Transfer deadline day passed without event at the City Ground yesterday as a series of decisive actions over the summer meant Stuart Pearce had little to do. Doing business early and adding quality and depth to the squad could prove crucial this season says Billy Sexton
As the international break approaches, Nottingham Forest fans can be nothing less than over-the-moon as the Reds sit atop the Championship table after five games, not to mention two victories in the League Cup which has culminated in a juicy away fixture at Tottenham Hotspur in late September.
With 16 goals scored and a mere three conceded, Forest’s early run of form can be attributed to Stuart Pearce’s acquisitions in the transfer window. Britt Assombalonga, who arrived at the club with a record-breaking £5.5m price tag, has proved his worth thus far, netting four goals with fans salivating for more of what the youngster can provide; goals, and goals in abundance.
The signing of Assombalonga epitomises everything that Pearce has done right in the transfer window. Rather than following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Psycho has brought in proven, up-and-coming talent rather than has-beens and spare parts of Premier League clubs. With a combined total of 49 goals in the past two seasons, Forest have signed a striker who can give their strike-force some much needed edge as opposed to the likes of Simon Cox.
The signing of Cox initially excited the City Ground fan-base, but the Forest faithful soon realised that although prolific in League One, Cox couldn’t cut it in the higher divisions, evidenced by his lacklustre record at West Bromwich Albion. Assombalonga is just 11 goals shy of eclipsing Cox’s tally at Forest and few would bet against him from doing so.
MORE FOREST STORIES
Michail Antonio, Chris Burke and Michael Mancienne have also impressed in their initial outings for The Reds. Antonio has scored four goals, causing havoc for Championship defenders where Jamie Mackie and Radi Majewski failed to do so. Mancienne has slotted into the back four, and looks set to fill the void that will be left when Jamaal Lascelles departs for Newcastle United and provides healthy competition for Jack Hobbs and a returning Kelvin Wilson.
It’s not just incoming players that has reformed the Forest squad and added the quality necessary for any promotion push. The quality was evident last season, and the retention of Henri Lansbury on a new three-year contract quashed any rumours of a £3.5m move to Burnley. Perhaps the former Arsenal man looked to Chris Gunter and Gareth McCleary and realised the grass is not always greener. Additionally, keeping hold of Karl Darlow and Lascelles as Forest look to return to the top flight, ensures that the club have strength in depth at the back and keep a hold on one of the best goalkeepers in the division, albeit on loan, with very dubious Financial Fair Play reasoning.
On top of this, Pearce has not been afraid to get rid of players that cannot provide the necessary quality. Marcus Tudgay, Matt Derbyshire, Simon Gillett, Ishmael Miller and Darius Henderson have been shown the door. Greg Halford and Danny Collins were also made available for transfer, and could still leave on a loan deal.
Such an overhaul at the club, with 11 players joining and 15 leaving hasn’t been seen since the summer of 2012, when I argued that squad deserved time before challenging for promotion. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and the fact of the matter was that the players Forest signed in 2012, though finishing just shy of a play-off place, simply didn’t have the quality that the current cohort appear to possess. As time progressed, it became evident that challenging for promotion was beyond the initial signings of the Al Hasawi regime.
There can be no excuses this season. The chairman has put his hand in his pocket and the squad, consisting of some older faces and new talent, have shown their quality in the opening rounds of the Championship and League Cup. Pearce’s constant reiteration that “the challenge is with the players rather than me. I don’t pick the team, they pick the team” reflects the fact that Forest have a squad that can challenge for automatic promotion. With a handful of players for every position, the depth of the squad will no doubt come in handy during the remaining 41 games of the brutal Championship season. Here’s hoping they’re as positive as the first five.