Thursday, 30 October 2008

Visit to the sheep beckons

Hallelujah! A win! It seems so long since the enthralling Watford victory back in August but CC and the boys and finally bagged three valuable points at Palace.

The win helps wipe out the memory of the home defeat to Warnock's charges earlier in the month and brings to an end a torrid run away from the relative comfort of the City Ground.

Barnsley's win at Doncaster meant that the victory took us off the basement for the time being but in turn meant that no ground was made towards the Holy Grail of a safe spot in the league table. That means that, still six points adrift, CC will need to hope his side can build on this result to avoid dropping perilously ten points or more away from the pack following huge tests at home to Birmingham and a tricky trip to Bristol City.

But while the points total is a concern the return to winning ways is especially timely given the season's biggest away game lies tantalisingly on the horizon. The bitter enemy awaits at the end of the A52 - let battle commence.

Derby should be strong at home, they should be featuring in the promotion reckoning and they have a strong squad. But have the weaknesses of character from the long 'laughing stock' run fully disappeared? Let's see if roly-poly Scouse boss Jewell and his Rams have the stomach for the pressure cooker atmosphere of a derby game.

To test this Forest must be tougher than they have been. Julian Bennett will be missed but the likes of Wes, Breckin, Cohen, McGugan and the impressive looking Garner through the spine of the side will have to make their presence felt. Under Kinnear in the last Prideless Park debacle Forest stood off and looked frightened to get stuck in - that cannot happen again.

Earnshaw and Garner has the makings of a tasty partnership that can cause problems and Calderwood should look to set them both loose on Sunday. Despite his professional comments to the media Earnie will surely have an added incentive to make an impact in this game - and how sweet it would be for him and us if he got the winning goal to rub the sheep bothering faithful's noses in it.

The midfield on Tuesday seemed to work well. Two out and wingers has left us open in the centre so having Cohen as one of the wide men seemed to stop us getting overran and brought out the best of Cohen - someone who had contributed little recently. It sounded a flexible set up too - with McGugan and Cohen able to interchange and McCleary with licence to roam when possible. It's likely that Perch's role will be handed back to Fletcher and Perch put back at right back - moves that should hopefully make the side more solid.

CC will hope Tuesday's excellent win will be a turning point. A defeat would wash away the optimism earned in the capital and could be devastating. However, following that up with a win at the home of the old enemy could turn the tide for him in the long term not only in terms of accumulating points at this level but cementing his own place in the City Ground hotseat.

Monday, 27 October 2008

The hunt for the winning formula continues

One positive to come from this weekend - it's not my fault! I wasn't at the game but in my absence Forest returned to the standard match day script from this season - playing well but with no reward.

CC says the signs are there to say we will win games - his doubters point to the abysmal points total as evidence for their lack of faith.

To me at the heart of it all is a tactical conundrum that is yet to be resolved. When we play 442, such as against Ipswich, we are overran and struggle to get enough of the ball to carve teams up. I think that's indicative of the fact that Cohen, Fletcher, Perch, Moussi etc don't have the quality or stature to boss games.

To negate that CC plays a 451/433. Having three players in the middle of midfield ensures plenty of possession and in general has seen us play with greater panache. Winger-cum-striker players such as McCleary, Martin, Davies and Anderson can flourish in that line up but the flaw in the plan is with the role of the striker.

Earnshaw is proven at this level - but doesn't look to relish a lone ranger role. Cole doesn't have the pace, Tyson the quality/nous or Garner the experience to take on that mantle either and therefore we struggle to get goals.

So we're left with either playing poorly but having a greater goal threat vs playing well but toothless.

What's the way out of this? I'm not sure. I don't profess to be a master tactician but a solution needs to be found to help us both dominate games and pose a threat in front of goal. We don't have the wing backs to play 352, nor would a diamond formation suit given the strength we have with wide men.

It's a big headache for Calderwood - and one he must overcome in the face of a tough looking line up of games at Palace, the Sheep, hosting Birmingham and away at Bristol City, if he is to save the season and his own skin.......

