After a turbulent start to the new year, with a manager, a captain, and a proposed new owner all cutting ties with the club, Nottingham Forest are in need of a sharp response if they are to successfully steady their rapidly sinking ship.
The club needs to fill the managerial void left with the sacking of Phillippe Montanier, but most fans are worried that the man in charge – chairman and owner Fawaz Al Hasawi – will leave them frustrated yet again.
Immediately after the departure of Montanier, Academy staff Gary Brazil and Jack Lester took control of first-team affairs. Both are fan favourites, down to the recent production of young talent they have seen break into the first team and become quality Championship players.
Brazil served as interim manager for the end of the 2013/14 season when he handed Ben Osborn his debut for the club. One hundred appearances later, Brazil will be proud to return to the dugout with 22-year-old as one of the first names on the team sheet.
After clear signs of improvement in Brazil’s first two games in charge, many are already calling for him to be chosen as the permanent replacement for Montanier. Against Bristol City Forest showed an organisation and work-rate that had been mostly absent from their previous twenty-six league games this season.
Just one summer signing (goalkeeper Steven Henderson) started in this 1-0 win. Brazil filled the team with players he knew would maintain a high work rate until the final whistle. No one typified this ethic more than Jamie Ward, who had his loan at Burton Albion terminated. Fans had been left dismayed by his departure, and even more so by the lack of quality in replacements found by Montanier.
In Brazil’s next test, away to Leeds United, we saw the same level of organisation. Forest defended well again and had a clear game plan – something that they crucially lacked under Montanier – who set up his teams with no clear objective but to create goals.
The 0-4 defeat to Arsenal in the EFL cup demonstrated this; rather than try to frustrate and be physical against a far-superior team, Forest seemed to play like it was any other home game against Championship opposition.
Against Leeds, however, Forest kept calm and initially didn’t grant them any clear chances, whilst fashioning a few for themselves; they looked the better side in the first half. Leeds eventually showed why they find themselves fourth in the Championship, in shutting Forest down. It was forty-five minutes of Leeds attack.
Garry Monk’s side had looked distinctly average when they came to the City Ground in August, losing 3-1. I had to see it with my own eyes before I truly accepted that they were seven points clear of seventh.
“Everyone knew that it would be a terrible decision for [Clough] to leave Burton, a club playing at the highest level in its history, and go to a club heading in the opposite direction”
It looks increasingly likely that Brazil will remain in charge. The club had been in talks with Burton Albion’s Nigel Clough. The son of Forest legend, Brian, but also a man who made himself a legend in his own right when he netted 131 times during his two spells at the club as a player.
It was a simple choice made all too difficult for Nigel. He openly expresses his love for the club and his desire to manage them as his great father did. He even has a clause in his Burton contract that allows him to leave if Forest comes knocking.
But the decision to reject Forest’s approach was ultimately a head and heart matter.
Everyone knew that it would be a terrible decision for him to leave Burton, a club playing at the highest level in its history, and go to a club heading in the opposite direction.
It meant mixed emotions for fans; they are glad that ‘young Nige’ chose not to begin such a historic chapter at a time where it could so likely be jeopardised. They are also massively concerned with what this says about the current state of the club, that a man who wanted the job so much, just couldn’t let himself do it given the nature of the current ownership.
Forest are tried to bring a few players in to help Brazil. After the sale of Henri Lansbury to Aston Villa, a replacement was needed urgently. Whilst his quality is far out of Forest’s reach, with the owner seemingly unwilling to splash much more on top of the hundred million he has already put into the club, the signing of Aaron Tshibola, on loan from Villa, can allow Mancienne to move back into defence.
A winger or two might give Forest some much-needed pace and creativity to help strikers Britt Assombalonga and Nicklas Bendtner. Some other more positive news has come in the shape of new signings for the Reds.
Ross McCormack has joined Tshibola in coming in from Villa and Zach Clough arrived in the early hours yesterday on a £2.5 million permanent deal from Bolton. Joao Teixeira from Benfica is also coming to the City Ground on loan, adding firepower to the Forest attack.
Tshibola was on the bench in the 2-0 triumph over Rotherham United last night, as an Assombalonga double meant the Reds moved up to 18th.
It will be interesting to see how these additions add to Gary Brazil’s squad, who are in for a relegation dogfight for the remainder of the campaign. But the turmoil with no manager and a delusional owner at the City Ground continues, albeit with some more promising form for the Nottingham club.