Reports that Nottingham Forest are in the hunt for West Brom striker Shane Long have given further momentum to the ‘p word’. Should we curb our expectations?
Ordinarily, seventh position at this stage of the season and a point off the top six, after a ‘blip’ in form, would be a decent start to the season – in the hunt for the play-offs and potential for a good run to press on.
The talent and depth in the squad, combined with Billy Davies’ experience in the Championship, augur well for a top six finish this season. And beating Leicester on their home soil proves gritty, determined performances could keep us in touch with the automatic positions in the New Year.
But the expectation of promotion has been raised – the chairman and manager both explicitly stated it was a target – so it’s understandable that this isn’t the start many hoped for.
Fawaz clearly wants promotion — he hasn’t invested his time and money for nothing — and Davies has mentioned ‘unfinished business’ once or twice. Maybe it was more?
After the money spent over the past 18 months Forest have been marked out as one of the Championship’s big spenders: expectation is there on all fronts. There’s practically two players for every position — we fielded an entirely different first XI for the Burnley cup game — and, while Davies can bemoan injuries, we can still field an experienced matchday squad.
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But 20 games in to the season we’re just three points better off than we were this time last season – before the goalposts changed for Sean O’Driscoll; before he was accused of paying too much attention to the opposition; before the inconsistent performances were questioned; before the team selection was criticised. Sound familiar?
We can only assume that Fawaz is a little better acquainted with the “ups and downs” of the Championship by now. The disastrous appointment of Alex McLeish derailed last season and only defeat on the final day against Leicester left us outside the play-off places.
Admittedly Davies said on Twitter in August “this squad will be top six”, and another two or three players were needed to be a top two side. Although he added: “If we don’t get them now we will get them in January. Fawaz and me are taking NFFC to the prem.”
So the goal, as Davies often reminds us, is to “stay with the chasing pack until January”. And then what? Sign the missing pieces of the jigsaw and achieve promotion? Easy, right?
Even Fawaz said after the transfer window closed: “We will now turn our attention to the loan market before having another major push in the January transfer window.”
Level-headed Forest fans will never expect promotion — you can but hope — however it’s no surprise that this is now the expectation. And it will be no surprise if the ‘stellar’ signings are not made next month that forums and social media will go into meltdown. The lessons learned from August should be: don’t sell one of your best players (Guedioura); and don’t chase unobtainable or unaffordable players at the expense of others (Leadbitter, Sako, Bridcutt).
It’s been iterated many times on this site that you can’t buy your way out of the Championship. Many complain about the increased parachute payments for relegated clubs from the Premier League but very few bounce back immediately — QPR seem to be the only ones from last season equipped for promotion (although also tipped for FFP penalties) while the likes of Bolton, Birmingham, Wigan, Middlesbrough and Blackburn continue to languish, Blackpool continue to slip away and Reading are only gradually rediscovering their mojo.
Yet Sean Dyche took the Burnley job three months before Davies returned to Forest; on a substantially smaller budget and leaner squad he’s challenging for an automatic promotion position. His free-scoring strikers (Danny Ings and Sam Vokes) cost less than £1.5 million and have 26 goals between them — do we really need to break our transfer record?
O’Driscoll deserved a whole season to prove how the club might have progressed. Davies also deserves that courtesy. The difference being that Davies has had practically everything he could’ve wanted since June, and anything less than the play-offs — an improvement of just two positions on last season — will be considered a failure.
There are still 26 games to go and, as we know, “there will be plenty of twists and turns” so it’s impossible to judge how well we might play if it all comes together; where we’ll finish the season; and how we’ll fare in the play-offs, assuming that’s our fate.
As it is, if Jim Price can stay out of the limelight and Davies just gets on with the football — and quits the cryptic interviews, the bizarre media agenda, the “pay back” and the “vengeance” — then we might be able to concentrate on the football and not the increasingly distracting sideshow (a little dignity and humility wouldn’t go amiss).
It’s too early to write off the season but Davies has made a rod for his own back and needs to show — on the pitch — he learned something during that 18-month hiatus from football. And fast.
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