Nottingham Forest have now lost three of their last four matches in the Championship, putting manager Martin O’Neill under immediate pressure.
The Northern Irishman has only been in charge for the last three matches, but the Reds have shown no sign of improvement. He was appointed by the club’s hierarchy to deliver immediate results following the departure of Aitor Karanka.
However, it’s fair to say that the Reds are now in a worse position than when the Spaniard was at the club. O’Neill needs to start picking up results quickly before the situation turns sour.
In this case, O’Neill’s questionable team selections have been the biggest cause of concern. The likes of João Carvalho, Lewis Grabban and Claudio Yacob have all found game time hard to come by, whilst Arvin Appiah still hasn’t been given an opportunity.
After the defeat to Bristol City in O’Neill’s first game, it was clear that he’d made mistakes with his selection. However, he continues to leave some of the squad’s most influential players on the bench.
It’s going to make it very difficult for the Reds to gain any sort of momentum if he continues to leave the likes of Carvalho and Grabban out of the team. When they are on the pitch, Forest are a completely different prospect.
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Before O’Neill had even been officially announced as the club’s new manager, a number of supporters raised concerns over his style of play. The 66-year-old manager implemented a very direct style at the Republic of Ireland.
We’re still just a few weeks into his reign at the City Ground, but there’s been nothing to suggest that his approach is going to be different with Forest.
As an example, you wouldn’t play Daryl Murphy as a lone striker if you were looking to implement an attractive style.
O’Neill has had a lot of success in his managerial career. His record at club level with the likes of Leicester, Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland is largely impressive. However, this is his first job in club football since he left the Black Cats in 2011.
The game has changed a significant amount since then. Perhaps O’Neill needs to realise that methods that were previously effective, might not be anymore.
Picking up his first win against Wigan last weekend resulted in O’Neill dodging criticism for his team selection. However, after yesterday’s dismal performance against Birmingham, he didn’t have anywhere to hide. He left himself completely open to criticism once again by leaving Carvalho and Grabban on the bench.
O’Neill must start playing key players
The Reds actually began yesterday’s game in a 4-2-3-1 formation. This is the approach Karanka favoured for the majority of his time at the club. It’s the formation that arguably suits the current squad best.
Despite this change in formation, O’Neill didn’t pick the strongest side available to him. He continues to stick with Murphy even though the 35-year-old has done little to show that he’s a better option than Grabban.
The most baffling aspect of O’Neill’s selection though, was the fact that he played Ben Osborn in the No. 10 role, with Carvalho sat on the bench. What must Evangelos Marinakis be thinking about the lack of football the £13 million signing is getting?
The Reds were backed by more than 3,000 supporters at St Andrew’s yesterday. They could be heard chanting the name of the Portuguese midfielder just 30 minutes into the match. Surely O’Neill must have got the message? Realistically, he shouldn’t even need to get the message in the first place.
Remarkably, Forest remain just five points adrift of the play-off places. However, unless O’Neill oversees a dramatic upturn in form, that gap won’t be closed.
There’s no doubt that if he continues to make such questionable decisions with his team selections, it’s going to be a very difficult end to the season. With a home game against Derby on the horizon after a tough period of fixtures, the pressure could really start to mount.
However, O’Neill has the opportunity to put things right. Let’s hope that the the likes of Carvalho and Grabban are reintroduced next weekend. If they are, Forest’s chances of picking up a positive result will instantly be boosted.