OPINION: Will the next 25 days be a defining spell in Nottingham Forest's season?
So begins Daphne du Maurier’s enduring novel in which its unnamed narrator dreams about Manderley, the estate of Maxim de Winter.
Admittedly, the opening line isn’t quite the one at the start of this piece. The novel begins with a haunting description of the sinister garden at Manderley. Trees and overgrown plants straddle the path and seemingly attack the narrator, instilling panic and bewilderment. Beyond the garden, grey stone shining in the moonlight, stands Manderley, ‘a jewel in the hollow of a hand’.
The West Stand at Oakwell is anything but a jewel. It has somehow endured, survived and fought off gentrification. It stands as a monument to football in the 80s. Perhaps not as intimidating as the other looming and more grandiose stands at Oakwell, it’s a gnarly old thing that stands defiant.
For Forest, a return to Oakwell is to once again face the psychological terrors of their own Manderley. This will be their third visit in five months and given how miserable the previous two trips were, few fans will be feeling lingering frustration that they were unable to witness these games in the flesh.
Were circumstances different and away fans were allowed in, it is their flesh that would have been creeping.
It was almost four years since that utterly weird and wonderful Friday evening when Forest romped to a 5-2 win at Oakwell. Since then, Forest have notched up three consecutive defeats in Barnsley. It’s hardly a theatre of dreams; more a village hall of nightmares.
Yet this is – once again – a different iteration of the Forest that crumbled meekly to 1-0 defeats in July and September. Although the team lacks fluency under Chris Hughton, it is becoming rather obdurate, suffering only one defeat under his tenure so far.
In addition, Lyle Taylor has found his special scoring boots, which makes another trip to Oakwell seem less frightening than it might have been in different circumstances.
From up north, a trip to the deep south follows quickly as Forest face AFC Bournemouth in midweek. This is the first in a series of particularly gruelling fixtures which will see the Reds play five of the current top six in the table in the space of 25 days.
Just for good measure, they then face Brentford and Millwall. And if that hasn’t spun you around and made everything topsy-turvy, the next game is on Boxing Day.
If Forest are having fun, this time will fly by; if not, it will feel like the walk from the centre circle to take a World Cup winning penalty, on a treadmill.
It still feels awfully premature to be talking about this run of games as a season defining one. Eternal optimists out there entertain visions of a haul of points against high-flyers which will catapult Hughton’s team into the play-off positions. Naturally, that would be rather pleasant but perhaps a more realistic outcome will be more hard-earned, low-scoring draws, the occasional narrow defeat sweetened with the occasional slender victory.
Hughton and his team are still getting to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and with such little time to do so in-between games, there will be the odd hiccup along the way.