As the fog set in around the Trent, Nottingham Forest beat Ipswich Town 1-0 as the Reds made it four wins in a row, taking them to within two points of the play-off places. Steve Wright offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground.
Although the economy as a whole seems to lurch from depression to misery, a local success story in Nottingham has to be the quality of our breweries. An evening fixture at the City Ground gives me the best opportunity to celebrate this and often includes a trip to the Canalhouse for some warming ale and football chat before kick-off.
With Castle Rock brewery just a firmly struck free-kick away, the range of beers is always enticing with old favourite Harvest Pale joined by the likes of Elsie Mo and recently the finely named Harold Larwood Nottinghamian Celebration Ale. Having recently read Duncan Hamilton’s excellent book about Brian Clough, I have been coveting his biography of the legendary Nottinghamshire cricketer Larwood and here we certainly have an ale worthy of celebrating his name.
Some beer, some food – it’s hard to look past the Mexican pizza on these occasions – and some lively discussion about the growing momentum of our team set us on our way to the City Ground warm and in good spirits, with no little optimism of adding to the three straight wins that have signalled the return of Billy Davies to the managerial hot-seat.
The game itself was a bit of a disappointment but the night turned into an excellent one as, despite a poor performance, Forest secured three points whilst other teams above them failed to do the same. Arriving at the City Ground and straining to see the far goal through a thick fog, simply completing the match looked like it would be a challenge and a strangely subdued atmosphere was probably in part down to the inability to see fans in other stands.
Ipswich edged the first-half having the better strikes on goal, despite some nice periods of passing from Forest, and the visitors were also denied a clear penalty. Their good work was undone towards the end of the half though by a moment of madness from Martin as he swung out at Lansbury following a niggling foul as he ran towards goal.
Forest did not come out for the second-half in any mood to capitalise on their man advantage though and they struggled to keep the ball through a combination of their own poor passing and good pressing from their opposition. Ipswich decided to lend a further hand when Stearman, already on a yellow card, scythed down Reid in a non-threatening part of the pitch and was duly sent for an early bath too. Yet still Forest laboured and struggled to put the Ipswich goal under pressure.
In the end it was a weak shot from McGugan, which caught a wicked deflection to leave the visiting keeper stranded and trickle into the goal, that won the game. Ipswich deserved better for some stoic defending but you sense that on a night when others dropped points and Forest limped to an unwarranted victory the promotion battle may have turned. The top six seem to be getting nervous and Forest are building a momentum that makes the play-offs seem almost inevitable.
The appointment of Davies has undoubtedly transformed a season that was looking doomed under the management of Alex McLeish. Although I was no fan of the latter’s appointment and was angered by the sacking of O’Driscoll which facilitated it, he did seem to be on the receiving end of a bum deal. Despite Fawaz announcing at the time that McLeish was the “iconic man we had wanted all along” there were clearly problems from day one and a parting of the ways seemed inevitable almost immediately.
As a result Fawaz and Billy became a perfect fit. Fawaz needed a popular manager who could be guaranteed to lift the club at a time when it seemed to be in a state of chaos, whilst Billy had been out of work for 18 months since his departure from Forest in 2011 and needed a route back into the game with a club that could financially support his need to re-establish a reputation for producing top end Championship teams.
Although it is early days the relationship has worked exceptionally well for both parties so far. Al Hasawi has been able to step back a little from the spotlight and let some of his more controversial decisions settle down whilst the impact that Davies has made on the Forest squad has been stunning. It was always felt that Forest had a group of players with the quality to challenge for promotion but he has immediately converted a defeatist feel under his predecessor to a winning mentality.
So where does this leave people like me who are known to have been wary of the appointment when it happened and frustrated by the erratic nature of the season?
In many ways it leaves me in the same place as everybody else in that I am enjoying matches far more now than I was under McLeish and I am fully in support of the team as they try to pull what had looked like a very unlikely play-off charge out of the closing stages of the season. As a club we all have to be right behind the team and the manager as they try to achieve promotion, but that doesn’t stop me having concerns.
Billy Davies’ natural posture appears to be confrontation. The words ‘siege mentality’ are often heard to describe his approach and although his results are impressive his need for something to kick against tends to permeate the club and perhaps is why he seems to leave under a cloud. My sense is that he gets the best out of the players he has available through these motivational techniques but he doesn’t improve them. That may seem contradictory but what I mean is that his momentum is maintained by refreshing the squad through signings and perpetuating a bogey man figure in a ‘them and us’ scenario that galvanises performances.
It is only an opinion and many will either disagree or just not care but I think that this approach creates a time-bomb within the club that will eventually ignite and, depending on how it is handled, could quickly destroy any progress we make under his management. This could particularly be the case if, as last time, we consistently knock on the door of promotion without making it through.
I hope to be proved wrong and, although I have put my thoughts down here because that was the brief, I am focusing on getting behind the team on matchdays and letting everything else play out without raking over the old ground of my concerns. We have a chance of gate-crashing the promotion party this season and even if we don’t make it we must surely be confident that after a summer transfer window and a settled pre-season (both of which we lacked prior to this season) we will be well positioned to target a place in the mix next time around.
The Al Hasawi family own the club and Billy Davies is the manager and they each clearly have strong personalities and a belief in what they are doing. I’ve got to be honest and say I am not wholly comfortable with a lot that has happened this season and that both parties have a way to go in order to earn my trust, but I continue to be fully behind the team and hope that they can deliver a club we can be proud of. Maybe one day I’ll be visiting the Canalhouse for a pint of Billy Davies Celebration Ale. Come on you Reds!
You can follow Steve on Twitter: @mistrollingin
Image courtesy of nuttakit/FreeDigitalPhotos.net