Nottingham Forest – Half Term Report

It was always going to be the answer to an obvious question asked, ‘let’s just see where we are by the time the World Cup starts’… The English Premier League season split into two, for the first time ‘deliberately’ since it began in 1992, Nottingham Forest returning to the top tier for the first time since 1999, a complete rebuilding project needed following unlikely promotion from the Championship, a mammoth amount of transfer activity imposed in the summer, the club were written off by masses of media intellect, bemusing the many of tweeters into ludicrous responses and memes, to suggest that they’ll go down with a whimper, that they don’t know what they’re doing, the old favourite phrase of ‘scattergun approach’ used by ex-pros and people ‘in the know’ as they all told us it was impossible to build a new team in such short time.

And for a few weeks, we probably believed them too… After a start that had as all dreaming of Europe, we quickly realised the world’s toughest league was exactly what it said on the tin, we might have even stopped believing ourselves, but then, from nowhere, the faith re-appeared when it looked most unlikely.

A 1-0 win over Liverpool and Nottingham Forest’s flame was rekindled, and ever since Manager Steve Cooper got the ‘dreaded’ vote of confidence, his Forest ship has been sailing down the Trent, mass waving high, every single supporter cheering it on, a single stumble at Arsenal, it’s now cruising at full knots, full speed ahead.

The November break gave us an ideal cut off to see where Forest, and the rest of the Premier League was at. “Don’t judge us in September or October, but when the league closes for World Cup duty, where we’ll know what we need to do in order to stay in this fantastic but trickiest division.”

I actually believe Forest are ‘down’ on their initial points target for the cut off, seventeen or eighteen points could have been reasonably achievable, instead, they have thirteen, looking back, the club might be kicking itself after missing out on more, but worst case scenario was that it could have been much worse too, after the 4-0 thumping by Leicester, the Reds have at least suffered just two defeats in seven, picking up vital wins against Liverpool and Crystal Palace, gaining nine points following a start of eight games and four, ending half term in eighteenth place, well in the mix and far from cut adrift all be it inside the relegation zone, two wins (think Fulham & Bournemouth at home) and we could even be sitting inside the top ten.

And the crazy thing is, that despite all the changes, all the new faces, that the Reds have had their moments this season, to be sitting comfortably much higher than they already are.

Newcastle United (a) 0-2

The opening day of the season was a bit of a freebie, nothing expected at St James’ Park, just go out and play with pride and show the watching world just what we can do. In reality it was a Premier League welcome that was tough to take, well-beaten by an opponent who have since proved to be bloody good. It slightly scoured optimism, but the real return was at the City Ground and the welcoming of West Ham one week later.

West Ham United (h) 1-0

Some things are just meant to be, after 23 long years it was more than just a game, and every player, every spectator, every god, played their part on the day in the sun, at the world famous. It wasn’t a great Forest performance, but we got a bit of luck, and we dug in, scored a flukey goal and we saved a penalty, and had a couple of VAR decisions in our favour, but three points from two games was par, and we were well on to achieving our lofty Premier League ambitions of survival.

Everton (a) 1-1

The one that slipped away, a good solid away performance, almost a smash and grab, a point at the start of the season would have been one very much gained at Goodison, but in the end it was probably two dropped, Forest in their Premier League infancy, could and should have been sitting on two wins from three.

Tottenham Hotspur (h) 0-2

The first real test on paper and not a game where Forest fans expected anything other than 110% from the players, which they got. As a spectacle, the match was open and eventful, the Reds playing their part in a thrilling game, Henderson saving Kane’s penalty a highlight, before the England striker shown us what he’s really about. Spurs too good, we half expected it, but boy didn’t we give them a real good fight in the process.

Manchester City (a) 0-6

The first signs that Forest went into a match with little or no belief, against one of the best teams in the world, only a couple of days after a humongous effort against Spurs. Perhaps Coopers errors were not to change the whole team, many a good side has taken a spanking at City, but this one felt it knocked confidence a little more than we might have initially thought.

Bournemouth (h) 2-3

A big game, task engulfed by the results against Spurs and City, and one considered even at this early stage as must not lose, one at half time, perhaps already thought of as won. Forest didn’t play well against an average team who’s prime objective is also to stay up, but were somehow 2-0 up at the break, failing to see it through to lose a match they had in the bag, was a critical moment, and one that could still haunt the club in months to come.

