It only took four games for Gary Brazil and Jack Lester to convince Fawaz Al Hasawi that they should be given managerial duties until the end of the season – removing the ‘interim’ part from their job titles.
Whether or not a confusing set of rumours involving Mark Warburton’s position at Rangers really had anything to do with it is unclear. Whilst Warburton’s work at Brentford would have made him an impressive appointment, many fans were already satisfied that Brazil was the man to steer them away from relegation – having secured three wins and only losing once in a tough fixture away to Leeds.
Brazil’s first challenge as permanent manager was to guide the team through two equally daunting away games to Norwich and Fulham. Whilst Forest found themselves going home empty handed on both occasions, the games nevertheless gave us a much better picture of the situation Forest find themselves in, and how the rest of their season may pan out.
So, here are five things we learnt from those last two games:
- Danny Fox should not be playing at centre-back in the more difficult games.
Traditionally a left-back, Fox played most of his first two seasons at Forest in that position after joining from Southampton in the second half of the 2013/14 season. His performances rarely impressed, with many fans questioning his ability and dedication after stepping down to the Championship.
It wasn’t until the end of last season, when caretaker manager Paul Williams began to play Fox regularly in the centre of defence – that he began to show some quality. Brazil has opted to deploy him in the same role, where he played well in the two home victories against Rotherham and Aston Villa. But in the more recent games at Norwich City and Fulham, he has coped less well.
It’s clear that he is well suited to the easier games against the likes of Rotherham, where his passing ability helps Forest attack, and his defensive ability is still well up to the task. But against the better teams, Fox’s relative unfamiliarity to being a central defender is being taken advantage of by good players like Alex Pritchard and Sone Aluko.
2. Zach Clough is the key to getting Forest firing.
Fawaz Al Hasawi has softened a lot of the anger towards his ownership with the exciting signing of striker Zach Clough from Bolton Wanderers. You feel that the scheduled protest for the game after Deadline Day was nullified by the impressive work Forest did in the last hours of the January transfer window. But this addition to the team also looks to be a very important one to the way Forest are able to play.
With Ben Osborn still playing out on the wing, Forest’s central midfield looks very defensive. But Clough looks like he could offer a way to get Forest attacking better down the middle. With the chance to play Britt Assombalonga or Ross McCormack just in front of him – you can see how a strike partnership with Clough might really set Forest alight.
3. Gary Brazil is not the typical British gaffer that we might have thought he was.
With his insistence on rotation; Phillippe Montanier’s line-ups were almost impossible to predict. So when Gary Brazil came in and named David Vaughan on five successive team sheets it confirmed everyone’s assumption that they were getting the classic English; no-nonsense style coach.
So the team news before the game at Craven Cottage came somewhat of a surprise. Six changes, but more surprisingly the naming of Pajtim Kasami in the starting XI. The Swiss midfielder, on loan from Olympiakos, hadn’t featured under Brazil but was a favourite of Montanier’s despite his deeply underwhelming efforts on the pitch. He even put in a decent shift on Tuesday night, pressuring Fulham’s players and offering one of Forest’s main attacking routes.
To see these alterations by Brazil has removed one of the labels we might have given him – but whether we’ll see Kasami or maybe Hildeberto Pereira again on Saturday is another question.
4. Vladimir Stojkovic will have to emulate Steven Henderson’s upturn in form.
I can’t think of a player that hasn’t shown at least some improvement since Brazil took over and began giving them some much needed organisation and direction. Steven Henderson was one who had a very difficult start to his life at Forest, when Montanier decided to drop the goalkeeper for Serbian international Vladimir Stojkovic, who it can hardly be said showed any increase in ability.
Brazil, however, selected Hendo for his first game in charge, and hey presto; the Irishman secured only his second clean sheet of the season. But after he suffered a season ending injury at Carrow Road – Stojkovic looks to be in for yet another chance. Forest can only hope that he demonstrates a similar revival under Brazil.
5. Forest are not safe yet.
You’d probably say that Forest are top of the relegation pack, with four teams between them and the drop zone. Although you do worry about the form of Birmingham City, who continue to slip down under Gianfranco Zola. There’s no way Paul Lambert will allow his Wolves team to fall into danger so it’s pretty much Forest competing with QPR, Bristol City and Burton Albion to stay above Wigan and Blackburn.
After three successive home wins the two more recent defeats away from home provided a quick reality check for Forest. Wigan have a prolific goal-scorer now in Omar Bogle so teams need to make sure they keep picking up results and don’t get caught.