Ball retention was too important to Aitor Karanka, but arguably not important enough to Martin O’Neill.

That is a very sweeping summary of the methods employed by Nottingham Forest’s last two managers.

Some sort of middle ground is now being sought.

Under Karanka, the Reds would often see plenty of possession without actually achieving a great deal.

There were accusations of being a soft touch and overly concerned with trying to be pleasing on the eye.

This is not to say that attractive football is without its merits.

In an ideal world, Forest would currently be passing and moving their way towards the Premier League.

They aren’t.

O’Neill has taken the reins and adopted a more robust approach to the pursuit of points.

Methods

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

His Reds are more dogged – not route one, but not too many stops along the road either.

Costel Pantilimon told the Nottingham Post recently: “After a few games we are trying to understand what the manager wants and we are starting to improve.

“The approach is a more direct game. We are a bit more competitive, we try to use our strikers as much as possible and our wingers as well. It is a different way.”

There is more than one way to skin a cat.

And considerably more methods in which to win a game of football.

It is, however, about striking the right balance.

Yohan Benalouane told the club’s official website after Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Stoke: “It was difficult with the wind but the pitch was beautiful so I think if we’d kept the ball on the floor then it would have been easier. They were tough conditions to play it but they were okay, it is not an excuse for us.”

No excuses, but admission that Plan A did not work.

That forces us back to the drawing board and into a discussion regarding which mindset to adopt.

O’Neill has tinkered with his formation and tactics enough so far to suggest that he will take each game as it comes.

Answer

 

There is clearly a favoured directive though.

In many ways he is playing the hand he has been dealt after being appointed midway through the season.

Having inherited a side clinging to play-off dreams, the final answer was always going to be more important than the workings out.

If another three points are added to the tally, does anything else really matter?

No, is the simple answer.

Forest have looked harder to break down and better placed to collect positive results throughout O’Neill’s reign.

There is no cause for alarm and the promise of more to come once the Northern Irishman has been given the chance to put his own stamp on things.

The puzzle may not be completed before the end of this season.

There is, however, a case for arguing that an O’Neill-Karanka hybrid is the ultimate end goal for a club that has always wanted to win, but win in style.

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