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Disjointed, disappointing and in disarray.....

A 1-1 draw at home to Ipswich may have bought the first league point in five games but it did little to say that Forest are about to go on a run that will drag them back up to safety.

In what was comfortably the worst showing at the City Ground this season the Reds were unable to even rely on the old 'we played well but....' line. Quite simply towards the end it was amateurish.

The night had the doomed forebearings of a relegation battle for the first time at home. With 24 hours to contemplate and cool down somewhat here's a stab at rating the dismal showing -

Lee Camp - 7
Was a little lucky not to be beaten by a rasping Jon Walters strike which rebounded off the bar but overall looked alert, solid and was unlucky not to save Tommy Miller's penalty. Looked to be proactive with his distribution but wasn't helped towards the end by the woeful lack of forward options.

Luke Chambers - 4
Desperately needs to be dropped. Is not good enough for this level and looks increasingly shorn of confidence now that he is starting to realise this. Weak in the tackle, not strong enough on the ball, poor in the air and appalling crossing - these attributes have defined his season and were all shown in this match. Many argue that he's 'out of position' but these inadequacies would not make a start at centre back any more desirable.

Julian Bennett - 6
One super tackle in the first half denied a clear goal scoring chance and although people criticise his use of the ball he was missed when the hapless Lynch took his place. His injury will be a blow and leaves us without a proper full back in the squad.

Kelvin Wilson - 5
His casual, bordering on cocky, play is costing us on too many occasions. His distribution is frankly far worse than Wes' and he does not look as strong in the tackle or in the air as his defensive partner. Must improve.

Wes Morgan - 7
Tackled and headed well in a sound showing against the tricky Pablo Counago. Also weighed in with some heroic blocks. Played one cracking scooped ball towards the end of the game which was 10 times better than what the midfield had come up with all game - which said alot about the abject display of those in front of him.

Paul Anderson - 6
Looked quick and lively on the right wing but his team mates failed to get the ball to him in telling positions on enough occasions and had very little to cross at. Conceded the penalty when tracking back.

Carl Fletcher - 4
I'm trying to think of a more inept home debut in a Reds shirt than this one. Barely had a touch all game and severely struggled to win the ball back.

Chris Cohen - 3
Was an absolute shambles from start to finish. I get fed up of people bleating on about his hard work. He chased shadows, hardly won a tackle all game, didn't have a shot and his passing was atrocious. Often looked too slow and too weak for this level. It said alot about him and his central midfield partner Fletcher that McGugan had to be brought on to shore up a midfield that was totally and utterly overran.

Garath McCleary - 5
Scored a very good goal but struggled to make an impact on the left - often finding no way past a solid looking Mauritz Volz.

Andrew Cole - 6
I actually thought he worked hard in the first half and looked as though he could slide through a telling ball which is more than can be said for the awful midfield. Never had a sniff in the box.

Nathan Tyson - 5
Looked completely out of his depth. Isn't strong enough on the ball and doesn't have the creative talents to set up chances for team mates. Worked hard but was isolated at the end when forced to play up front on his own.

Subs -
Joel Lynch - 4
I felt a little sorry for him when he came on and received a stiff challenge straight away. Never settled after that but nevertheless it must be said that he looked woeful on the ball and a little bit of a defensive liability. I fear we may have stumbled across the left back version of Chambers.

Lewis McGugan - 6
Came on and straight away looked positive - playing a decent through ball and trying his luck with a shot from the edge of the area. Let himself down at the death with the odd lazy touch and a poor free kick.

Lee Martin - 5
Gone is the effervescent livewire winger that arrived on loan from Man Utd and in his place is a poor, sloppy, pale imitation who, when on as a substitute did nothing at all.

The team as a whole failed to get the best out of McCleary and Anderson on the wings. Fletcher and Cohen were pitiful and their inability to get a foothold in the midfield battle meant Calderwood felt compelled to bring on McGugan. The only problem with this was that in order to bring Lewis on CC took off Cole and thus halved our already paltry goalscoring threat - leaving the naieve Tyson to fend off meagre scraps.

