Nottingham Forest boss Martin O’Neill has wasted very little time when it comes to doing things his own way as the club’s recently appointed manager.
The Northern Irishman sprang a big surprise on Saturday when he named Ben Watson in the Forest starting eleven.
The former Wigan Athletic man lined up against the side he used to play for; with the midfielder making his first start since October.
Perhaps the most surprising element of his inclusion in the side was that he picked up the captain’s armband, despite several months spent on the fringes of the first-team.
Watson’s leadership qualities have never been called into question, although his ability as a footballer was under scrutiny earlier in the campaign.
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When the former Watford man joined on a free transfer last February, he quickly became a revelation.
Watson helped steer Forest away from the clutches of the relegation zone and looked a shrewd piece of business by Aitor Karanka.
The early stages of this season saw the experienced performer struggle; particularly when operating in a two-man midfield that Karanka so often called upon and the Spaniard had even considered offloading Watson, according to Football Insider.
Quite simply, Adlene Guedioura, Jack Colback and Claudio Yacob have all proved more viable options for the midfield roles during the current campaign.
Fresh start for Watson?
Saturday highlighted that O’Neill’s willingness to change the shape of the Forest team might just offer Watson a reprieve at the City Ground.
The 33-year-old was tasked with sitting just in front of the back four and keeping things nice and tidy; allowing the aforementioned Guedioura and Colback the license to push forward.
Playing with the extra man in midfield clearly benefits an ageing Watson. Indeed, he seemed more comfortable in 90 minutes on Saturday than he has done all season.
The quality of the opposition shouldn’t be completely disregarded, given that Wigan are currently languishing close to the bottom of the Championship.
Watson was tasked with a job, however, and on Saturday he did it with aplomb.
With Colback suspended for Saturday’s trip to Birmingham City, it is not completely out of the question that he might keep his place in the team.
With the extra man deployed in the middle of the park, the man who scored the winning goal in the 2013 FA Cup Final doesn’t need to spend all game running himself out of position.
The stereotypical defensive midfield role looks like one which he can still play with ease and his re-emergence could be a useful addition to the squad between now and the end of the season.