What’s gone wrong this season — or is it the same problem as last season?
As it turns out, it probably is mostly the same issues as we have had for two or three years – a soft underbelly and a defence that isn’t up to the task. Derek McInnes came in and was rightly lauded for turning our season but I warned in May that he had a massive summer ahead of him and it didn’t all go well. In terms of signings, he brought in the core of a very reasonable side; Heaton in goal, Greg Cunningham and Paul Anderson who Forest fans all know well, Stephen Davies from your rivals Derby and Sam Baldock would all be in and around the first 16 of most Championship sides and our attacking potency has certainly improved multiple times over.
However, the fundamental mistake was not finding a centre-half to replace Andre Amougou, who performed heroically on loan at the end of last season, or a better right-back than Ricky Foster, and we’ve been imbalanced all season. The lack of a clean sheet all season (until last week) is testament to the main issue and sadly McInnes never looked like he was getting it sorted.
What’s the opinion on Sean O’Driscoll so far?
Very impressed by everything. Starting with the team, he has got us organised and taken the team back to basics. Right-footers playing on the right-side, left on the left and finding a way to play our best players all of the time. Two defeats away from home have masked vastly improved performances, but the two wins at home simply wouldn’t have happened under McInnes, especially the clean sheet against Watford who had been on scoring goals for fun.
We haven’t yet seen much evidence of the neat passing style that we all associate his over-achieving Doncaster team with, but I think he’s recognised that with the position we’re in, everything must be taken one step at a time and, for now, we must just concentrate on becoming a tighter unit.
Off the pitch it’s a rare treat to have a manager is so articulate, who clearly thinks about the game a tremendous amount and can put into words his approach and view on how the game should be played. Hopefully it’s not just the honeymoon period, but there’s a huge swell of optimism for our latest new era.
Have there been many changes since he arrived?
Aside from those outlined above there has certainly been renewed spirit. A team which folded so easily for most of this season were incredibly committed, hard-working and stunningly well-disciplined against Watford – as disciplined a performance as I can remember, giving Watford very little by way of chances despite conceding around 70-75% possession.
O’Driscoll clearly quickly identified right-back was a position that needed sorting and moved quickly to sign a man he knew would ‘do a job’ for him, be it in the Championship or League One next season, in Brendan Moloney. He also brought captain marvel Louis Carey – closing in on becoming City’s record-appearance maker – back to the heart of the defence to shore up and help lead and boost morale.
Off the pitch some of the elements of McInnes’ reign have started to be dismantled, but it was evident from the language used by both O’Driscoll and our board, upon his appointment and since, that he’s in as head coach, and that involves coaching the first team only. McInnes did a lot of seemingly good work behind the scenes and the club are maintaining the direction laid out, as well as taking a more corporate view to player recruitment to help stave off huge financial losses.
What can we expect tactically?
I suspect we’ll maintain our organised approach, and O’Driscoll will obviously know a lot about the players and style to expect from his old Forest side.
With Baldock, Davies and Anderson we have great potential for attacking on the break and perhaps move to a slightly more advanced 4-4-2 than the 4-5-1 we’ve started with so far. Confidence will be high after two successive home wins and playing an out-of-sorts Forest feels like an opportunity to build on that, albeit with a guarded recognition that we are one of the worst sides in the division and no game is going to be too comfortable for us.
Who are the key players to watch out for?
Normally I’d say Albert Adomah but the popular Ghanaian will be representing his country in the number 10 shirt in the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations. The three mentioned above all cause a threat, while Jon Stead can also come in and be a danger. I’m sure Stephen Pearson would relish a forage forward and a sight on goal in this match particularly too…
What’s going to happen on Saturday?
I really don’t know! A month ago it would have been a nailed on away win, but Forest’s recent dip and our home resurgence mean it should be a very even game, which could be decided by spirit or a stroke of luck. I’ll go for a 1-1 draw, a historically popular score line between our two sides at Ashton Gate.
And a view on the Forest old boys?
We seem to have signed a number of players (and now a manager!) from Forest in recent times and Greg Cunningham in particular has been hugely impressive. Solid at the back, fully committed and has certainly been a rare spot of light in an otherwise under-performing defence.
Paul Anderson was curiously under-played by the man who signed him but, at home at least, seems to be finding some of the form that led to him being highlighted as a top prospect in his younger days. I’ve rarely seen a harder working wingers’ performance than his display against Watford.
Brendan Moloney is the most recent disciple and looks a decent signing at first impression. Certainly more defensively disciplined than any other right-back at the club.
You can follow Paul on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin
Image: SGGH at en.wikipedia (CC-BY-SA-3.0), from Wikimedia Commons