At the end we saw Lynch shanking the ball out of play, Cohen and Fletcher chasing shadows in men vs boys midfield contest, Chambers putting over two dreadful centres and getting caught out at the back, Tyson desperately unable to make an impact on his own and Martin blasting the ball out of play in a shockingly bad attempt to buy a corner. Taken as a whole this shoddy play looked dreadful.

The signs were not good. As a result the club will attempt to paint this as a potential turning point. As a performance it may be a very different type of turning point.

A much better showing is needed on Saturday to lift the doom and gloom that sadly appeared to be setting in against Ipswich......

Monday, 20 October 2008

Calderwood on trial as Tractor Boys roll into town

The international break failed to provide a break in Forest's poor form so far since their return to The Championship. More neat, promising, but ultimately toothless play was followed by two defensive lapses and an inevitable defeat at Loftus Road.

The internet forums have been alight with anti-Calderwood sentiment since the QPR defeat and while the wider crowd (which always seems to be less miltant than the keyboard warrior hoardes) has yet to turn - two home games this week could prove crucial for CC's plans to revive his sides flagging fortunes.

The bedrock of last year's promotion charge was the Reds' sound home form and the City Ground must become a more plentiful hunting ground for points given the inability to pick up a single point away so far.

With Earnshaw and Garner unlikely to be ready to challenge Tyson and Cole it seems as though the major selection headaches will surround the goalkeeping and midfield starting berths.

I don't see the point of bringing in Lee Camp on loan to warm the bench so I'd throw him in and in midfield, if fit, I think Lewis McGugan has to start. His long range shots and dead ball ability bring a source of goals that is sadly lacking with Chris 'Good Engine' Cohen in the midfield. He should be a good foil for the robust Fletcher and McCleary and Anderson should be a danger down both flanks if allowed to continue starting roles.

Bennett could be set to miss out while the news is quiet on Perch's condition so it seems as though Chambers-Morgan-Wilson-Lynch could be the back line.

They will be faced by the tricky Spaniard Pablo Counago and Jon Stead, who will offer a tough test, but Ipswich are traditionally a side that, although talented, don't travel well from Portman Road.

For many fans the spotlight will be on Calderwood - his selection, tactics and reaction to events as they pan out across the 90 minutes will be important to try and conjure an all important three points.

A win will ease the perilous predicament at the foot of the table but a loss might just see the internet hostility transferred to the terraces - something that managers struggle to return from.

This blogger is old enough to have seen off a fair few Forest bosses over the last turbulent two decades and back in the mists of time a fresh face often used to seem the best way to kick start on the field fortunes. Bassett, P***tt, Hart, Megson, Kinnear etc have all had a ride on the Forest managerial merry-go-round but the changes have merely brought a glut of false dawns. I've no appetite for change (or indeed a clue about who could take charge if CC was sacked) and am more inclined to stick with him for now than some.

Clubs such as Coventry, Leicester and Southampton seem to change their manager every year and make absolutely no progress. In fact all three have got gradually worse since their relegation from the Premier League with the possible exception of the Sky Blues who look half-decent this term. I don't want us to fall into the cycle of appointing a new boss every year and having a squad in constant flux.

As the old cliche goes the 'grass is not always greener' and CC, having been backed by Doughty's millions, has to have time to try and prove that investment was not misguided.

Most fans will not give him much longer however and the Ipswich and Cardiff games will be crucial in deciding whether Forest can avoid being cut adrift at the bottom and whether Calderwood continues in the City Ground hotseat. No pressure then..................

Friday, 17 October 2008

Hope for a fresh start with London calling.....

Forest travel to Queens Park Rangers this weekend knowing that the next ten games must bring more points than the first ten. The visit to Loftus Road will be the first since being condemned to the depths of League One on that ground - and the travelling Tricky Trees will be hoping for a much happier visit tomorrow.

A poor total of five points so far has left Reds fans and Colin Calderwood frustrated, disappointed and searching for a way out.

