Billy Davies has made quite an impact on his return to Nottingham Forest as manager. But Ash Dybala thinks there will be more to come once the strikers find their form again.
Billy Davies is back and Forest have run riot over a very poor Huddersfield team and dominated Bolton Wanderers. Those kind of results that will most likely lift many a heart and mind on Trentside. But do the scorelines and statistics tell the whole story?
On paper, holding ex-Premier League Bolton and beating Huddersfield 6-1 are good results and football is a results business after all. But looking closer at those results, and more importantly the performances, unearths some interesting questions and statistics, particularly from our strikeforce.
Besides Henderson’s header late into the Huddersfield game, no Forest striker has scored from open play in the league since 29 December. Billy Sharp scored against Birmingham from the penalty spot, and also in the FA Cup, but from nothing from open play in recent history.
It’s plain to see that Sharp is clearly Forest’s biggest attacking threat but, with games coming thick and fast, even he needs a rest. That said, mirroring the team’s performance, he’s not really had any consistency, game to game, with his goals. Sharp is for me, quite similar to Robbie Earnshaw in the respect that they are both excellent poachers. However, that requires the right kind of chance. Earnshaw scored so many from cute passes and low crosses but at times the service to Sharp has been lacklustre.
That’s why Radi Majewski is such a big player for Forest, especially when Sharp is in the team, because he creates the sort of chance that Sharp thrives on. I would like to think that he would like to sign for the club as he’s a great striker at this level, but he’s not been the same player that he was under Sean O’Driscoll. I suspect, in fact, that a large part of him coming to Forest was the relationship between the two from their time at Doncaster. Hopefully he can buy into Davies’ way and finish the season with a few more goals for us. Beyond that, who knows?
As for Dexter Blackstock, he’s been really struggling for goals at the moment. He was the perfect foil for Earnshaw under Davies last time, but he hasn’t been able to make his mark in this half of the season which is disappointing, considering he’s just signed a long-term deal. You would hope that committing his future to the club, for what will most likely be the best remaining years of his career, might spur him on but it’s just not clicking for him right now and he’s needed.
I have to confess, I really like Simon Cox. Apart from Chris Cohen, I think he’s the hardest working player in the team. Every time he plays he’s constantly giving it his all and that’s the sort of grit and determination that is essential in this league. He has had two simply elegant moments whilst at Forest, a delightful finish against Birmingham that a certain No.10 at Barcelona would have been proud of and a rocket of a shot against Wigan. However, if he wants to play week in, week out then he needs to start scoring goals. It’s that simple. Right now, he’s stuck in the David McGoldrick role; although a better quality McGoldrick. He’s been a substitute or an out of position player recently and, for a international with his quality, it’s simply not good enough. With Blackstock struggling for net time and Sharp being rested, these games are important for him to establish himself which in turn is going to make the others work harder.
Although Forest’s strikeforce has been a little dry recently, the midfield have been showing some encouraging signs. Henri Lansbury, small but costly mistakes aside, is coming into his own and capped off a decent night with his first goal. He’s been catch up through lack of a pre-season but once he’s there, he can be a really asset to the club.
As for a certain Mr. Majewski, what more can you say after the Huddersfield game? It was essential after Garath McCleary’s departure last year that we didn’t let another fantastic midfield player leave the club free of charge so him signing a long-term deal is excellent news and he seems to be paying that back with some interest.
Cohen has been as hard working and consistent as ever. He’s not going to ever be the match winner on the pitch but overall this season he has produced a good, reliable standard. He’s such a grafter and can play all over the pitch. The ultimate utility player and given Forest’s reliance on square pegs, he’s needed.
Adlene Guedioura’s return from the Africa Cup of Nations adds some serious bite to the midfield. He struggled a little bit, with what I believe was frustration of his form and collected some silly suspensions earlier on, but he is quick, strong in the tackle and is the sort of player that drives a midfield and a game with it.
As a rule of thumb, we tend to lose when Guy Moussi starts a game. I don’t think there is anything real behind that other than being one of those unfortunate statistics.
This has probably been Lewis McGugan’s worst season yet in a Forest shirt. The last season of Billy’s tenure, McGugan came alive and carried the team in that final half of the season with his goals. Who could forget that freekick against Ipswich. Once Billy departed, McClaren wanted to build the team around him but, as he has all too frequently done during his career, he went missing. His contract is up in July and he’s done nothing to earn a new one in my opinion.
Compare him with Andy Reid, who also has a stocky frame, and it still doesn’t shine Lewis in a positive light. Reid’s delivery, his passing, his leadership and his goals have been vital for us this year where as McGugan’s only real contribution was a trademark strike against Bolton and a glimmer of the old magic against Birmingham. As a 24-year-old, he should be in the prime of his career and yet he plays like a player over the hill. It will take all of Billy’s man management skills, and a great deal of faith from the owners, to keep Lewis a Forest player come July and, similar to Lee Camp, it wouldn’t be difficult to see him depart.
Reid is something of a Forest legend, there can be little doubt of that. We all know that he’s perhaps peaked as a footballer but even then, he’s still got a touch of silk and an eagle eye for a pass. Not the fastest of players but a leader nonetheless. He’s always been quite a big person but his creativity, his vision and his effort make up for it. If he was younger and a bit slimmer, he’d be one of the best wide men in the league for sure. I just feel slightly sorry that it never really worked out for him in the big time because if anyone deserved it, it was Reidy.
I’d mention the defence but, in all honesty, it’s been chopped and changed that much this season, it’s not hard to imagine why Forest have been so inconsistent. Danny Collins started the season strong but has been found out. Elliott Ward was a little tetchy when he first came in but he’s scored a couple goals and has begun to look the part. Greg Halford perhaps needs to take a leaf out of Lansbury’s book and leave Twitter. Some of the things he says and does, don’t do him any favours. His long throws are a threat but when he’s playing at centre-back, it makes it difficult for him to do those.
Dan Harding hasn’t been terrible but then he’s not been outstanding either. The search for a left-back continues. Daniel Ayala, like Collins and Ward, has had his moments here and there. Jara Reyes seems to be of good stock and I’d like to think, along with Ward, we’ll be making his stay a full-time one in the summer. Sam Hutchinson, seemed to have good quality when he did play but it’s unfortunately not going to work out for him here and I don’t see him playing again for us which is a shame.
It’s early days for Karl Darlow but perhaps the one good piece of management that came from McLeish’s stint is his place in the first team. He’s made some good saves in recent games and doesn’t make many mistakes. If there is anything to critique, he needs to command his back four and penalty area a little better but that will most likely come with confidence and experience. It seems to be a good decision to part with Camp for Darlow who, after a few seasons of warming the bench, has his shot at the jersey. If Khaled Al Rashidi is any good, this can only mean good things for Darlow as well. Complacency can make a good goalkeeper average so competition for that spot is important. Time will tell, but it seems promising.
The ‘Billy Davies effect’ is evident. It’s not going to be instant or easy but there are encouraging signs to be seen. There were around 24,500 Forest fans at the Huddersfield game and I don’t believe it is all about the ticket price either. Fans who have become jaded in recent months find themselves revitalised and full of a renewed vigour. On the field, Forest are evolving, becoming quicker and more aggressive. In the stands, the high-pitched cheers and approving claps replace the moans and groans of the boo boys.
‘Unfinished business’ seems to be heading towards an interesting conclusion.
You can follow Ash on Twitter: @DizzyBala