Forest’s turnaround in recent weeks has transformed a season that looked set to be one of the worst in living memories. Kyle Prometheus believes there’s one man who deserves some credit — Steve Cotterill
Just two months ago, after a horrible 2-0 loss to Burnley at home, many fans called for Steve Cotterill’s head. Well, those supporters, that is, who hadn’t already demanded his dismissal after 10 hours without a goal.
But it’s notable that the Burnley game was on the final day of the transfer window. Following wins over Coventry, Birmingham, Millwall, Leeds and Crystal Palace, it’s become clear that Cotterill deserves more credit than many were willing to give him.
Let’s be honest, given the horrendous circumstances he arrived in, Steve Cotterill has done ok. A Billy Davies squad ripped apart by a mass exodus in the summer was never the ‘same squad’ — it didn’t even have Davies or his underrated back-room staff, let alone many of his key first team and utility players. And Steve McClaren, well, clearly knew nothing at all about life in the Championship but he, at least, had the decency to fall on his sword when he realised the Forest hierarchy were going to rub his rhubarb in the transfer market the same way they tested the patience of Billy Davies. (What? Forest? Nonchalant, turgid and flaccid with the whiff of arrogance in the transfer market? Don’t get me started…)
So, would Cotterill fair any better? A 2-0 win over Middlesbrough and the slaying of Blackpool, the ‘orange dragon’, (away from home no less) augured a promising start. But it didn’t last long and only the discerning Forest fan watching the subsequent horror show through the shrewd lens of the last 12 years would know what was coming. Another false dawn? Perhaps… but let’s look closer. Yes, Cotterill continued to maintain a shocking home record – which was well established before he came in – and produced some toothless football. You know the kind. Plenty of possession, can’t score but end up losing 1-0 at home and away. The result? Likely relegation.
Calling the shots
The turnaround coincided with Cotterill bringing in his own players. Are we surprised? It had an immediate impact on the pitch as the three amigos of the ‘Hulk-like’ George Elokobi, the experienced Danny Higginbotham and the outstanding Adlene Guedioura hit the ‘flame-on’ button. Yes, this turnaround in form only came after he finally brought in some much needed backbone, experience and balance to the squad. The result? Forest battered Watford 1-1 in a way that no Billy Davies side had. If it had been a boxing match, it would have been called off at half-time.
Was he allowed to build a backroom staff before this? No. He had no money. Ok. So he had to show some initiative and hire one for next to nothing? Ah… Sean O’Driscoll. The grower of stalks from Jelly Beans. His counsel and effect on training have been more than noteworthy. And due to an international break and some much needed time on the training field, it’s hard to rule out the effect he’s had on Andy Reid, Garath McCleary and one or two more. I dare say I spied Forest playing more risky triangular football amongst some of long ball stuff. Cotterill deserves credit for bringing him in. It was a shrewd move.
It must be noted that management is often about hard choices; the rainbow promises of all Forest’s tomorrows versus saving our bacon today. To that end, Wes Morgan and Patrick Bamford were sold on the altar of relegation survival. In my opinion, Cotterill had little choice and did ‘the right thing’ for the good of club. The lead-footed Morgan for the experienced Higginbotham, with centre-half cover in Scott Wootton who can also cover at the historically problematic, and injury-prone, defensive midfield position. We lost the promising Bamford (who had a couple of FA Youth Cup games where he shone) but received strong left-back cover in Elokobi and the Apollo-like force of Guedioura to cover Chris Cohen whose energy was much missed in central midfield.
So who identified and addressed this crippling squad imbalance that our opposition cruelly exposed? Who, in my view, ‘traded up’ to get the squad in better shape? Steve Cotterill. A man, who, during his time at Portsmouth, proved he has an eye for a player. The man who had to do his ‘pre-season’ in season following a run of form that left us second from bottom — with none of his own players, support staff or support from Forest fans it seemed.
Credit where it’s due. It’s hardly reasonable that a manager be judged on a season, let alone half of it; that he be judged on the players and backroom staff he brings in; that he be judged on the budget (or lack of one) he has at his means: that he be judged on the response he’s getting from the players.
Cotterill critics need to look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves the question, ‘How long did he go without support staff, an assistant, money to spend and loan players of any substance?’ Without wingers? Without an experienced centre-half? Without a proven goal scorer? Without a central midfield talisman? With an unbalanced squad? With a squad whose confidence was shattered, given the cataclysm of events before Cotterill’s arrival, and topped off by the sad death of the club’s owner.
In short, Forest were a train wreck — and looking doomed to relegation. And it’s ironic that Forest’s hierarchy hired a firefighter in Cotterill after not long dismissing another passionate firefighter — Billy Davies.