Just as the players have enjoyed a break for the international fixtures to take place I've flown off to foreign shores for my own overseas break so ahead of the Loftus Road showdown seems as good a time as any to assess the news/issues on Trentside.......

*Firstly, the last fortnight has been filled with rumours surrounding CCs job security thanks to the paltry points total. It seems obvious to me that Nigel Doughty rates CC highly and will give him time to turn things around. Doughty likes the fact that CC buys into his vision of a young, improving squad with great potential and sees the Stranraer supremo in the same light in managerial terms. Doughty also wants to create stability at the club - which he hopes can be achieved by keeping on to Calderwood, who is the 19th longest serving manager in the football league now!

All the gossip about Big Sam et al seems a little premature. It would take a disastrous run of the late Paul Hart era's proportions to make Doughty act. A bad end to October and a poor showing down the A52 may tip things against CC but he was never going to act so soon.

*The Ireland trip warrants little note other than that it showed a) our inability to find the back of the net without Earnie and b) that the likes of Garner are on their way back to finally have an impact on our on the field fortunes.

*The injured players' return will be crucial for a CC revival. To be fair to him the creative and attacking talents of Paul Anderson, Lewis McGugan, Robert Earnshaw and Joe Garner should increase our potency in the final third.

*Good news and bad news came at the end of the break. Carl Fletcher, the industrious Wales international should add some steel and competitive edge to the midfield after being drafted in on loan but he was surely primarily drafted in to deal with the Guy Moussi sized hole in the side following the Frenchman's injured in the Palace home game.

Reflection, speculation, a hopeful injury situation and a signing then all lead into the big game in the capital. The away games so far have shown little cause for optimism and CC will need to have used his fortnight to devise a masterplan to topple one of the division's most unpredictable sides.

With question marks over the lack of fitness of many of the returning players it is difficult to know what he will come up with. Will he once again rely on the pace of Martin and Tyson for a breakaway counter attacking game or will Cole's nous be preferred?

If forced to predict I feel he will go with - Smith, Chambers, Bennett, Wilson, Morgan, Perch, Fletcher, Cohen, Martin, Tyson, Earnshaw with Cole, Anderson, Davies, McGugan and Breckin on the bench.

I think we have the ability to take a point away from the game - which could be enough to spark a revival if backed up by the subsequent two home games. We must however, take at least something to avert the spiralling slide to League One oblivion, the harsh reality of which we all felt when we last left Loftus Road......

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Cut adrift after toothless display

It was the same old story again at the City Ground as Forest produced sporadic stylish interludes of play against Palace but woefully lacked a cutting edge and were duly punished.

Paul Ifill's piledriver and Shefki Kuqi's opportunist chip after a disastrous Paul Smith mistake added more misery onto an abysmal start to the season, leaving the Reds five points adrift of safety.

Player ratings -

Paul Smith - 5
Heaven alone knows what he was playing about going walkabout to gift Shefki Kuqi the chance to finish the game. Not only did he make the wrong decision to come rushing out but he did not seem to bust a gut to try and scramble back and rescue the situation.

James Perch - 6
Didn't do an awful lot wrong and certainly looks more assured at right back than Chambers.

Julian Bennett - 7
Was perhaps our best attacking threat throughout the game, both through forward runs and headers from corners - although perhaps should've scored with one of three decent chances.

Kelvin Wilson - 6
Comfortable enough at the back and nearly scored with a late desperate long range effort. Looks classy but that doesn't hide the fact that he plays lazy balls from the back that are in truth more wasteful than those of his much maligned defensive partner.

Wes Morgan - 6
Occasional sloppy touches will do nothing to ease the at times unfair criticism he gets. Didn't really allow Beattie to have much of an impact but unfortunately he didn't need to for Palace to collect the points.

Guy Moussi - 6
Had a poor start with weak touches and wayward passing but picked up as the game went on. Still fails to live up to the hype that grew up after his towering showing in the season curtain raiser against Reading.

