Six wins and a draw in four weeks — 19 points from a possible 21 — has seen the messianic return of Billy Davies live up to the hype. Jon Watson reflects on 28 days that propelled Nottingham Forest into the play-off places.
Saturday marked one month since ‘King Billy’s’ first game back in charge and 35 days since my last confession. Forgive me Billy, for I have sinned. I was excited yet concerned when Fawaz Al Hasawi caved in to fan pressure and sought out Billy for a return to the helm of what looked like a sinking ship.
The one draw and six straight wins that have followed mark a turn around of Lazarean proportions. In fact, the mood was so low when McLeish decided to throw in the towel that Forest were looking more like the Titanic than cruising to promotion, Billy Davies has plugged the leaks, manned the bilge pumps, flogged the cabin boys and set sail for the top of the table. I also fear my trip to Hull on Saturday has lead to an overload of shipping references; I will try and avoid any mention of salty seamen.
The million dollar question is: what has Billy done? What kind of witchcraft has concocted this remarkable turn around? And, although it seems impossible to quite single out a particular reason, it basically boils down to hard work. He hasn’t trawled the country for players nor moaned about the holes in the squad, as we were familiar with under his last stewardship. In fact he hasn’t even once advised or recommended players to Fawaz or voiced his frustrations in the press, because he has simply managed to get more from a squad packed with potential.
I commented in the last piece that Lewis McGugan must have been quaking in his boots when Billy came back to the club. Even his fellow team mates took to Twitter to rib him about “dad” returning to look after him. But, just like the rest of the players, Lewis has risen to the challenge and, when he’s come off the bench, played with a smile on his face as the old adage goes. And he’s not alone. Henri Lansbury, Radi Majewski, Elliot Ward and even poor Chris Cohen, Billy’s favourite makeshift left-back, have all showed remarkable improvements in so little time.
From back to front the performance levels have increased a hundred-fold and as a result we have risen up the table at a rate of knots. The defence, although not watertight, has stopped leaking goals; the midfield looks as creative, hard working and threatening as a Forest midfield I can recall for many a year; and, despite not being prolific up front, the strikers have worked very hard to keep hold of the ball and make gaps for the resurgent midfield to put the ball in the back of the fishing net. Sorry, onion bag. Even in games where we haven’t played as well as others we haven’t really looked like losing. The improvement is simply unfathomable.
It is very hard to have anything negative to say about the past month. However, I’d be letting myself down if I didn’t mention the off-field changes. As predicted on day one, John Pemberton lasted all of five minutes and several other behind the scenes staff members suddenly left the club under a cloud too. Although the club haven’t commented on these departures, I assume for legal reasons, I’m sure they will at some point refer to it as a restructuring and change of direction. From port to starboard, perhaps.
The fans’ reaction was mixed to the ‘sackings’. Some felt it was Billy’s doing, getting rid of those that may have wronged him in the past. Others felt it was time for an overhaul and to get rid of the driftwood. Whatever the real reasons are we will never know, maybe they were purely financial. But it’s hard, given the run of results, to criticise the thinking or the effect it’s had.
I’m sure the likes of Fraser Nicholson losing his job has no correlation at all to on-field performances but when you are winning games, little things like that get overlooked. That’s football. Billy has also played a part in bringing back another trusted coach, to him and the club, in the form of Charlie McParland and, to be honest, if that helps strengthen communication between Academy and first team levels then I’m all for it.
Every season in the Championship a team seems to hit form towards the end of the season and race to promotion either automatically or via the play-offs. Reading, Swansea, Wolves, Blackpool and Crystal Palace all spring to mind from recent memory. I’m not an overly optimistic person, I try not to get carried away with things and I don’t think for a second that we will just keep on winning games. But it’s hard to ignore that we are the form team at the moment and, as the end of the season is rapidly approaching, Forest are certainly firing a few shots over enemy bows.
Maybe, just maybe, Captain Billy has plotted a course straight to Treasure Island and we will all be giddy as a drunken sailor come May. Only time will tell. But so far it’s been plain sailing… I’ve over done the puns haven’t I?
You can follow Jon on Twitter: @Forest_Grump
Image: Courtesy of kjnnt/FreeDigitalPhotos.net