Nottingham Forest: Martin O’Neill Inbound As Half-Season Managerial Tombola Affords Another ‘Romantic Option’ Shot At Insta-Promotion

Chris Wright

14th, January 2019


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Nottingham Forest are on the very cusp of appointing Martin O’Neill as their new manager, with Roy Keane also hired as his erstwhile assistant.

Both former Forest players, the pair have been offered 18-month contracts and will replace Aitor Karanka, who was sacked last week with the team lying four points outside the Championship play-off positions with 20 fixtures remaining.

As with Stuart Pearce’s ill-starred prodigal return to the banks of the Trent a year or two back, hiring O’Neill – a league, cup, and two-time European Cup winner at the City Ground during his playing days – is very much the romantic option.

Even so, many fans aren’t entirely bowled over.

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O’Neill is hardly de rigueur these days (his last club success came with Celtic in the mid-2000s) and his and Keane’s tenure with Republic of Ireland is unlikely to be remembered fondly save their exploits both qualifying for and making it through to the knockout stage of Euro 2016.

That said, the 2007-08 Villa side were almost very nearly what you might call ‘free scoring’, with the entire squad sharing the goals around as they secured a decent sixth-placed Premier League finish.

His last club job was at Sunderland, which all came to a tumultuous, depressing, no-wins-in-eight head in 2013. The Black Cats went onto avoid what appeared to be an inevitable relegation, but only by the very slimmest of tooth-skins.

The man who got Fulham and Watford promoted to the Premier League, Slavisa Jokanovic, was said to be a front-runner for the Forest job and, with head overruling heart and coherent, stylish football the preference, it definitely seems like he would have been the optimal candidate.

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Still, as has become the mantra at Forest over the past 10 years, it is what it is and we just have to get on with it.

O’Neill will not be short of support from the terraces, that is for certain, so a freshly-stoked atmosphere and a promising collective performance against Bristol City this coming weekend should be enough to silence the nagging whispers of doubt, at least for the time being. 

The inbound manager inherits a balanced-ish squad that, for the first time in a while, boasts an abundance of good, attacking talent and a decent striker or two to boot. The fact that a coach as defensively prudent as Karanka couldn’t prevent the defence from periodically shipping like amphetamine-addled stevedores might be a concern that requires immediate attention.

Club owner Evangelos Marinakis was reportedly “blown away” by O’Neill’s enthusiasm and drive to propel Forest – the club where it all started for him as an impish teenager in 1971 – back into the top flight.

A good start might be to afford him a little longer than the now-customary five months in which to do so.