A confident 3-1 victory over Steve Clarke’s Reading gave Nottingham Forest a much-needed three points. More importantly for Scott Eley, it showed that the club is moving in the right direction under Dougie Freedman

Such was my optimism about Forest under Dougie was that I offered to write this piece earlier in the week amidst the ‘will he/won’t he survive’ debate. The optimism was almost short-lived when I saw Ryan Mendes and Nelson Oliveira run out in gloves. I’d been berating Tom Ince to some of my Derby pals the previous night for wearing them, so imagine my horror. My words were, “players who wear gloves are more interested in keeping warm then playing football.” Ince Jnr proved me correct but thankfully the boys in red made me eat some humble pie. Goals like the one Nelson bagged would’ve had me searching for a pair to sport this Sunday morning. If I was still playing…

Dougie had possibly chucked in the red herring that we were going back to basics in order to win a game of football. I guess the only back to basics was reverting to the good old English 4-4-2 tactic. And it worked. The players are still clearly with him. Whilst the win against Derby has been quickly forgotten on the #nffc Twitter feed, I’ve seen enough under Dougie to suggest that things are moving in the right direction. All this, despite the embargo and injuries. A good win, with 10 men, but nobody is getting carried away.

Chris O’Grady was back in and despite a dodgy start, he scored a decent goal (aided with a bit of luck) and he set up another with some classic front man play. The moment we start expecting O’Grady to do any other than hold the ball up, win a few headers and score the odd goal is when we are kidding ourselves. Play to his strengths and we might get enough out of him this season. In fairness, he admitted himself he’s been out of sorts but credit to him yesterday, a similar performance to the QPR game but more complete with a goal and an assist.

O’Grady reminds me of a Sunday morning striker. No frills but very difficult to play against when he’s doing what he’s good at. The Reading centre-half looked quite accomplished with the ball at his feet but he couldn’t cope with O’Grady. Ben Osborn recognised that also; a quick throw-in to O’Grady’s feet, with his back to goal, whilst Benny sprinted past him to receive the return ball. That decoy run did enough to keep the defender thinking and gave O’Grady the chance to cross for Oliveira.

Plus it was good to see Benny back yesterday. His best performance of the season — skilful with the ball and tireless with the tracking back, resulting in the ultimate nullification of Blackman (gloves and pink boots!). The front four looked dangerous every time we broke and that kind of brings me around to why I wanted to write this article in the first place.

Despite the injuries to key personnel, we are beginning to establish a brand of football under Dougie. How many times did Dorus roll the ball out yesterday? Plentiful. Yes we still mixed it with the ball up to O’Grady but we are playing football. I am genuinely excited with our counter-attack play. It’s brilliant to watch with Mendes and Oliveira leading it. Refreshing even.

Stick Britt up front with Oliveira and Mendes and we will look electric. It’s a good job Mendes can’t shoot because he would be worth a fortune (and be well out of our reaches in our efforts to retain him). I can cope with him going under the radar if we can sign him in the summer. Same can be said of Oliveira. He looks better with a bigger man next to him. A cracking footballer.

The difference in the quality of play compared to that under Pearce is of vast contrast. Yes there are similarities with the results and goals scored but the performances are so much better. I just couldn’t see a way out under Pearce and my loyalty was blinded… to a point.

I became bored with the one-dimensional approach with Antonio in the team. So predictable. Dougie deserves the credit for being bold enough to make the sale. We’ve looked better as a team and Michail’s hardly pulling up any trees at West Ham. In fact, he’s not even picking the leaves.

Yes Dougie has gotten it wrong on a few occasions, Bristol City and Brentford last week, particularly with tactics and team selection. However, did Dougie get the praise for the Derby result that he deserved? I’d say not. His tactics won us that game. Similarly he got it right on Saturday. However, the true test of Dougie’s capabilities will come when he has a fully fit squad to choose from. I will judge him then.

At the start of the season, a chat with my mate before a ball was kicked was pretty much about what we’ve been going through in recent weeks. Fans would have to be realistic. Embargo, injuries, owner reputation… Dougie’s had a lot to contend with.

We’re certainly in it together. I quite actually enjoy being part of the smaller attendances. Whilst there hasn’t been a lot to shout about, the crowd have been supportive. Patient. They say silence speaks volumes and it has done at the City Ground this season. Particularly when the going has gotten tough. No routine booing just the expected moaning from the veterans in the Upper Trent. My only conclusion is that their wives buy them the season ticket to get them out of the house (Yes, I’m talking to those who were booing O Grady before he scored.)

Players seem to be implementing what the manager is asking, and the biggest plus is that they are playing for him. For too long, the players know what to expect if the boss doesn’t get it right at Forest. If you’re at work and a group aren’t too keen on the boss, they collude to make things difficult. I’ve seen it happen myself so why are footballers any different? I could be way off the mark of course but players downing tools at Forest has been evident since Frank Clark left. Van Hooijdonk famously started it under Bassett.

Breaking that mould is key, particularly with the big earners we have. Just watching the Salford City documentary made me realise how difficult the job is, in managing egos alone. Players on £10k a week plus and that task multiplies.

Fawaz has to restore the faith in supporters (including myself) on how he is running the club. There is still no clear strategy. Sticking with Dougie through this patch will go a little way to restoring some of that. It will also send a message out to the players. Steering us out of the embargo and avoiding a repeat will restore my faith further.

So are we finally seeing a change of culture at the City Ground? Have fans started to re-adjust their expectations at Forest? Maybe.

Has the chairman broken the mould of sacking managers every six months? Remains to be seen.

Have the performances been as bad as the Twitter timelines suggests? No, they’ve been better.

If we get through to the end of the season with those questions answered positively and we’re mid-table then you have to say we’ve made some progress as a football club. It’s not where we want to be but that’s where we are I’m afraid. The encouraging signs are that we have the players to make a real go of it, IF the club is settled.

You know, the embargo might just provide the realty check needed to stabilise us.

Oh, and before I forget, that save from Dorus first-half on Saturday.


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