Forest and County

A Relegation Escape by the Skin of Their Teeth: Nottingham Forest End of Season Review

Nottingham Forest has been owned by the Al Hasawi family for nearly five years and every year they have seen their final league position fall. In the past four seasons under the Kuwaiti’s rule, the Reds have finished 8th, 11th, 14th and 16th. With Forest’s current season looking far bleaker than the last four previous seasons, the question is where will Forest finish this season? Will they hold their nerve and steer off the threat of relegation or will it be a trip back to the third tier of English football?

On the 14th April, Nottingham Forest came into their match against Blackburn Rovers five points clear of the relegation zone, and knew a win against Blackburn would see Mark Warbuton’s side move 8 points clear of the drop, and surely confirm their Championship status for another season.

Forest had just stunned high-flying Huddersfield Town a week before at the hallowed City Ground 3-0, and optimism of survival was evident among Forest fans.

However, whatever Forest produced a week before was not to be carried through in the forthcoming game. A shocking performance, toothless in periods, saw Forest lose 1-0 to a late Hoban goal from their relegation-threatened neighbours. Now Forest were only 2 points clear of the drop with 4 games to go. Was this a fitting end to a turbulent 5-year spiral down the league?

Throughout this season, Nottingham Forest managers and players had said that off-field events, under owner Fawaz Al Hasawi, had not been affecting them and that the players were fighting for the shirt. Was the uncertainty of the owner’s backing of the club finally getting to the players? How many of them knew if they would be playing football for the club next season, whether it be in the Championship or League 1?

Cracks were showing already in the Warburton era, as both the players and the gaffer searched for answers to find the wins to drag them out of this relegation scrap. Now was the time to stand up and be counted both as a player and a fan.

The 17th April saw Forest travel to mid table Cardiff, whose season was over and the players could be forgiven in wanting to jet off abroad. Again Forest started with a 4-2-3-1 formation and again dominated the possession stats. For the second match in a row Forest lost 1-0 in a game they dominated, but yet again were toothless upfront.

The fans took to social media to remonstrate their anger and to say criticism was harsh would be an understatement. The fans called for a 4-4-2 formation with the emphasis on the two strikers up top.

The facts were simple; Forest at this point stood 1 point above the relegation zone with 3 games to play, after Blackburn narrowed the gap with a 1-1 draw against Bristol City.

Next up for Forest were automatic chasing Reading, who sat 3rd in the league and knew anything but a win and their automatic promotion dreams would be left in tatters. Warburton named a much changed line up and for the first time in his tenure started with Britt Assombalonga and Ben Brereton deployed upfront.

You could not write the script of this relegation scrap, as Forest somehow withstood a 30-minute siege from Reading to run out 3-2 winners. A reinstated Britt bagged a double and a man in-form, Mustapha Carayol, laid waste to a Reading back line.

We were safe, surely?

Consistency is something Forest have lacked in years, in everything from managers and players to results. On the back of a cracking 3-2 win against Reading, Forest travelled to a QPR side who had lost 6 of their last 7 games, knowing a win would all but secure survival for the Reds. An unchanged Forest side started slowly and never got going.

Britt seemed to be dreaming of a holiday in Dubai and our attack was halted by goalkeeper Alex Smithies. Forest lost 2-0 to a timid QPR side. Results all went against us, with Blackburn beating Villa 1-0 and Birmingham, somehow with 10 men, beat a much-changed Huddersfield side.

Forest knew their next and final game of the season would be their biggest in years. They came into the game above the drop by a goal difference, (GD) one figure better than Blackburn.

An anxious sell-out crowed awaited Forest when they took on Ipswich on May 7th at the City Ground. A win wouldn’t necessarily be enough for the Reds as Blackburn could leapfrog them on GD. All eyes were on the City Ground, Ashton Gate (Bristol City v Birmingham), and Griffin Park (Brentford v Blackburn).

40 minutes into the game and Forest were going down with their rivals winning. Were Forest to end their nine year stay in the second tier? It was almost scripted for Forest to save themselves at home, on the final day, and in style.

A 3-0 win against a young Ipswich Town, which included 2 penalties, 3 goals and many scares. A double from Britt took his tally to 14 for the season, and, potentially on his 300th and final appearance, captain Chris Cohen scored a worldie.

A turbulent season on and off the pitch, but as Forest fans poured onto the pitch at the final whistle one could not help but feel: maybe this is the start of something special at the City Ground.

Nicholas Kaba

Featured image courtesy of Nottingham Trent University via Flikr. No changes were made to this image. Image license found here. 

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