‘Here we go, here we go, here we go…’ – again!

8 08 2011

‘The big kick off’ on Saturday, just 3 short months after a second success Championship play-off failure, saw a new look Nottingham Forest cautiously feeling their way into the new season; new manager, new formation, and three new players – to date.

The nil all opener against Barnsley hardly set pulses racing but despite the usual carping and whinging emanating from my area of the Brian Clough Stand there were more positives than negatives to be had from the game.

No, the ‘Tricky Trees’  didn’t get off to the flyer we fans all wanted and maybe expected, but they kept their  4-2-3-1 shape throughout and were rarely threatened. There was a first clean sheet of the season and it’s clear they are not going to be broken down easily.

The new signings were easing themselves in, feeling their way. Jonathan ‘Jesus’ Greening didn’t put a foot wrong all afternoon and will become increasingly influential in an offensive sense as the season progresses. He’ll no doubt be hoping to lead the promotion crusade and get a few crosses in. Whether his party pieces will stretch to walking across the Trent (as mastered by ‘Old Big ‘Ead’ – BC) remains to be seen.  

George Boateng was industrious throughout and provided he can stay the pace, will win a lot of midfield ball and command a lot of respect.

The return of Andy Reid was perhaps a little muted but he showed for and demanded the ball throughout and while he doesn’t have, nor ever has had, searing pace there were plenty of signs that his famed left foot, to paraphrase Blackpool boss Ian Holloway, will still open up plenty of cans of beans this season – and, who knows, there might just be enough gas in the tank to have a few Championship ‘has beens’ on toast!         

All in all, I think even ‘Cloughy’ might have settled for that on day one. I seem to remember we were never very quick out of the blocks even in his halcyon days.    

It’s early doors for the ‘New Big ‘Ead’, with a Middlebrough background and a penchant for green tops, my old Dutch – ‘Schteve’ McLaren. But it is clear to see his stamp on the team already, the type of football he aspires to, and the way he  is encouraging the team to play.

There was noticeably more movement off the ball, than last season, and a definite pattern towards building play from the back, which demands the ball being quickly switched around, to feet. It just needs to happen with a bit more zip and precision, which will surely come as the team begins to gel.  

Happily, McLaren’s intended style of play will sit far more readily with the Forest tradition of: Billy Walker, Johnny Carey, BC, Paul Hart, even Billy D, rather than, dare I say, that of:  David Platt (currently enjoying a nice job for the boys at Man C – what Mancini sees in him I’ll never know!) Joe Kinnear (remember him?) and Gary Megson (how can we ever forget & some one please  tell me how he continues get plum jobs with a succession of ‘sleeping giants’)       

The manager is no ‘turnip’, despite the ‘wally with the brolly’ jibes (I know I’ve been as guilty as the rest!) and he knows there was considerable scepticism over his appointment, but from day one he has impressed with his perceptive remarks and thoughtful well-reasoned actions, such as installing Luke Chambers as club captain, rather than one of the new arrivals.

Saturday’s post-match comments were equally honest and clear as the messages he has been consistently sending out throughout pre-season.

The squad remains too small to mount a sustained bid for promotion. He has achieved his first priority, by bringing in Premiership experience to supplement the quality young players that were already at the City Ground, but adding the final few pieces to the jig-saw has been incredibly frustrating.

Going by Saturday’s performance there are still a few shirts to fill. The team is still lacking that specialist left back, genuine pace out wide and sufficient creativity and quality in the final third of the pitch.

‘Schteve’ has made his intentions clear. It is his, regularly stated, number one priority to rectify the situation before the end of the current transfer window. However it is easier said than done to bring in the quality he is rightly looking for, at a price the club can afford.

It is difficult to ascertain whether he is being helped or hindered by David Pleat, Mark Arthur and the fabled ‘acquisitions committee’. And while ‘Schteve’ has voiced his frustration at the failure to bring in more new faces for the start of the season, he is a different animal from Billy D and doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve in the same way. He will be less inclined to publicly challenge his new employers, particularly this early in his contract.

It is difficult to attract the level of player that will make a real difference to the team and turn us into genuine promotion contenders. It could be argued the club has been over ambitious in its transfer targets and seems to be continually competing for players that are also being tracked by lower Premiership clubs, so as a consequence is always likely to miss out.  

Personally I don’t think we should lower our sights but that we should also supplement the search for ‘names’ with a concerted effort to scour the lower leagues at home and abroad for good up and coming youngsters, of the right quality, who might just jump at the chance of joining an ex England manager at a club with pedigree and tradition.        

A certain former manager, specialised in that. Remember Gary Birtles, Peter Davenport, Gary Crosby, Gary Parker, Nigel Jemson, Brian Rice?  All plucked from lower or non league obscurity for ‘peanuts’, but all did a more than decent job at top flight level (even picking up the odd bit of silverware along the away); proving infinitely better value than million pound ‘stars’ Justin Fashanu and Ian Wallace who never repaid their over inflated transfer fees.          

All weekend ‘Twitter’ has been abuzz with rumours of possible new arrivals this week: promising Dutch winger Wesley Verhoek, reportedly leaving Den Haag, surplus to requirements striker Ishmael Miller, on his way from ‘the Baggies’, and Keanu Marsh-Brown, on a season long loan from Craven Cottage.

If all three deals, and I know it’s a big ‘if’, were to be tied up, I would dare to suggest our squad would be at least on a par with those of Norwich and Swansea, both promoted last season. The key difference for them last year was the quality of management and coaching.

Hopefully that’s something ‘Schteve’ and his backroom staff can replicate at the City Ground. Fingers crossed.     

Mind you we should be okay with ‘Jesus’ on our side. Hopefully, next season he’ll be turning water into wine at at the ‘top table’! 

 

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