Sunday, 31 October 2010

Drifting along could cost us dear

Forest, let's face it, are drifting at the moment. Some good results at home followed up again by an away defeat and talk of what might have been after some good play. Billy said himself that this side will win a few, draw a few and lose a few. He's right and that means we'll drift between 9th and 16th until we can snap out of the cycle.

The trouble is we're now heading into what could potentially be the most difficult month of the season. Tough trips to Watford, Cardiff and Leicester and home visits of high flyers Coventry and QPR mean this is not a time to be drifting. For reasons of local rivalry, form, quality and style of opposition and past records all of those games are (without wanting to sound too harsh) 'loseable'.

All season we've looked desperate for an injection of something fresh. Someone either quick or tricky to make the difference. Some of the players seem flat (Cohen, Anderson, Blackstock) and often the atmosphere feels the same way too - as though we're all waiting for a spark of genius.

Thankfully, after some disappointing early results that came from Lewis McGugan. His magnificient seven goals (including THAT free kick) have lit up the season, brought him back into the first team fold and saved the side from a worse fate. But he can't shoulder the whole burden. We need something else to give us that extra 5 or 10% to take us from mediocre to menacing.

We've now heard that we probably won't dip into the loan market unless necessary through injury and are waiting until January to snap up new additions.

I can see two problems with that. We always fail in the January window and there are 30 points to play for before January begins (42 if the elusive signings don't come until the very end of the month). By waiting until then we accept the status quo at best.

I can see the virtues in the argument that states loan players can actually be unsettling.

Some fail to live up to the hype and so only serve to unseat a permanent member of the squad and others 'do a Shorey' - leaving you missing them all the more when they've gone.

But, given the sheer number of games to go until January and the impending challenges of November, is it not 'better to have loved and lost than never have have loved at all'?

Last week Andy Reid went on loan to Sheffield United. We know what Reid can do and to me he has more quality than anyone in our current squad. He's the type of player that should push Lewis, Radi etc on to want to raise their games. Surely his addition would have been a relatively risk-free loan to see us through for 10 matches? Across the division we've seen other similar loan deals tied up (Liam Lawrence is another player I'd have loved here...) by rivals while we have stood still.

I fear that standing still will cost us dearly in the rest of the year - maybe even beyond if we struggle and then are not in a league position that would attract anyone who happens to be on the market in January.

Maybe I'm wrong. If Lewis continues to come up with the goods, a fit again Earnshaw gets in the goals and a resurgent Radi finds the form of this time last year then we'll be laughing and could well see off some of those November challengers and head into a slightly kinder December much happier.

If so I'll apologise for fearing the worst but right now I'm expecting a frustrating end to 2010...

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Here we go

And so it begins. The rocky ride of the Championship season kicks off today (and last night) and it looks set to be as unpredictable and tight as ever.

Most pundits seem to think the three relegated sides won't necessarily be among the pacesetters this time around - paving the way for the likes of us to surge to the top of the ladder (the last odds I saw had Middlesbrough favourites and us not too far behind). But is that "truism" even correct?

Pompey have been ruled out by many because of their financial turmoil. That will undoubtedly be a massive hurdle to get over - and there remains the threat of players being sold from under Steve Cotterill's nose. Their first team squad may only have 14 players but that list does include the likes of Tommy Smith, Michael Brown, Danny Webber, David Nugent and Ibrahima Sonko. Even if the likes of Utaka and Boateng leave that list contains five top Championship performers to be going with. Newcastle used their turmoil as a motivating factor last time around, Pompey could yet be a proposition.

Hull too come down with financial problems on their agenda. Their squad is not littered with as many talented players as Portsmouth's but has more in number and a few solid performers.

Burnley look the strongest of the team that fell through the trap door. They've lost Blake and Fletcher but with Patterson and Iwelumo up top they should be a tough physical test for any team, especially at Turf Moor. Eagles and Wallace are two real class acts that should provide the flair to balance up the brawn and guile up front.

So that's three sides not to rule out already. It's true that none should "do a Newcastle and West Brom" but they will be tough to beat.

