Football in the eye of a supporter is supposed to be enjoyable. For those of a Nottingham Forest persuasion, however, enjoyment isn’t always the appropriate term.
For me, a trip to the game typically involves meeting up with some mates, a couple of pints in the pub and onto watch our beloved club fight for three points on a Saturday afternoon. The day always made better if Forest have claimed said three points.
For the last 21 years, the Reds have resided outside the Premier League, with the club who don two stars on their shirt symbolising two European Cup victories, even stooping as low as League One.
For fans of a certain age, this is a woe is me moment, the greatest success supporting Forest has been winning promotion from the third tier in 2008. That, quite simply, is as good as it’s been.
If qualifications were handed out for self-implosion and catastrophic capitulation, Nottingham Forest would have First Class Honours with absolute distinction and a shiny Masters to sit on top.
Any mention of Yeovil Town, Swansea City and Blackpool will all undoubtedly send shivers down the spines of Forest supporters. Three teams who have all overcome the Reds in play-offs down the years. Yes, I did say Yeovil Town.
The 4-1 reversal against Stoke City on Wednesday night now adds another nightmare episode in the history of Nottingham Forest, adding to an extensive list of painful memories.
In itself, the defeat wouldn’t be worthy of note. The result, however, was coupled with Swansea winning by the same scoreline. Not only did they need to win on the last day, but they also needed a five-goal swing, the fact they got it is spectacular even by Forest’s standards.
For weeks Sabri Lamouchi’s team have been limping towards a play-off place and in hindsight, the writing was perhaps on the wall from the 92nd minute of the first game back.
Forest led Sheffield Wednesday by a goal to nil at Hillsborough, with 92 minutes on the clock an inswinging corner was met by Conor Wickham who powered a header into Brice Samba’s net.
A real sickener after a decent second-half performance which had seen the Reds take the lead through Joe Lolley. Wickham’s goal set the tone, however, for a painful run of conceding goals in minutes that frankly didn’t even exist!
In the next game against Huddersfield, a late penalty scored by Karlan Grant proved scant consolation as Forest still won 3-1. In the next outing, Lamouchi’s team kept their only clean sheet since the restart in a 1-0 win over Bristol City.
Late goals at the end of halves in games against Derby and Fulham followed, before arguably the most sickening blow yet in last Sunday’s game against basement boys Barnsley.
With the Reds needing just a point to guarantee a play-off place, Forest surrendered another late goal. It was comfortably the worst performance since Lamouchi took charge and meant a nailbiting final day.
So, here we are, the rest of the football world laughing at Forest once again, fans left pondering the sheer disappointment of yet another false dawn.
Going through the post mortem is horrible, a truly miserable process. I woke up three times in the early hours of Thursday morning, scratching my head at the events of the night before. Surely the maths weren’t right, we didn’t really lose a five-goal swing, did we?
The harsh reality is that Forest weren’t good enough. Since the restart, they had largely been underwhelming, unfit and showed woeful game management.
A negative approach wasn’t really surprising, given that before the break Lamouchi had instilled a style that, although difficult to watch at times, made Forest very difficult to beat.
When results are good, it’s easier to understand a situation and Lamouchi looked to have it spot on.
Leeds didn’t beat Forest, Brentford were defeated twice, Fulham as well at Craven Cottage. Quite simply, the Reds had become a force, albeit a stronger one against the division’s better teams.
A game against Charlton was perhaps another moment in which Forest’s season started to take a turn for the worse.
A midweek game after beating Leeds on a Saturday, Lamouchi opted to make several changes – not for the first time during the campaign.
The swing of momentum from the win over the Whites was completely drained out of Forest, as the Addicks won 1-0 thanks to a Lyle Taylor goal.
Lamouchi made similar mistakes at Wigan, Millwall and recently at Barnsley, suggesting that perhaps he is still learning on the job.
Then there was the January transfer window and it has to be said that proved a complete mess from a Forest perspective.
Albert Adomah was packed off to Cardiff, making room for Adama Diakahaby who checked-in from Huddersfield. It soon became apparent that the Frenchman wasn’t up to scratch and the proven Adomah might have been worth keeping after all.
