As Derby County dropped out of the top six on the last day of the season, many Nottingham Forest fans celebrated their demise. Sadly, it was merely a convenient distraction from our own problems, says Paul Severn
As I sat in the Trent End on Saturday watching yet another woeful display by Forest, a fellow supporter rose from his seat. He turned around towards his fellow supporters in block T2. With unbridled joy, he roared: “Three nil!”
The promotion dream was over for our bitter rivals. Derby County, like us, face another season in the Championship. No trips to Old Trafford. No duels with Jose Mourinho. No bragging in the office over the summer.
Rivalries are so engrained in today’s game that a meltdown of a near neighbour can help to heal deep wounds. In the end, Ben Osborn’s dramatic winner did perhaps begin the slide that was ultimately to cost Steve McClaren’s side so dearly. The reaction of Stuart Pearce in the Pride Park dugout will forever remain in our memories. But the bitter truth is that the glee of Saturday was merely a convenient distraction from the huge problems at our own club.
For me, this has been one of my worst seasons supporting Forest. The relegation under Brian Clough was tragic and the Gary Megson and David Platt reigns were joyless in the extreme. However, to welcome back a legend, have hopes raised by early results, and then see it unravel so painfully has sapped so much enthusiasm out of many Forest fans. This will be surely be reflected in season ticket sales this summer.
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Dougie Freedman did a good job initially in turning around our form from the lowest of ebbs. While I’m not sure he ‘saved’ us from relegation, the league position would have been a major concern had we lost his first game in charge against Brighton. However, recent results are a real worry because yet again, a new manager has come in, had an initial bounce in results, and then seen normal service resumed. His record now barely compares to either Pearce or Sean O’Driscoll.
With Forest now under a transfer embargo, it is difficult to see how that initial form can be replicated in the long-term next season, especially if player-of-the-season Michail Antonio gets a well-deserved opportunity in the Premier League. If he leaves, we can only spend a fraction of the money on a couple of free transfers. Major surgery is needed on the squad, and for me, any success relies on the tenuous fitness of Chris Cohen, Andy Reid, Jack Hobbs and our injury-prone strikers.
At best, next season could be used as an opportunity to blood young players for the future. Freedman has talked a lot about doing this, yet his final matchday squad for a dead rubber included five loanees, which suggests that results are still the priority. And you can see why with our record of firing managers.
Many articles have talked about youth development and stability. I live in Milton Keynes and see closely the benefits of following this approach in action, rather than just words. The much-loathed MK Dons are in fact a well-run club and have achieved promotion on a shoestring this season. I can’t remember them ever paying a transfer fee. Forgetting the Wimbledon relocation for a moment, it has been amazing to see how Karl Robinson has been given the time to develop young players, sell them for profit in some cases, and develop a style and philosophy. Earlier this year I attended two games in a week (in the away end!) and Milton Keynes were dreadful in both games, losing 2-1 and 2-0. Their promotion dream looked over for another season. But this club had faith in its manager and his approach and didn’t trade it all in for a short term bounce in results. And next season will see visits from Forest, Derby, Leeds United et al to the Stadium MK.
Of course, Forest are a different club to MK Dons. We have a much more demanding fanbase and a history that dwarfs Milton Keynes as place, never mind a club. But it is a sad state of affairs that we have something to learn from such a young club.
It may be that we have something to learn from Derby too. Now our big-spending is over, at some point a manager – possibly Freedman – needs to do the same job as Nigel Clough at Pride Park and steady the club. Young players need developing. Underperforming stars needs moving on. A philosophy needs putting in place. Results might not be pretty, but in the long term we will benefit.
But it is hard to see that happening and if I liked to place bets, I’d put my money on another season of keeping tabs of Pride Park for some crumb of comfort. Beating Derby is a great feeling and creates some magic memories. But my greatest memories of supporting Forest are Stuart Pearce lifting trophies, Stan Collymore terrorising the Manchester United defence, and of course, gaining promotion to the Premier League. Cheering another Derby defeat just isn’t good enough for me.