And that's before you even look at Boro, QPR, Reading, Sheff Utd four sides that didn't even get to the play offs. Boro have a smattering of Scottish talent plucked from the SPL by Strachan. If he can knit them together he should have a strong outfit, especially with the likes of O'Neil and Kris Boyd in their ranks. Brian McDermott built excellent momentum with Reading, their fans will expect to put last season behind them now and go on the promotion challenge they thought they'd have last year. QPR have got plenty of cash but badly need stability. The odious Neil Warnock has the nous to make them a formidable Championship team. Sheffield United, meanwhile, have made a couple of shrewd signings after a period where they flung outrageous sums (Ched Evans £3m) around and their fans too will expect Blackwell to deliver.

Then there's the tough little sides that get overlooked/patronised/underrated like Doncaster. It's talented teams such as them Preston and Ipswich that make the division so difficult to win - they can beat any team and both would make decent dark horse picks for the play offs. Sean O'Driscoll must be the most unsung manager in the league but never fails to produce a stylish football side on no money. With Billy Sharp signed, his side will be a threat. Darren Ferguson and Roy Keane have both now had the time they need to get used to their respective clubs and should improve on last season's showings.

Much too has been said about the promoted sides. They'll have momentum on their side and for Norwich and Leeds have their big club feel that suggests they shouldn't be flustered by the step up. Leeds have lost Beckford but have a cracking manager in Grayson and Lambert too looks a canny boss for the Canaries. Both will be tough.

There are also the imponderables. Will Brendan Rodgers do "a Watford" or "a Reading" with Swansea? Is Sousa the right man for Leicester? Can Boothroyd wake Coventry up from their slumber? Can Cardiff hang on to Chopra and Whittingham? How long can Adkins sustain Scunthorpe's success? Can Steve Coppell kickstart Bristol City? Could Millwall, Barnsley "do a Blackpool"? Have the dirty rotten Sheep turned the corner on their slide?

Questions that will unfold during a fascinating campaign. From looking at the sides you can only say it'll be tight. Blackpool's rise shows that even at Christmas we won't know fully who the runners and riders are. It will, as the cliche goes, be a marathon, not a sprint.

What of us? One player in and two out is disappointing so far but I guess we have to accept that the type of player we are chasing (one that will improve on the starting 11) takes time, money and patience to snap up. We probably over-achieved last season but with the right combination of talent, momentum and luck there's nothing to say we can't over-achieve again. Last year the last two deserted us as the wrong time. We'll have lost any element of surprise we had last season and need to rediscover the away day formula of the September/October/November/December period.

It's clear it is going to be a tough 46 games. Here's hoping Billy and the boys give us plenty to cheer about again.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A round peg!

And so at last the long long wait for a full back ends. Welcome to the club Ryan Bertrand, you'll no doubt be scratching your head at just how relieved we are to see you.

Nevertheless it seems a decent loan signing to bring him in - he is young, in keeping with our recruitment policy and has experience at this level.

I hear he is pretty good going forward to which should add some balance to our play and give us a threat from both full back positions for the first time since Matthieu Louis-Jean and Jim Brennan patrolled the flanks. That also helps stretch teams that may want to "park the bus".

The signing also frees up Chris Cohen to play in midfield, solving a couple of problems in one stroke!

Rumours still persist about our other perennial targets and we have Calum Davenport on trial so maybe now, belatedly, we are seeing the fruits of the clubs summer work.

Irrespective of that it seems wrong to get too hung up on signings. As things stand this would be my first 11:


Bench: Moussi, Adebola, Smith, Chambers, McGugan, McCleary, Tyson

That's not too shabby an eleven and while you'd think we'd struggle to top last season's efforts without one or two quality additions we should still be fairly strong.

The problem with this division is you just don't know what to expect do you? Will Pompey and Cardiff, with all their financial woes, have full squads? If so they might still do well, Pompey may only have 14 first teamers but that includes some top players at this level.

Maybe a spot of continuity means we can be a calm settled side in the middle of the madness.

Here's hoping.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Long time no post....

Greetings fellow Trickies. Ok, so it has been a while but I really didn't want to to have to go through the pain of dissecting the Blackpool saga.

A summer of cricket and the World Cup has finally let the utter frustration of that game fade a little so now here we all are, looking forward to a new season on Trentside with optimism having been installed as one of the bookmakers' favourites right......well, er no. This is Nottingham Forest after all and, these days at least, we don't do optimism.

To be fair us fans have been ground down by years of disappointment at the City Ground and, this summer again, find ourserlves scratching our heads at the gossip floating around the world wide web.