It’s thought that Lamouchi wanted Sheffield United player Luke Freeman as a January recruit. The versatile forward has a sound pedigree from his Bristol City and QPR days, but his signature on a deal at the City Ground wasn’t forthcoming.
Instead, in came Nuno Da Costa. After a 20-minute cameo in the infamous Charlton game, he picked up an injury. He has looked okay following the restart but it’s fair to say there would always be a settling in period at a time when the Reds needed someone to hit the ground running.
Gaetan Bong was the last to arrive with the left-back joining from Brighton. He also played in the Charlton loss but has now seemingly fallen off the radar at the football club, failing to make an appearance since.
Deciding what comes next will ultimately be in the hands of the club’s owner Evangelos Marinakis. To say he will be disappointed with how the season has finished would probably be an understatement of epic proportions.
A John Percy tweet, usually the source of reliable information, claimed that Forest would be taking their time over their next steps and that can’t be a bad thing.
One thing the club doesn’t need right now is a knee-jerk reaction and giving things a chance to calm down might prove a positive step. Of course, with the next season set to come around quickly, they perhaps shouldn’t take too long.
Lamouchi’s team has sat inside the top six of the Championship since a 2-0 win over Hull City on Boxing Day. To drop out in heartbreaking fashion in the 91st minute of the last game of the season won’t have sat well with the powers that be.
Some supporters are pointing to the fact that seventh is Forest’s best season in years but frankly that doesn’t wash with me. Lamouchi admitted after last night’s season-ending defeat that it was ‘unacceptable’, he knows that both he and his players failed to achieve their target for the campaign, it really is that simple.
A trigger happy approach hasn’t got Forest anywhere previously but then they haven’t finished a season in such devastating style for some time; one where defeat has been snatched from the seeming jaws of success.
The Reds might have lost in the play-offs but you’ve got to be in them to win them. Don’t buy a ticket you can’t win the lottery. Forest might well have had the winning ticket within their grasp but they walked out the shop, rolled them up and threw them in the nearest recycling bin.
Sometimes I resent my dad for taking me to watch Forest. A 0-0 draw with Chelsea in 1995, always remember it, rained in August, Ruud Gullit the star for the visitors and as an eight-year-old, I was mesmerised by the sheer size of the world-famous City Ground.
It wasn’t really my dad’s fault that I became hooked and decided to take on the mantle of following the Reds home and away from pretty much the age of 16. That choice was one I made on my own.
My love for Forest won’t die, it never will. It didn’t after Yeovil, Blackpool, or even after an LDV Vans Trophy defeat to Woking of the non-league. The recent events won’t break that special bond either.
Right now it’s raw, it hurts like hell. If you imagine Forest’s play-off quest like a matrimonial ceremony, the Reds have basically left their supporters stood at the alter all dolled up with nowhere to go.
Sabri is a good man, he didn’t mean to hurt us and neither did his players. Lamouchi will want the chance to put this right, he’ll want to be the man to restore some glory back to this once great club.
For what it’s worth, perhaps he does deserve another chance. Marcelo Bielsa, one of Europe’s finest coaches took two seasons, Daniel Farke at Norwich also needed a couple and if Thomas Frank doesn’t get it right over the next couple of weeks, he will head into a third season at the helm of Brentford.
The one aspect that has helped Leeds, Norwich and Brentford is their recruitment has been very decent. If Lamouchi stays, he should have the final say on transfers; more Yuri Ribeiro and Brice Samba, fewer Diakhaby and Bong. Proven Championship players should be on the agenda too, the European approach hasn’t really worked for the last two years so let’s try something a bit different.
The Frenchman also has to show us he’s learned from an ill-fated 2019/20 campaign. Far too often since the restart, we’ve looked ultra-defensive and void of ideas and a Plan B – and arguably a Plan C – must be worked on.
Mentally the players have looked knackered since their return and their strength in that sense must be addressed when they return for pre-season. If the manager is to stay, arguably his biggest task will be to ensure that his players quickly forget about 2019/20 and prepare for another 46 game slog.
It’ll be a long summer with the gaping wound of disappointment fresh in the memory. Both Lamouchi and his players have to share the blame for that but in time the supporters will be ready to move on.
I’m not mad Forest, I’m just disappointed.