It turns out, there are actually three things guaranteed in life: Death, taxes, and the wheels coming off the Nottingham Forest promotion vehicle at any point of a season.
If there is a positive to be taken from Saturday’s humbling defeat to Gianfranco Zola’s Udinese reserves, it is the fact that the Hornets really are the bees knees at the moment. They are menacing in attack, and watertight in defence. They possess the demonstrative confidence of heavyweight champions, oozing an unbridled amount of class, and quality that belies second-tier football.
And so begins the dreaded post-mortem...
Indeed, Watford’s loanee experiment has worked so much better than anyone, fans and pundits alike, could have expected. Yet being outclassed, and to be so uncompetitive in a home match against a team we could reasonably call promotion rivals, was a devastating statement as to how unprepared for a rise up the league we really are.
Something rather noticeable is a change in the general consensus, between a loss under O’Driscoll and a loss under McLeish. There now seems to be a lack of patience and an increased frustration after our abysmal defeats in 2013. Since our so called ‘stability’ was so spectacularly derailed, the ability to nonchalantly shrug off a bad performance has become a difficult act for the fans to maintain.
With just one win in five under Big ‘Eck, questions laced with anger and vitriol have been asked of the Al-Hasawi regime, and their bright idea of throwing away a chance to build through footballing philosophy. Alex McLeish’s teams are miserly in defence, they say. We have conceded three goals, in three of the five matches in this ‘new era’, and failed to keep a clean sheet this month. Happy new year, eh?
I suppose our poor form really puts a downer on what many thought was a superb away performance, at Derby nine days ago. Was it the resilient, impassioned derby-day performance we hadn’t seen for the best part of two seasons? Or is it now a case of failing to capitalize on a very weak Derby performance, and proof that we simply do not know how to impose ourselves on a game that is there to be won?
Saturday was perhaps indicative of McLeish’s unsteady start at the helm. Forest were unorganised, bewildered, and utterly unconvincing: Perhaps a running metaphor for our backroom dealings over the last month.
A consolatory comfort of our most tumultuous time of the season is that the January transfer window opened. Affluent Forest, with money to burn, could pick and choose the cream of want-away Premier League players (Remember, Fawaz bloody loves ‘Premier League experience’), and budding lower league talent. If the summer was used to build a squad, then surely January would give us the chance to stamp our authority in the transfer market. We are Nottingham Forest, we will sign who we want...
With just three days left of the transfer window, Forest have spent £160,000 on untested Irish winger, Stephen McLaughlin. Our only permanent signing - that’s hardly Forest grabbing the opportunity to strengthen by the short and curlies, is it?
Why the lack of activity, I hear you cry... As I have been doing in my head for (*checks calendar*) 28 days, now. Well, it may have something to do with sacking the chief scout Keith Burt, mid-transfer window. Or even reorganising the board, prioritising which Al-Hasawi is now the ‘Head Honcho’ of our club, instead of working progressively with a manager to sign the players that can fuel an exciting end to the season at the City Ground.
Am I suggesting that our owners are keeping us in the dark? Yes. Of course, to them and any owner of a football club, this is business. I respect that there are a lot of factors that need to be hidden from the supporters, but I suspect that there is something sinister in the shadows.
I am not at all comfortable being the voice of doubt, and I am certainly not out to stir things up. It just does not sit right with me that we have lost a number of club personnel in such a short space of time, and the glaring factor of all this, is that McLeish is yet to bring in any of his transfer targets on a permanent deal (Darius Henderson’s contract runs until the end of the season. Hardly long term). It really does invoke the idea that the manager *may* not have as much control over transfers as he would like.
Hopefully, this won’t lead to the media charades Billy Davies orchestrated in order to fight his battles with the board. Transfer deadline day is a long 24-hours, and this is the chance for AMC and Fawaz Al-Hasawi to show how they can constructively conduct business with the best interests of the club in mind, amidst whatever else is going on.
As I always prefer to end any negative critique with a positive, there is a silver lining in sight for Forest. Regardless of who we sign over the next few days, our next eight games are against teams in the bottom half of the table. Though it would be incredibly naive to suggest any game in this league is ‘winnable’, it certainly is a superb chance to string together an unbeaten run, and strike up some confidence before the gruelling, final nine games of the season.
End of the season territory already? How time flies...