Fulham (h) 2-3

With the game at Leeds United postponed it gave Forest chance to bounce back with another home game, and the club played well in parts, before they were blown away in just a few second half minutes. Defensively the cracks starting to appear, confidence sapping, this one defeat putting more pressure on the players and coaching staff going into a game with bottom of the table Leicester City.

Leicester City (a) 0-4

Let’s face it, they wanted it more than we did, we were outplayed and this if you want to turn a positive spin on the night’s action, was the game it changed for Forest, who had to learn and adapt, as they couldn’t continue playing this way. Never did the team look so lost, so underwhelming, so much like relegation fodder, with Steve Cooper really starting to feel the pressure too.

Aston Villa (h) 1-1

Given the vote of confidence with a new contract Steve Cooper needed something, against a side managed by Steven Gerrard themselves not exactly firing on many cylinders. Showing fight from minute one, Forest got off to the perfect start before Ashley Young cancelled out Taiwo Awoniyi’s goal with a screamer, Dean Henderson called out having conceded from outside the box for the tenth time this season, but a point in the right direction at least stopped the rot.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (a) 0-1

Another tricky place to go and another underwhelming attacking performance but another game where Forest could and should have taken something back to Nottingham. A soft penalty conceded gave Wolves all three points but not before Brennan Johnson missed his own opportunity from the spot, a par draw match lost with the Reds stumbling again, putting more pressure on the next match at Brighton before what looked like two very difficult unwinnable games v Liverpool and Arsenal.

Brighton & Hove Albion (a) 0-0

We might look back on this match as a bit of a turning point, one where Forest went to the south coast and dug in, defended well, and were happy with a draw against a team going well, Forest left the Amex with plenty of credit for their efforts, a vital point and some confidence that clean sheets can also be kept.

Liverpool (h) 1-0

If you ever wanted a game to win in the Premier League it would be against those old rivals from the 1970’s and 80’s in Liverpool. It was just one of those moments, surreal, and unlikely, Liverpool not going particularly well, but good enough to beat Forest, who’s players must have delved into the Prozac cupboard on that morning. A brilliant performance from goalkeeper to centre forward and a highlight that will be remembered for many more years to come, more importantly, the game which re-installed belief, that on our day, Nottingham Forest can beat anyone in the world.

Arsenal (a) 0-5

Did I say anyone? League leaders Arsenal weren’t playing ball, but they didn’t really have to, as another inept away performance proved the gulf in class on top and bottom was still so apparent. Maybe Forest had left everything back home in Nottingham on the pitch against Liverpool the week before, more likely, maybe they threw this game as they did v City, without any belief that they were ever going to cause an upset.

Brentford (h) 2-2

The chance to bounce back and the opportunity to pick up vital points to lift the club off the bottom of the table, in the end was a match aired with frustration, as Forest paid the penalty of VAR, twice conceding whilst twice being denied their own spot kick claims, a late late leveller however giving hope, that the club, still fighting, are not done with just yet.

Crystal Palace (h) 1-0

In beating Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup at the City Ground in midweek, it felt that new found optimism had provided the perfect opportunity to send off Forest with a win in front of yet another packed house, that win against Spurs, that late leveller against Brentford, gave hope that a win would massively give Forest a fighting chance going into the cut off.

Forest might have had some luck, another penalty missed at the City Ground, as Wilf Zaha of Crystal Palace shot against a post, then a slice of luck, Morgan Gibbs White must have trimmed his toe nails on Saturday morning.

The win against Palace, installing more belief, that Forest are not done and dusted as many first thought, going into the break in good shape, the new look team starting to gel, with even more time on the training field until their next game, Manchester United, day after Boxing Day at Old Trafford.

Whilst Forest aren’t in the safety places we all hoped they would be, they aren’t far off either, and recent matches have given fans real belief and hope, and even the players have buzzed and swaggered with an air of last seasons confidence, much needed if we are to stay in the division.

Now its feet up, to watch those in Garibaldi who’ll be performing in the World Cup, to watch England hopefully do themselves justice, and prepare for a second half of the season, where we can all enjoy the challenges of Premier League football, as much as we have done, minus some defeats, since August, back where we belong, where we’ll be hoping to stay.

*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).

*Main image @NFFC you get the feeling there’s more to come from Jesse Lingard & Morgan Gibbs-White.

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