As Saturday’s Derby County game approaches, Andrew Brookes gives us 10 reasons why Nottingham Forest shouldn’t dispose of the services of Stuart Pearce. And five things that need to improve — immediately
1. Constant change doesn’t work
As most Forest writers would testify, Forest Boffin nailed it this week when he outlined the importance of stability in the Championship dugout. It’s telling that only Roy Keane’s Sunderland and Ian Holloway’s Palace have been promoted after changing manager mid-season in the league’s current guise. Take a look at Mick McCarthy. He’s done a fantastic job of getting more from his Ipswich squad this year – building on 14th and 9th placed finishes.
2. We need to learn from our mistakes
We’re still recovering from the fact that Sean O’Driscoll patched together a back four in a few short weeks after becoming the first boss of the Al-Hasawi era. As he was sacked before he got chance to improve it, we’ve chopped, changed and not settled properly on a system. With Greg Halford and Dan Harding leaving and Danny Collins said to be available, it’s only now that we’re adapting that hastily arranged line-up. Pearce hasn’t set up a side that’s solid enough to tough out a result, but he must know that and ought to be given chance to do the necessary work to improve it.
3. The embargo
Without complete freedom in the transfer market, it’s vital that we get the most from what we’re allowed to spend. It’d be nice to stick with someone who understands the squad’s weaknesses so he doesn’t waste time and money chasing the wrong signings in the wrong positions.
Linked to that last point is Pearce’s standing among young up-and-coming talent. The most recent two signings (Todd Kane and Gary Gardner) seem to have been attracted due to Pearce’s England Under-21 days – as were Michael Mancienne, Tom Ince and possibly even Matty Fryatt. Ince was a huge disappointment but that’s a separate matter; the point still stands that decent young players wouldn’t mind coming to play for Pearce.
5. Attacking signings
Many feared Pearce was a dull, defensive manager yet oddly it’s at the back where we’ve struggled most. Fryatt, Michail Antonio, Britt Assombalonga are all great signings and are an exciting attacking prospect that have already showed their worth. If we can get organised, they will flourish and take care of the goals needed to succeed at this level.
We were very publicly turned down by an out-of-work Neil Warnock when we last had a vacancy. That’s veering on ‘last pick for the team in PE’ territory! I’m sure there are plausible candidates but we can’t assume a decent manager would want to join us. I like Brian McDermott but would he, freshly scarred from his Leeds frying pan, want to jump into the Forest fire? Mark Cooper is a good up-and-coming manager. Again though, it’d be wrong to assume he’d jump ship at Swindon and that he’d definitely be a success – remember his McLeish-esque disaster at Peterborough? Uwe Rosler would interest me but, as he proved at Wigan, there’s no guarantee of success in this league. We’ve tried all sorts of different types of managers. At some point we have to admit that short-termism is dead – we have to stop, take stock and build around somebody. I’m happy to let that be Pearce. As the Warnock experience hinted, our ‘brand’ is tainted in the eyes of some (including the aforementioned McCarthy of course). We may not be able to recruit anyone better.
I’m always encouraged by what Pearce has to say in the press. He’s positive, forthright and a refreshing change from the era of media bans and farcical filmed press conferences. As a figurehead he’s someone we can be proud to be led by, which leads to…
8. Club legend
It’s the elephant in the room. I cringe a little when I read that he ‘deserves more time because he’s a legend’ but I have to admit that his iconic status makes me more inclined to get off his back. Does that cloud my judgement? Maybe. But, frankly, who wants Pearce to fail? There’s plenty of clubs out there who would quite like the fan-manager relationship we enjoy with ‘Psycho’. It’s maybe not rational or logical but it’s worth giving time to see if it’ll work out.
The club, at long last, is starting to develop a structure. Paul Faulkner and John McGovern seem to work well with Pearce and he’s keen to be involved in the academy. It’d be easy to throw that away in search of short-term gain and later regret it.
It’s about time we stopped moping and tried, at least, to be a little more positive. We’re not Coventry or Portsmouth for a start, nor are we Leeds. Also, I don’t know if you’d noticed but the dirty sheep are on the horizon. We can’t travel there as a mess with our heads down and get walloped again. A good result at the sheep dip could transform Pearce’s season and be the launch pad to kick on. Yes, the opposite result might prove a tipping point but let’s be positive. Just for once.
So there’s my colours nailed to the mast. But before you shoot me down I’ll admit that even I can see that there’s a more than valid call for concern at the dreadful current run of form. So, since I’m in the mood for lists, here’s five things Pearce must do right away to ensure the points above aren’t overshadowed by negatives:
As I stated above I thought Pearce’s team would be defensive, solid and unspectacular to start off with. Most managers build from the back and most developing teams tough out a fair few 1-1 and 0-0 draws while they find their feet. We need to develop a harder edge and stop conceding quite so many goals. Individuals in the back line have certainly let their boss down but there has to be a workable line-up found amongst the squad that can keep some clean sheets, especially now Jack Hobbs has returned.
I’m all for managers changing things around to outfox an opponent or overcome a weakness but you do feel that some of the changes this season haven’t always paid off. I’m not completely against three centre-halves for example but when we did line up that way we nullified Michail Antonio – who had been our most potent attacking threat. Getting our dangerman to worry about defending as a wing-back seemed barmy. Chopping and changing certainly hasn’t helped us settle into playing decent football either.
The manager and his staff suggest confidence is a factor in our current malaise and they’re right but, as difficult as it may be, they’re going to have to put that mindset right and inspire them to perform. Timid won’t do – especially in this league – and too many players need to offer leadership on the pitch for Pearce.
It’s too early to judge the most recent two arrivals at the City Ground but we need the January signings to do better than our loan window acquisitions. Sadly for me Jack Hunt faded after a bright start to his loan spell and, embargo or not, was never going to be worth pursuing permanently, especially as the silly money Palace quoted. Worse still was the half-hearted Tom Ince, I would elaborate but that’d be putting more effort in than he did. Like it or loathe it the loan market is vital to add some Premier League quality into any Championship side yet often our two loanees were barely worthy of a spot on the bench. We mustn’t waste the chance to get in some extra quality again – and with Antonio, Burke, Paterson and youngsters the wide positions shouldn’t be a priority.
Pearce doesn’t strike you as someone to shirk a tough decision and he’s got plenty to make. How do we get more than just flashes of talent from Lansbury? How do we stop being so reliant on Reid? Who can step up and deliver decent set pieces? Is Lascelles good enough at the moment? Is Vaughan ever going to be fit enough? Why can’t Fox get the basics right? When will Tesche learn to impose himself better with tougher tackles? How can we ensure Assombalonga doesn’t get frustrated and drift out of games. Why does Lichaj look off the pace? The answer to some of these questions will mean leaving out some of the ‘bigger names’ of the squad – to others it will mean Pearce has to do more to get the best out of the current bunch. We can’t just wait though – he needs answers to some, if not all, of these questions pretty quickly and can’t afford to duck a string of tough decisions.
There’s a lot to get right and much to improve, I accept that. I still think I’d stick with Pearce but boy does he need a win down the A52 on Saturday. If he were to pull that off it’d be time to ditch the smart, besuited image and reach for the iconic fist pump. He knows he’d love to really…