The Billy vs The Panel row has been aired a fair few times now but I don't think I'm alone in wishing it would just go away. I'm tired of talk about why things haven't gone right in the past/are stalling now and wish we had a few signings to chew over.

And signings are the hot topic at the moment. Darren Pratley, Nicky Shorey and Peter Whittingham have been spoken about so often that you'd think they were the only players out there. All would be excellent captures but I don't want us to get bogged down in a January scenario where we missed all our targets and didn't really seem to have back up options.

To me there are two categories of signing. Firstly, the "absolute musts" for which we have no current equivalent. These being a left back (it is shocking that Bennett last played in Dec 08 and might still be the next full time 'proper' left back to pull on the Garibaldi) and left midfield. I've tried coming up with a team from what we have and those are glaring holes, especially the left back berth. We finished the season with Tyson struggling away at left wing, a position he simply doesn't have the trickery, crossing or passing prowess to pull off. These two signings are needed to finish off the first team.

Beyond that there are several positions which we would, ideally, strengthen, before heading up to Turf Moor for the curtain raiser. Additions to central midfield (defensive and attacking), centre defence, back up right back, striker would all make the squad bigger and better equipped to go one better than last time around. This may sounds like luxury stuff but for me a lack of squad depth was one of the things that killed off our automatic charge last year. When the midfield/strikers faltered through injury/form no-one really made a strong case to unseat them in the long term.

In truth, embracing the Forest pessimism, I'd be more than happy with 'just' the musts as things stand. At least we appear to be chasing players who would genuinely make the team better; signings for the sake of it would make us Sheffield United and no-one wants to emulate that bunch.

If we do, the pessimism really ought to lift. We were close last time and ran out of steam. We have a decent side on paper that just needs a tinker, unlike the wholesale upheaval of last summer, and should benefit from the familiarity of the squad in the early weeks (apart from at Burnley where we always lose...!).

At the moment frustration reigns, get those musts in the bag, quieten those rumours of unrest and we can get on with concentrating on the season at last...

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Free to enjoy it!

Ok, so we need a couple of points to secure a top six finish and one should never count one's poultry before hatching but barring a disaster Billy's boys should be involved in the dreaded play offs.

The whys and wherefores of the play offs are for another time but, for me, that brings us the immediate prospect of games that "don't matter". And, bizarrely, I'm relishing that prospect.

For many years now games at this time of the season have been tear your hair out, edge of the seat, nerve shredding rollercoaster affairs. Gripping, pulsating, exciting as they are they have often been a test on the blood pressure and endurance levels.

And, if the play offs are secure (see, even now I can't quite bring myself to say they are in case....) then we have all that to come. But not this or the next few weekends.

This weekend we can "go down the match" and watch the game for the sake of watching the game. The pressure is virtually off so we can actually try to enjoy the football, engage in light hearted banter and not groan and barrack at every mis-placed pass.

We can hopefully take a look at McCleary, Garner, McGugan, McGoldrick etc without the fear that they may completely destroy a promotion/relegation battle.

Maybe that experience will be no different and I'll get sucked into the usual heat of the moment of the match - or maybe the chance to relax and cheer on the Tricky Trees in this slightly odd run of games will be a welcome change.

I guess we'll see. At the start of the season I was craving a "realistic" target of safe mid-table mediocrity - maybe the Tractor Boys encounter will be a little taster of what that would have been like if Billy hadn't have run away and got my hopes up once again.

Whatever happens I'm bracing myself for the end of season show downs...and hoping for third time lucky...

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Time to re-discover the away form

Three 1-0 defeats to mid-table sides have blotted the the away day copybook - so today will be a big test for Billy and the boys.

Apparently it's ok to say we're contenders now but i'm still too jumpy about jinxing things. Billy is right though 70-odd points is play-off territory, 80-odd puts us in auto contention. That's why any doom or gloom is thoroughly unjustified.

However those defeats (4 if you count the FA Cup) mean that the quest today is to reverse the fortunes on our travels and get back to the gritty, tough, hard-earned points of "the run".

In a way the fact that it's Leicester may help. It's a semi-derby and they're a play-off contender. In that respect you'd think Billy will return to a West Brom-esque formation - with Dexter at the tip of a packed midfield and Cohen, Ando, Raddy getting up in support.