Chris Cohen - 5
I'm fed up of the 'Chris has got a great engine' line. Does an awful lot of running but when does he ever change a game? Great at winning a throw in or playing a precise ball on the half way line but doesn't hurt the opposition in either penalty area and lacks strength.

Matt Thornhill - 6
Started quite well and wins his fair share of tackles but never really got on the ball in dangerous areas to make a telling impact on the game and faded a little before being substituted.

Lee Martin - 5
Full of flicks and tricks but again doesn't hurt the opposition. Wasted a series of free kicks and corners and was rightly substituted.

Garath McCleary - 7
Should be praised for his direct, dangerous forward runs. Was unsettled by CC swapping flanks but deserves to hold down a starting role.

Nathan Tyson - 5
Like Martin and Cohen he looks the part but does nothing to hurt the opposition. He has pace but little else to test a Championship defence and desperately needs a partner (Cole perhaps) to play up front with with. Serious doubts remain about whether this level is just too high for him.

Subs - Andrew Cole showed some half decent touches but for me should've started after apparently starting to show some form at Hillsborough. Arron Davies was as anonymous as ever and Luke Chambers still managed to look weak despite only being on for a short time after Guy Moussi went off injured.

We might not be the worst side in the division for a propensity for flamboyant possession but in terms of scoring goals and earning wins the facts are plain. We are bottom of the league and desperately need to find an improvement before we are cut even further adrift.

The old adage of 'judge the table after 10 games' is coming back to haunt Calderwood. People are doing just and it's making sorry, sorry reading.

The desperate chopping and changing of personnel and formations is not working. Tyson simply cannot play at the helm of a 433/451 which seems a formation more suited to an away, counter attacking game. However, CC doesn't seem to trust the likes of Cohen and Moussi to run a game in midfield and appears to believe we will be overran by the opposition in a 442.

We can't rely on Garner and Anderson to come straight into the side and save us. Neither is proven at this level and will need games under their belt to settle into the side.

The lack of defensive and midfield signings in the summer was naive and CC seems to be realising that now. Like his players he will be learning the challenges this division brings - he needs to learn fast and come up with a winning formula by the time the international break is over or this could be a long, long season.....

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Hunt for the red October

After a mere one point in five games September was something of a disaster for Forest and has left Colin Calderwood with a number of headaches. Who should play at right back? Are Wes and Wilson the right centre back pairing? Is Guy Moussi not as good as first thought? Who should play up front? Can anyone but Earnshaw score? And, of course, what formation should we play?

Each of these questions, and many more, have got the tongues wagging on the terraces and CC has a great deal on his plate as the loathsome Warnock and his Palace side travel up to Nottingham.

The game has suddenly taken on huge importance given both teams' poor start and CC desperately needs it to kick start a more plentiful month in the points column, especially with 3 games in the relative comfort of the City Ground in October. He will at least be spared from any potential flak in the early stages given the hatred felt towards his opposite number.

In the last two home outings Forest have started off fast and furious, dominating the opposition, only then to fade badly and peter out to a defeat (Burnley) and draw (Charlton). This time a good start is needed but a result is paramount. The stylish interplay seen between the likes of Cohen, Martin and Earnshaw must have a cutting edge.

This time CC would be relieved to walk into a post-match interview and talk about a lucky win rather than an unfortunate defeat.

Andy Cole's continued presence in the line-up and improvement needs to bear fruit - his goals and experience could be vital to lift us out of the basement.

Martin needs to find the final killer ball at the end of his marauding runs and the defence needs to work as a unit and not give away penalties/free kicks/freak goals.

On top of that CC needs to get it right. 442/433/451/532 have all been unsuccessfully tried and less important than the choice made for Saturday is common sense - the formation needs to encourage the players to flourish rather than inhibit them. No more strikers on the wing, centre backs at full back and pint sized forwards competing for headers against towering centre backs.

It's time for the players and manager to draw on their strengths and prove they deserve to be in this league. No more excuses or hard luck stories - it's time for a win.....