The City Ground has seen a remarkable conveyor-belt of managers in the past eight years, with 11 men attempting to make it work for the reds. In January, Martin O’Neill returned to the club with which he won a League Title, two League Cups and a European Cup in his playing career. There was much speculation as to whether he would pair up with Roy Keane, who supported him in his five year tenure with the Irish national team, and last week it was confirmed the two would coach together again.
Before Keane’s arrival, O’Neill’s first game in charge saw a narrow 1-0 defeat to play off hopefuls Bristol City, after which he said the welcoming from the fans made him feel ‘honoured’ and ‘emotional’ and even more determined to bring success to the club. His second game was an improvement – a 3-1 win over Wigan Athletic. However, the convincing score line did not reflect the chances in the game, with the Latics having seven shots on target and Forest only registering the three they managed to convert. He said the response from the players was ‘truly terrific’ but there were ‘areas we can still improve on’.
Two days later, the announcement most were expecting came, as it was confirmed that Roy Keane would return to Forest, having spent three seasons there as a player, to serve as O’Neill’s assistant once more. In an interview with the club, Keane stated his ‘huge respect for Martin (O’Neill), and the club’ were what enticed him to return to the East Midlands. Keane also addressed the challenges that may lie ahead, citing ‘new signings’ and ‘a bit of luck’ as potential factors that could determine the outcome of Forest’s season.
— Nottingham Forest FC (@NFFC) January 28, 2019
Despite this promising rhetoric from both, their first game in charge together saw a disappointing 2-0 loss to Birmingham City. An early goal from the blues pegged Forest back and they couldn’t get back to equal footing in the second half despite pushing hard. Extra time then saw a red card for Benalouane and a Birmingham penalty which Che Adams, their top scorer, easily put away, consolidating the three points for the blues and denying Forest any opportunity for a comeback.
‘Is the disciplinarian coaching style what Forest really need?’
Forest are five points and six places outside the play offs and this unsteady start from O’Neill must stabilise quickly if they are to keep any hopes for a top six finish. O’Neill did not win a game with Ireland since a USA friendly last June and had not won a competitive match with the national side since October 2017. Both O’Neill and Keane are known for their disciplinarian coaching style, but is this what Forest really need?
In what turned out to be Aitor Karanka’s last league game in charge, the reds beat then top of the table Leeds United 4-2 and showed grit, desire and creative flair to come back from being 2-1 down to win the game spectacularly. They dominated the last 20 minutes of the game and the players responded to rumours of Karanka’s departure by playing for their manager and showing what his managerial style was capable of creating.
‘This decrease in promising shots on goal could be a reflection of the more disciplinarian coaching style of O’Neill and Keane’
In Karanka’s last three league games, Forest created 19 shots on target collectively, with 11 in their exciting 3-3 draw with promotion hopefuls Norwich. In O’Neill’s first three matches, the team have had 12 shots on target, with the highest in one match being five. Although there are many aspects of their playing style to analyse, this decrease in promising shots on goal could be a reflection of the more disciplinarian coaching style of O’Neill and Keane. Yes, players need to be coached and given guidance, but if they feel they are not allowed to show their individuality and try new things on the pitch, their creativity and ultimately goal scoring opportunities will be hindered.
Obviously in such a short period of time it is impossible to tell what factor is exactly affecting the players under the new management to explain this difference, and one can only hope once the team has settled in with the new signings and new style of O’Neill and Keane their game will improve.
‘Brentford will certainly be a test for Forest, especially defensively’
This weekend sees Brentford come to the City Ground. After turbulence for the first part of the season, the bees have had a turn up in form, winning their last three league games and seeing off mid-table Blackburn Rovers 5-2 last weekend. This will certainly be a test for Forest, especially defensively, and getting three points against a team on a good run of form would be great for the morale and confidence of the squad.
The Championship has been compelling this season and the table is still so tight. Two wins could see the reds in the final play off spot, so every point is crucial, not just for O’Neill and Keane to prove their managerial prowess, but to see this club with so much history have a chance to be back in the top division and pitted against the big boys once more.
Rory Jones and Zoe Burgess
Featured image courtesy of @NFFC via Twitter.