If that's the case then the quartet of Wes, Kelvin, McKenna, Moussi will be crucial as a solid base in a tough game. Leicester were very direct at the City Ground - but I expect them to play a little more football at home. Moussi in particular must show discipline and follow his captain's lead. Dominating the midfield will be the key.

A point would be a very good result at the Wa**kers - they will want to settle a score from the 5-1 hammering they got in Nottingham and they are a strong side. Three points is a tall order but could well be a catalyst for a grandstand season finale. Today won't decide anything but will set the tone for the coming weeks.

Whisper it quietly as well but it'd be nice to see the dirty Sheep win today too....

Friday, 5 February 2010

Big hurdle for Billy and the boys to clear

Ok, so I'm going to try my level best not to mention it. You know that from last week. It's not worth bringing up the frustration all over again, especially because it was them.

Since I last ventured into the blogosphere the Tricky Trees have been on an awesome run - passing a series of tough tests to their burgeoning credentials and grabbing the media spotlight as genuine promotion contenders.

The style of the wins against Leicester and West Brom and the brutal efficiency of the QPR destruction suggested this side has all the qualities needed to overcome the different tactical, technical and physical tests that make this division such a tough prospect.

But with the 19-match unbeaten sequence now over the focus will be on how Billy's boys tackle the psychological hurdle.

It is not just the end of the run that will be difficult to take, but also that it was against them and because something happened there that hasn't happened since the Burnley and Watford away days of early 2009 - the side lost the "battle" and were out-fought.

The midfield has been outstanding so far this term so let's not jump on them for one bad game - but the important thing is to make sure that it really is just one bad game. Alan Irvine's Sheffield Wednesday are no mugs and they are not just going to sit back and let us play our way back into form.

I'm confident that players such as Paul McKenna will be smarting from that result and will be giving their all to put it behind them - hopefully that will be the case.

The other thing that makes this weekend all-important in terms of setting up the rest of the season is because it comes directly after the annual failure in the January transfer window.

Yet again we had a list of targets and yet again we missed out on them all. We're told that there is a perfectly plausible reason for each target not being signed and maybe there is....but the fact that no-one has come in the door to boost the ranks during this crucial part of the season is disappointing and does jeopardise the promotion push.

And, while we're on that I can here some people shouting 'hang on, you've changed your tune. I thought we were just after mid-table this year?' And you'd be right - that was my realistic aim for the campaign. But who knows if we'll be in this position again? McKenna is only going to get older and may not be the same dynamic force he is now in 2/3 seasons. Majewski is not yet a full-time Forest player and may be Premier League bound irrespective of where we end up. And then there's Billy. Might a mid-to-lower table Prem side take a shine to what he's done here, with them and with Preston and take a punt? It's not that far-fetched to think we could struggle to match this season's form next time - and why not go up early and 'have a go'. Do people really think Billy can't follow the lead of the likes of Pulis and McLeish and spend Doughty's dosh wisely??

Anyway, that's another post for another time but - back to the window - with no new faces the gaping hole at left back rears its ugly head once again. Cohen has been in the form of his life on the right of midfield (proving me wrong in the process, consider my hat well and truly eaten) and would be a waste there. Perch is flexible enough to 'do a job' but maybe only for home games where we have the lion's share of the possession. Faced with a tricky winger on our travels I'm not sure he'd stand up to the task quite so well. Maybe it is no co-incidence that the goal last week came from a free-kick from the left-back spot?

If Shorey really was on 30k then was there no backup option given that those wages are out of our league? Maybe there's a loan on the horizon? Teams will try to exploit this and it seems barmy that we've struggled for so long to get the cliched square peg for this troublesome round hole.

Other than that though i'm not too dis-heartened. The lack of signings simply means that McGoldrick, Garner, McGugan, McCleary will have to play more important roles which does not exactly fill me with dread. All are talented young players and have only missed out due to the form of others. But you can't ignore that the window failure leaves another cloud lingering over the club.

At the moment we're all, understandably, looking backwards to a bad defeat and yet another bad window. The Sheffield Wednesday game could either lift the gloom or deepen the Trentside angst. If the team is anything like its captain and manager they'll have the mental toughness to see it out, if they are lacking in that field it could be a frustrating February to come...