Guest Post by Joe Smith
In what is becoming a depressingly familiar occurrence, Nottingham Forest once again fell well short of expectations against Blackburn Rovers last weekend.
A crushing 2-1 defeat did precious little to lighten the mood of supporters who have now seen their team lose three in row (all against clubs below them in the table) in what might have been a late, if slightly optimistic push for the near end of the play-off positions.
Unfortunately, it seems all too easy to quash the ‘Mighty Reds’ at the moment. Put two men on Joe Lolley and that’s the job pretty much done. Top goal-scorer Lewis Grabban looked out of sorts again but in his defence, there’s not much he can do when the majority of passes into him are throat-height and over-zealous enough to the point of garroting him where he stands.
Still short of a preferred team, manager Martin O’Neill looked again to experiment with the line-up, adding a smattering of fringe players which – with nothing much left to play for, he will at least be able to assess ahead of next season.
There was also a first home start for bright young thing Arvin Appiah. The 65 minutes afforded to him will be valuable experience but it may be too early to pin hopes on the 18-year-old academy winger.
He had moments of promise but all too often they ended with him running out of room and whirling to the ground in search of cheap freekicks – an irritating habit that needs curtailing.
Speaking of teetering off balance, O’Neill sorely needs to start finding a balance among the players on the edges of his first team.
Full-time: #NFFC 1-2 Blackburn (Bennett og 52′; Rothwell 29’, Graham 49’)
Report and reaction to follow from The City Ground… pic.twitter.com/ShwyDJ9XSh
— Nottingham Forest FC (@NFFC) 13 April 2019
Many of them have spent long periods on the outskirts of the starting XI for a reason. The juggling act in these last four matches is to afford them time to impress while trying to maintain at least a semblance of competitiveness as a team.
There is a definite need for more creativity going forward and there have been vocals calls almost every game to include Joao Carvalho, Forest’s £13million record signing who has conjured a few infrequent moments of quality as he continues to acclimatise.
Up top, support for Grabban is also a must. Daryl Murphy serves a purpose, but when Grabban is out of form or crocked, Forest don’t look anywhere near as dangerous. Securing the signature of Jack Colback on a permanent deal from Newcastle should also be a priority, as he is easily one of the best in his position in the Championship.
The only issue there being that it’s fairly likely other, better teams might have noticed The Ginger Pirlo quietly stacking up the numbers.
Jack Colback’s game by numbers vs. Leeds:
20 (87%) passes completed
3 (100%) aerial duels won
1 take-on completed
The Ginger Pirlo. 😉 pic.twitter.com/LZcSso9a6Q
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) 1 January 2019
However, in a pleasant change from say, four or fives years ago, there are more positives than negatives to cling to within the Forest realm.
We have a good spread of talented youngsters amongst the squad, with academy graduates like Appiah (18) and versatile midfielder Ryan Yates (22) breaking through into an already fairly youthful ensemble.
Forest also have a number of players who genuinely seem committed and eager to repay the supporters’ ever-present, Sisyphean faith.
With a difficult couple of games (Sheffield United away and Middlesbrough at home) coming up over the Easter weekend, O’Neill will be hoping his players manage to arrest the mini-slump and end the season on a positive note, performance-wise. A little nugget of optimism for 2019/20.
They will need to fill out the squad and replace departing loan rangers if a proper, overdue promotion push is to be embarked upon, with a smattering of good signings putting Forest in as good a position as anyone.
The only problem, as ever, is the other 10 or so clubs in the middle of the Championship who feel exactly the same way.