against any side. Included in that tally were two hat tricks - one for Coventry in 1999 and one for Manchester City in 2002.

Matt Le Tissier: While Mark Crossley might have been the only man to save a Matt Le Tissier spot kick, the skilful Saints man more than made up for that with eight goals in nine games against us. He scored eight against Aston Villa too, but took 15 games to chalk them up.

Sam Vokes: Burnley are one of those sides who always seem to have the better of us in recent times. It's perhaps no surprise, then, to learn that Vokes' most prolific finishing has been against Forest, with eight goals in 14 games.

Jonny Howson: The Leeds, Norwich and now Middlesbrough midfield man loves a goal against Forest. His tally of six goals (in nine games) is double his best against anyone else.

DJ Campbell: Just hearing his name is enough to give me shudders after 'that' play-off performance for Blackpool at the City Ground. He has six goals in seven games against Forest in total, with three assists.

Stephen Dobbie: Speaking of play-off goalscorers (must we?), Stephen Dobbie also makes this list. While he has a better tally against some teams north of the border, Forest is his favourite English club to play against - with four goals in ten games and three assists. He's also never lost any of those ten games he's played against us. He can stay in Scotland.

Tommy Smith: The tricky Tommy Smith is yet another of those players whose name you hate to see in an opposition line-up. A consistent performer over many years, he has five goals in 12 games against Forest, with four assists. He has also put five past Reading and Coventry, but those have come in 14 and 21 games respectively.

Jason Wilcox: Wilcox was more known for setting goals up than putting them away, but the talented winger plundered five in his eight games against Forest. Two came in Blackburn's 5-1 win at the City Ground in 1996.

While those are the men who have their best goalscoring record against Forest (for recent times at least), there are others who also relished the chance to play against us but just so happen to have a slightly better record against someone else.

Last season's loanee Ross McCormack, for example, has eight goals in 14 games against Forest. That's his joint best tally - but his eight goals against Charlton came in just nine games.

Alan Shearer's career best record came against Leeds - with 20 goals in 20 games - but he plundered ten in nine games against Forest. Of the teams Shearer played five or more games against, Forest is the only one he didn't lose to.

Then there's Gregorz Rasiak. He has seven in seven games against Coventry - but did manage five in four games against Forest. Robbie Fowler scored six in seven appearances against us, Ian Rush scored 10 in 24 and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer netted six in four including that ridiculous four-goal salvo as a sub in the infamous 8-1 home thrashing by Manchester United in 1999.

Dwight Yorke scored five times in nine games, Glenn Murray has five in seven, and Chris Wood five in eight, his second best tally.

Anyway, since the season hasn't even started yet let's at least look on the bright side. With Murphy on board we've at least snared one nemesis. I'll admit that I haven't always been his biggest fan in the past but his capture makes a lot of sense in the context of our current predicament and could turn out to be an astute bit of business to accompany the up and coming attacking talent on the books. The numbers also speak for themselves. His good record against Forest has come at a time when he's been one of the second tier's most consistent scorers. Let's hope he can spend the season finding a few new victims to prey on.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The two words that sum up my ambitions for this season

The week before the season starts is, traditionally, the week to get carried away. This is the calm before the storm, the period where blind faith and boundless optimism take over and when we dare to dream. To misquote Del Boy: "This time next year readers, we'll be playing the billionaires."

Still, while every fan should be allowed to dream, there's a difference between hoping for/wanting success and expecting it. Anyone in that latter camp ought to take in this cracking stat I saw tweeted by @ForestRav:

The fact that our average position post Premier League has been 16th in the second tier should serve both as a timely reminder of the level we've been performing at in recent times but also, as the man says, be a useful benchmark going forward. I genuinely think we've got the makings of an exciting young squad but we can't expect too much too soon - and finishing above 16th would put us above our average and show we're heading in the right direction after five seasons of continual downturn under the Fawaz regime.

Yet, while this might be a useful statistical target to judge ourselves against, there are other important measures that we should gauge the success of the season by. Points and positions clearly matter, but there's more to ponder in 2017/18 too. Last season I made seven targets for the season (safe to say we didn't do too well) this my ambition boils down to two words: stability and entertainment.

It's time for stability

Yes, we've been saying this for some time, but it really is time we had some stability at the City Ground. We need the new off-field managerial structure to establish itself, clean up any mess left behind by the previous regime and start making more of a success of the commercial side of things. The club needs to conduct its business in a professional way and to regain and retain the respect of fellow clubs as well as businesses in the Nottingham area. It also needs to involve the fans in a meaningful and appropriate way.

On the pitch, we need to end the season with the same manager - a feat not managed since 2010/11 and Billy Davies' first regime - and be able to consistently perform at a level that ensures we're clear of the relegation zone as a minimum. We need to try to stem the constant flow of injuries to the playing staff too.

The signs so far have been positive on both fronts but there's still a lot of work to do.

Talented side could provide entertainment

Establishing stable foundations for the club is essential. However, I'm also hoping for an entertaining campaign. I've got a lot of faith in Mark Warburton's ability to fashion a side that plays an attractive brand of football and can give anyone at this level a decent game. I think he's starting to piece together a decent squad that can achieve this too.

Following Forest has rarely been dull but often for the wrong reasons. If Warburton can send out a stylish passing team, we'll be interesting to watch for the right reasons again.

It's fair to say that the wider public expect little of us this season. While the odds vary, the bookies put us way down the list of promotion candidates - and suggest we'll be nearer the bottom of the league than the top. That's hardly surprising since we only stayed up on the last day of the season and have since lost our star striker. Being under the radar is certainly no bad thing.

If we finish above 16th we'll have had an above average season statistically. If we have a season of stability and provide some entertainment then we'll have been successful. Until Friday, we can but hope...

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...