OPINION: Why are Nottingham Forest failing?

After the defeat to Swansea City, Swans boss Steve Cooper pointed out that: “Aside from the teams relegated from the Premier League, Forest have the strongest squad on paper in terms of player resource.”
Joe Lolley breaks past Matt Grimes during the 1-0 defeat at home to Swansea City. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)Joe Lolley breaks past Matt Grimes during the 1-0 defeat at home to Swansea City. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Joe Lolley breaks past Matt Grimes during the 1-0 defeat at home to Swansea City. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Apart from the obvious retort that football isn’t played on paper, the assertion does raise a very pertinent question: why then are Forest flailing around towards the bottom of the table after three consecutive defeats and a draw since the international break and no goals to speak of?

Maybe it’s not all that bad. Arguably, there is a case to be made that the team is performing reasonably well and it’s just a matter of time before those near misses transpose into goals, those defensive lapses are consigned to history and everything just clicks into place. After all, the performance against Watford was resolute, solid an in small flashes, more progressive.

Yet this seems a stubbornly optimistic view. Of the three wins on the chalkboard, one was extremely fortunate (Coventry City), another was very late (Blackburn Rovers) and the third was against a team that is also struggling to put together much in the way of results (Wycombe Wanderers). While it must be conceded that while Forest have performed reasonably well in patches, continuing to reach for the golden ring of the top six looks increasingly like an unattainable target. With a third of the season now completed, the league table doesn’t tend to lie too much at this stage.

The question remains: can Forest improve? Well of course they can. Performances can surely get better and the draw against much fancied Watford indicate that the team is capable of moving in the right direction.

But will Forest continue to improve enough to satisfy the demands of its owner, the fans and the expectations the playing staff impose upon themselves? Ay, there’s the rub. The strongest squad on paper is not necessarily a direct cause and effect situation in terms of producing a requisite number of points. Besides, measuring the strength of a squad has always been and will always remain a notoriously slippery thing to do. Ultimately, a squad is only as strong as the haul of points it actually accumulates.

Yet given the player resources they have at their disposal, Forest clearly have the capacity to improve. Chris Hughton is a fine and proven manager. Even if one doubts the quality of the squad, there are enough players in there to sift through and coax or tickle (anything goes at this stage) the quality out of it.

Yet merely possessing the potential or capacity to improve does not equate to actual improvement. An acorn has the capacity to grow up to be an oak tree but sadly some acorns end up squished on the pavement. In the short term, this Forest-shaped acorn needs to avoid being kicked into the side of the road while longer term, it needs some sustained care and attention if it is to achieve its potential.