Despite a good start to the season, a successful transfer policy and bookmakers’, if not fans’, expectations sky-high, would promotion too soon be a bad thing? Billy Sexton thinks so.
With four points from the first two games, Nottingham Forest have, in comparison to previous seasons, got off to a flying start. If it were not for a last-gasp penalty being awarded to Huddersfield Town on Tuesday evening, Forest would certainly have brought their total points up to six and would be sitting alongside Blackpool at the top of the Championship.
Immediately after the Al Hasawi family confirmed their takeover of the club and impressed fans and journalists alike in their inaugural press conference, expectation has been piled on Nottingham Forest and the club that barely survived a fierce relegation battle last season are now considered among the favourites to be promoted to the top flight of English football. Betting odds dropped dramatically and Forest are now 13/1 to win the Championship and 5/1 to gain promotion with Bet 365.
Of course, this expectation is not without cause; new manager Sean O’Driscoll has, thus far, proved himself to be an excellent appointment and his shrewd and decisive business in the transfer window has provided Forest with a completely new defensive line-up and a reinvigorated attacking posture – Dan Harding, Greg Halford and Danny Collins are able to provide a rigid skeleton to the Forest defence which the Reds have gone without in past seasons. Also, Adlene Guedioura and Simon Cox have reintroduced an attacking flair, which many fans believed left the City Ground along with Garath McCleary.
Forest are finally showing signs of becoming an all-round, consistent team who are capable of playing impressive football under O’Driscoll but the road to the Premier League should be treated as a marathon and not a sprint. Far too many times we’ve seen teams promoted on the back of an impressive Championship campaign, only to be sent plummeting back down after just one season in the top flight. Forest fans need only gaze 14 miles down the A52 toward Pride Park and take note of how Derby County were humiliated in the top flight during the 2007-08 season; the Rams finished with a meagre 11 points and just one win to their name, having only scored 20 goals in a campaign which saw them relegated in March. Since then, Derby County haven’t once challenged for promotion and have become a standard, middle-of-the-table team. Watford, Sheffield United and Burnley too, have all suffered relegation back to the Championship in their first season in the Premier League as they struggled to make the progress necessary to compete in the top flight.
Blackpool, under the leadership of the outspoken Ian Holloway, were also relegated in agonising circumstances from the Premier League in the first season of their return. A 4-2 defeat to the hands of Manchester United and other results going against them meant that Blackpool fans experienced the agony of relegation exactly 365 days after they experienced the ecstasy of promotion. However, Blackpool have continued to be a force to reckon with in the Championship and, although defeated in the play-offs last season, look likely to be at the sharp end of the table come the business end of the season.
Having said this, should Nottingham Forest be promoted this season, there are plenty of examples O’Driscoll and his players can aspire too. Fulham first competed in the Premier League in 2001/02 and since their 13th placed finish in their debut season in the top flight, the team from West London haven’t looked back. Fulham have gone from strength to strength and narrowly missed out on Europa League success in 2010, defeated 2-1 in the final by Atletico Madrid. Sunderland and Stoke City have experienced similar success, and both are now well-established teams in the Premier League who are capable of taking on the bigger teams and getting a result.
I’m certainly not hoping that Forest miss out on promotion this season; if the Reds are able to get back to the top flight for the first time since 1999, I’ll be celebrating as much as the next fan but I just want to offer some sobering thoughts to what has been a few weeks of dizzying progress.
Should Forest get promoted, the worst thing for the players and fans would be to suffer relegation the following season. We’ve seen how teams have been unable to bounce back from this and to prevent this it could be that an extra season in the Championship would be the best thing for Forest. It would allow the squad, which is, at the moment, essentially an amalgamation of talented players to come together as a team and allow O’Driscoll an extra season to identify the positions that require strengthening and streamlining, before moving on upwards as a united club that would be a force to be reckoned with in the top flight, aiming to emulate and surpass the likes of Fulham, Sunderland and Stoke City.
You can follow Billy on Twitter: @billysexton