As another Nottingham Forest season goes down the pan, Seat Pitch asks four regular contributors what they thought of the 2015-16 season
We feared mediocrity and yet arguably still fell short of even getting that. In the end it was a relief not to get sucked into the relegation scrap.
I predicted we’d be 10th but, in my defence, that was with Michail Antonio. Once he left, we predictably struggled for goals with Britt Assombalonga injured. Some said selling Antonio would help us be more balanced and less reliant on one man to turn up. We have been more balanced, but only in the sense that everyone looked equally unlikely to score.
His deadline day departure left Dougie with barely any time to replace his star man. Ryan Mendes was infuriatingly close to being decent but lacked end product, Chris O’Grady tried but isn’t a goal scorer. Nelson Oliveira wasn’t bad, but he’ll frighten no one if he turns up at the Euros with Portugal.
The end result was a squad that only conceded two more than sixth placed Sheffield Wednesday and four more than that lot in fifth, yet scored 23 fewer than both.
Despite a 13-game unbeaten run, Dougie Freedman predictably failed to last the course. While the football wasn’t sparkling, I still felt he was harshly sacked. He had to get us out of an embargo while steadying the ship, met both targets and still got the boot. As a result, any foundations he laid are wasted.
The biggest problems, again, lie off the pitch. While we end 2015-16 embargo-less we have no chief executive and no manager. I fear Fawaz will want to gamble everything on another spending spree and I dread to think who might be handed the cash.
Whatever the team’s failings, we’re further away from the Premier League off the pitch than on it.
Britt’s goal in the final game was a joy and the home win over the Sheep was fun. Dorus De Vries emerged from the shadows, David Vaughan was imperious for a while, we found two passable left-backs, got more miles on Ben Osborn’s clock and nudged Oliver Burke towards stardom. Some crumbs of comfort at least.
2015-16 has been another frustrating season for Forest, with progress stifled by injuries, the transfer embargo, and poor decision-making at the highest level.
I remember being cautiously optimistic last summer: we had a decent side and were one of many teams capable of having a good (or poor) season in an unpredictable league, but more importantly we had a manager who at least had a structured plan.
Dougie Freedman is not the best manager in the world, but I believe he was making progress. The results were a mixed bag; he tried to play more expansive, attractive football at times but the results were poor. Good performances against some of the top teams went unrewarded, and the pressure was on.
The Scot’s fall-back option was to play a simpler, defensive system which made Forest very difficult to beat. The Reds enjoyed a 13-game unbeaten run eventually ended by Premier League Watford, but there were still grumbles; now it was not the results under the microscope, but the playing style.
This is a point of view – that the football was too boring and negative – that I have little sympathy for. The departure of Michail Antonio left a massive hole in the side, and injuries were hampering the team’s effectiveness when going forward. Were the likes of Andy Reid, Britt Assombalonga and Matty Fryatt available, Forest would have been playing better football.
Unable to bring in any ‘stellar signings’ due to the transfer embargo, Freedman found himself treading water, waiting for next season when he would be working on a level playing field, but the mediocre displays and results were not good enough.
His sacking effectively ended the season; with nothing to play for and nobody to impress, effort levels faded and the season just fizzled out, save for a couple of good results to end with. The club desperately needs some stability and long-term vision.
As the season ends it’s time to dust off the predictions from August. I was the joint most pessimistic and four places out. I also applauded the signing of Ben Hamer…
There was a caveat for finishing 12th that we kept Michal Antonio and I pointed out the importance of Andy Reid and Britt Assombalonga recovering enough to make a contribution. Antonio was sold and the latter two didn’t start a game, so I’m thinking that 16th is not a surprise. The embargo and injuries were well documented and our owner dug another hole with a rash sacking and ending the season with a rookie caretaker.
I don’t think we can hammer the players. The defence was almost play-off standard and a spine of Dorus de Vries, Matt Mills and David Vaughan served us well. Forwards Ryan Mendes and Nelson Oliveira did just enough to edge us over the 50-point mark. Ben Osborn, Eric Lichaj and Henri Lansbury had their highs and lows, but they gave their all.
Low home gates, a lack of structure and the misplaced belief in ‘silver bullet’ manager are big issues that need addressing and have been covered before. Fawaz Al Hasawi needs to act now to save his tenure – because another season of decline will see Forest relegated. We’ve seen with Aston Villa that relegations happen over several years of stagnation. It’s getting serious now.
But it was great to see the season end with Assombalonga netting his first goal since his return. I will never forget that moment, not for what it meant to Forest, but for him personally. It’s still a hard road ahead for him to work his way back to his former self, but the club as a whole should follow his example to rediscover a love for the game and start fighting back like Britt.
The oft-repeated quote of Albert Einstein’s about madness is the easiest way to sum up Nottingham Forest’s season – a supposed celebration of 150 years of the Reds.
‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,’ the great man said.
Even Fawaz Al Hasawi himself recently announced he had expected things to be different this year.
His optimistic statement came despite sacking another manager, more financial mismanagement and absolutely no off-field structure whatsoever.
Surely enough – given nothing had changed whatsoever apart from a growing sense of apathy among fans – a poor season blighted with injuries, runs of poor form, minimal entertainment and the club’s name being dragged through the mud was the result. Again.
On a mildly positive note Ben Osborn and Oliver Burke – with small assistance from others – continued to fly the flag for the Forest academy, and are only likely to get better.
And Chris Cohen and Britt Assombalonga returned from horrendous injuries toward the end of proceedings and both seemed to have made good recoveries.
David Vaughan, Matt Mills, Michael Mancienne and both left-backs Daniel Pinillos and Bojan Jokic, among others, all showed signs of being worthwhile members of the squad, too.
Forest are now left in a position where a few more highly- (vastly over-) paid players will be moving on and the squad will look yet leaner. But this should be a good thing – the Reds have a chance to build sensibly rather than spraying cash in every direction until we’re banned from competing for players again.
If Fawaz, and hopefully a manager if we eventually find one, make young players like Burke and Osborn the heart of this team, bring through a few more youngsters and supplement with players on an upward trajectory in their career for sensible sums another season of malaise might not have been all bad.