It was, of course, a very disappointing return to action for the Reds in their 1-0 defeat against Barnsley on Saturday afternoon. An uninspired, below par performance from Forest saw them exit the Carabao Cup at the first opportunity. But are we reading too much into what unfolded between 3 and 5pm, at an empty Oakwell Stadium?
Before the game, Barnsley manager, Gerhard Struber, described the first round of the Carabao Cup as his side’s final friendly, before the league campaign begins this weekend. And that very much seemed like the approach adopted by Forest too, as a largely uneventful, frankly dull, first half fizzled out with little to write home about. The second half saw a freakish goal settle the game, as Cauley Woodrow came out on top after a game of pinball ensued inside the visitor’s penalty area.
On the whole, Forest were poor. They didn’t perform to anywhere near the level that Sabri Lamouchi expects of his side. With less than 40% possession if Forest were to get any success from their trip up to Barnsley, they needed to be much more clinical and precise with the limited amount of the ball they had. But they weren’t and they probably deserved to lose.
That being said, there is still a lot of reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season, starting this Saturday as Sabri Lamouchi prepares his team to take on, the ‘fine-margin specialists’, QPR. The first cause for some positivity is that Forest now have only the three games for the rest of September, as opposed to what, in theory, could have been a month with eight games. Freshness was always an issue with many members of the squad last year, Forest didn’t have the strength in depth, preventing them from being able to confidently rotate their starting XI. So, now with only three games left in the month of September, barring any major injuries, Forest should be able to field their strongest possible team. The two Joes were missing on Saturday (Worrall and Lolley), as was Samba Sow. You’ve also got to remember the Reds were without last season’s captain, Ben Watson, and 2019/20 Player of the Season, Matty Cash. Missing those players, who were vital when Forest enjoyed their successes last term, the team was always going to look a bit rusty, a tad off the boil; a fact further reinforced by the fact Sabri Lamouchi has only had three weeks of pre-season to reinvent his Forest side – following the devastating end of last season. But as the likes of Worrall, Lolley and Sow come back into the fold, the spine of the Forest team looks much stronger and after what looked a very uncreative display against Barnsley, Joe Lolley will be welcomed back, with open arms, to unlock defences and provide that magical spark, that was missing at Oakwell.
Very rarely do players make immediate impacts, when arriving at a new club. It often takes a few weeks and, indeed, a few games to acclimatise to their new surroundings and to get onto the same wavelength as their new teammates. It is always good to see players make their debuts early on in their career at a new club, so it was an obvious highlight of the Barnsley game to see Tyler Blackett and Fouad Bachirou make their full debuts, whilst Luke Freeman and Lyle Taylor made their first competitive appearances for the Reds off the bench. Seeing new faces wearing the Forest crest should spark much optimism into all Forest fans, they bring freshness to the squad, further competition and don’t have any obstacles, like the memory of last seasons late collapse, to hold them back. It’s probably a safe bet to suggest the likes of Freeman and the returning Jack Colback will probably start on Saturday against QPR and Lyle Taylor will be chomping at the bit, as he pushes leading man Lewis Grabban for his starting spot. Sabri Lamouchi now has options, he’s able to explore different tactics as he aims to guide the Reds to promotion. If things aren’t working in a game, we have options to either add more steel or further dynamism in midfield and we’ve bought in additional firepower upfront. Last season’s issue where we saw a lack of rotation should no longer be a problem, we now have the strength in depth, we have more than good enough back up – last season we only really had a good starting XI, now we have what is looking like a quality squad.
There could also be 16 million reasons to go into the new season with a degree of positivity, after the long anticipated sale of Matty Cash. He eventually joined Aston Villa for a reported fee that could ultimately bank the club £16million. Initially, losing such an important player, as Cash was, the natural feeling of sadness and disappointment is hard to look past but in the grand scheme of things, it could end up being a sensible move that hugely benefits all parties involved. I’m not suggesting that Forest are going to go out and spend anywhere near £16m but what the sale does do is boost the line we were so closely skating near in FFP. With the solid business we’ve done so far this summer, mainly free transfers and loans, the big money sale means that the tightrope we were walking, in relation to the EFL’s profit and sustainability guidelines, has been relaxed slightly. So, in theory, if Lamouchi and the club hierarchy saw fit to spend a reasonable fee on a player that could provide something special, or Forest are drawn into a bidding war, the club’s hands are not tied and they are able to push the boat out a little bit further than they previously could have done.
As we prepare for another campaign in the Championship, the expectations are high, very high actually. Forest have assembled a good squad, capable of causing damage this season. Don’t be disheartened by what was, in all reality, a friendly in everything but name against Barnsley. Look forward to the next 46 Championship games, look forward to the pre-match nerves, being 1-0 up heading into additional time, the agony that is bound to come. Be excited and be ready because with Forest, nothing is ever easy, So strap in, it’s going to be eventful.
*Article provided by Joe Freeman (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
Main image @NFFC Fred Bachirou was one of four players making his reds debut v Barnsley.