Addressing the issues
Yes, it’s about quality, but it’s also about squad balance and competition for places. All three areas Forest have stumbled around searching for and damningly lacking in since their return to the Championship. In fact, those three areas plagued Calderwood, Davies, McClaren and Cotterill. But perhaps those people who were quick to draw scorn on Billy’s public frustration should find comfort that Cotterill is also echoing the same message as Davies and McClaren dared to utter.
Cotterill solved the problems we couldn’t prevent earlier in the season — being murdered down the wings with teams bossing us and bullying us out of games. That isn’t happening anymore. Moussi and Guedioura are sitting in the centre of midfield, keeping the shape of the team. Would you want to tackle George Elokobi? Danny Higginbotham? Stoke and Wolves players are exactly what we need, especially along the spine of the team. Tell me that Camp, Higgenbotham, Guedioura and Blackstock aren’t a spine to rival any other in the Championship? These are the players that have added the character and steel to propel us to our recent ‘top six’ form? ‘The Championship is about being tough to beat playing a ‘bit’ of football’ noted one seasoned manager.
In addition to leaking goals, he sought to correct our lack of scoring them at the other end. He brought back Dexter Blackstock as soon as he could and brought Marlon Harewood in just in case Blackstock broke down no doubt. He also tried to bring in Luke Varney — clearly he’s still not entirely satisfied we have the final qualities up front — but I’ll give him credit for trying to get somebody in the absence of an actual budget to work with. One injury to Blackstock and we’re toothless again. So, yes, you can see where he’s coming from.
And the masterstroke? With Chris ‘Duracell Bunny’ Cohen out of the picture, our midfield was pedestrian and toothless, lethargic as it was overrun. Under McClaren we, and our centre-halves, were sitting ducks. Again, he correctly identfied that Forest needed a Captain Marvel to add some ‘shazam’ to the midfield. “What, another central midfielder?” cried some. Energy. Guile. Ball-winning. He brought in the Man from Wolves. Adlene Guedioura. The enforcer. A demi-god in a team of mortals. He’s made the difference with man of the match performances as he, almost single-handedly, dominated teams and prevented historical bogey teams from pushing us around. And he can score. From 30 yards no less. And smash the woodwork for fun. Great in defence or attack, he’s has been the difference and a platform for many others to spring off.
What about the squad members Cotterill didn’t bring in? Let’s see, the prodigal return of Reid, the phoenix rising of McCleary and the masterful return of Dexter Blackstock whose hard work up front often goes unheralded? While Marcus Tudgay gets criticism from some, he busts a gut every game he plays for the team and him and Blackstock put in more than their share of defensive work as well as pressing the opposition. (I can only imagine what he’ll do with Cohen…) I dare say that even Gunter is showing a bit more of his old form.
And while the debate surrounds McGugan vs Majewski for many Forest fans, Cotterill bringing back Radi Majewski was an inspired move in much the same way as Davies kickstarted Lewis McGugan a couple of seasons ago. The mercurial Pole proved his Forest career is very much alive as he burst into flame to be our stealth bomber against Leeds as he engineered a love fest of intricate midfield play between Reid, McCleary and himself. And the little playmaker buried Crystal Palace with some classy top drawer finishing to slay the ghost that Cotterill’s team can’t score goals. Not only can they score goals, they score hat tricks!
We wanted honesty. Now we’ve got it. Perhaps some of us don’t want to hear it. But following the loan players coming in and a clearing of the air (rumours of a ‘bust up’ or two) Forest have delivered far more passionate and, yes, ‘honest’ performances. The stats are now beginning to back Cotterill up. A win against Bristol puts us four games (including goal difference) ahead of them with virtual, if not mathematical, safety.
All this against the backdrop of rumours that suggest discussions are ongoing to buy Forest. Frank Clark, criticised by some, has been there and seen it in his role as chairman of the League Managers’ Association. Clark picked ‘his’ man Cotterill for a reason and gave him a 3.5-year contract. It’s quite telling that Frank smiles wryly at some of the ‘short-term’ questions that get batted his way. But his quiet worldliness suggests he is just the leader and diplomat that Forest have been lacking in over 12 years. Here we have a genuine football man. If he appointed Steve Cotterill, he did so in the knowledge that Cotterill had the qualities to do thankless and near impossible work with next to nothing.
The team of Clark, Cotterill and O’Driscoll deserve the summer to rebuild if we avoid relegation. Clark ‘gets it’. Cotterill can fire fight. O’Driscoll can do things on a budget and turn ‘water’ into wine… well, almost. It’s not the future I would have predicted or wanted for us. But right now, I’ll take it.
Kyle is a frequent poster on Vital Forest Forums as Strawberry Avenger.