SO’D’s law this season…

24 08 2012

‘When we were in discussions to buy the Club we knew of its rich history, pedigree and standing in European football.

What we underestimated, however, was the level of affection and passion Forest possess.’

Fawaz Al Hasawi (Nottingham Forest owner)

‘Your team at the moment is in a period of transition and as we try to add extra pieces to the jigsaw your understanding and patience will be appreciated…Fans blow with the wind, supporters support. Please continue to support your local team.’

Sean O’Driscoll (Nottingham Forest manager)

Saturday was a sunny summer’s day, an ice cream and fizzy drinks day, not a burger and Bovril day, as the Forest faithful flocked to the City Ground for the opening game of the npower Championship, and the dawning of a brand new era.

The winds of change have been whistling around Trent-side this summer.

Following weeks of whispered rumours, with supporters hardly daring to believe it might happen, the Al Hasawi takeover was completed and the ownership of the twice European Champions transferred from the estate of the late Nigel Doughty to the Kuwaiti billionaires.

Forest have become immune to, ‘You’re not famous anymore’ chants from visiting supporters, but there is no doubt that two stars on the shirt and the legacy of Old Big ‘Ead played a huge part in attracting our new owners.      

Everything they have said and done since their arrival has impressed. One immediately sensed this was more than a business opportunity, but a genuine passion for football and the challenge of returning a great club with proud traditions back to the upper echelons of the Premier League.

They have also proved to be, good listeners and quick learners. Nowhere was this more evident than in the appointment of our new manager.

Steve Cotterill may have fulfilled his fire-fighting brief by retaining Forest’s Championship status, at the end of a catastrophic 2011-12 season, but he was never accepted by the fans. His prompt dismissal, following the takeover, for failing to match the aspirations of the new owners, might have seemed harsh, but was necessary – and was met with a collective sigh of relief by the online #Forestfamily .

An ‘iconic’ replacement was promised. The media carousel went into overdrive and ‘Arry Redknapp, following his recent surprise dismissal by Spurs, was immediately installed as the frontrunner, but just as quickly ruled himself out – on the grounds that he gets a nosebleed anywhere north of Watford.

Next up was bookies’ favourite ‘Big Mick’ McCarthy, who jetted back from the Algarve for preliminary talks, before declaring the job wasn’t right for him – sending ripples of uneasy concern along the #nffc Twitter stream. 

Never fear, it appeared divine intervention was at hand. Enter eccentric evangelist Glen Hoddle, who certainly had God on his side during his White Hart Lane playing days, but was later removed from his duties as England coach for controversial spiritual beliefs. This time around it is rumoured that the seventh deadly sin, arrogance, did for him.     

Who to next? ‘Svedish’ Sven (honorary Magpie president at nearby Meadow Lane, but most recently a dead Fox at East Midlands rivals Leicester ‘CiThai’) threw his hat into the ring, Rottweiler Roy Keane (who, prior to his dismissal, ploughed a lone furrow with the Tractor Boys – a spectacular Ipswich failure matched only by his performance on the ITV, Euro 2012 couch) expressed an interest in a return to the club of his formative years, and then there were awful rumours of ‘Gis a job’ Gordon Strachan (a dead-loss, more or less everywhere he’s been).

It was then that the unimpressed Al Hasawis had the good sense to meet with the players, who it seems were extremely enthusiastic about the somewhat less than iconic Sean O’Driscoll. Brought in to assist Cotterill when the short-lived revival, following his arrival, began to stutter and stall, SO’D played a huge part in saving Forest from the drop. It was widely accepted that his work on the training ground had turned things around and been key to Forest’s survival. 

Following an impressive interview, the job was his. There was a small matter of compensation for lowly Crawley Town who had unveiled him as their new manager only a few weeks earlier, and from where he returned with an unbeaten record, never having taken charge of a single game!

The appointment of the softly spoken, school masterly, media-shy O’Driscoll was met with huge approval from the supporters. The former Bournemouth and Donny Rovers manager may not be too well-known, but within the Championship his teams are renowned for being well organised and licensed to play with flair – qualities never lost on those brought up with Clough and Taylor. Over 95% of surveyed supporters were delighted with the appointment.

Which just goes to show, they who dole out their hard-earned cash at the turnstiles, they’re not stupid. Having seen our club suffer at the hands of its last ‘big name’ manager, ex England boss ‘Schteve’ McClaren (who quit after 111 hapless days and 13 hopeless games), having groaned in unison at SC’s inept hoof-ball tactics (and endured a six match goalless run), we had rejoiced in recognition of the passing game, reinstated by SO’D, which had ultimately saved the day.        

In five short weeks since SO’D’s appointment a new look squad has been assembled, following the defection of several senior players. All save, Welsh International full back, Chris Gunter, snapped up for £2.5 million by Premiership new boys Reading, had been allowed to drift out of contract, and being unsure as to their futures during the protracted takeover period, left for free.

Amongst those who have moved on are one-season wonder, wingman, Gareth McCleary – brought to prominence by scoring four times in a 7-3 drubbing of Leeds – also lured to Reading’s Madejski Stadium, and former club captain Luke Chambers – now wearing the armband at Ipswich. 

Eight new signings featured on the back of the match-day programme (which itself has undergone a make-over – with a new landscape format) for the curtain raiser against Bristol City. Prominent amongst these, Danny Collins, a no-nonsense central defender from Premiership Stoke City, Simon Cox, with a proven goal scoring record but surplus to requirements at the Baggies, and the return of fans’ favourite, Algerian international, Adlene Guedioura from Wolves – a player who revitalised the midfield during his on loan spell at the end of last season.    

It was to be AG who finally secured three points with a precise finish from Cox’s cut back – a fully deserved win from a very promising first outing. There was a clear shape to this team, with crisp passing and movement, players showing poise on the ball and seemingly comfortable with what was being asked of them – gaining confidence with every move. But we all know it’s a marathon not a sprint!              

Tuesday was a dark satanic mills day, with Stygian gloom across the trans-Pennine M62 – the UK’s highest motorway – giving way to an amber glow over ‘Uddersfield’s renamed John Smith’s Stadium.

The newly promoted Terriers had been unlucky to lose their opening encounter, a televised 1-0 defeat in the 90th minute, against Cardiff Bluebirds – dressed more like Christmas robins in the new red strip controversially demanded by their multi-millionaire owners, for marketing reasons!  

I travelled north to ‘God’s own county’, ticking off another of the 92 league grounds, but fully expecting a backlash from the Yorkshire team. It never transpired. Instead it was the Tricky Trees, growing in stature, with every flowing move, blossoming under the floodlights, into a performance that has set a benchmark for the season.

Forest dominated for 92 minutes and could have been, should have been, 4-0 up by the time Simon Cox rifled his first goal for the club – latching on to a perfectly weighted Lewis McGugan through ball with a confident 64th minute left footed strike. It is a while since I’ve have seen such a composed finish from Reds striker. Let’s hope it’s the first of many.

Unfortunately a one goal lead is never enough and Forest rued those earlier missed opportunities – a 25 yarder from the rampaging McGugan, hitting the inside of the post, a powerful Dexter Blackstock effort cleared  off the line, and a follow-up shot that clipped the bar.  

With two of the four minutes added on, safely negotiated, left back Dan Harding – a new recruit from the Saints – turned sinner, the ex-Southampton man diving in with an unnecessarily rash tackle to concede a penalty.   

Cue local hero Jordan Rhodes, a 40 goal striker in League 1, and on the radar of a number of bigger clubs. He had rarely touched the ball throughout, but under pressure kept his composure. Lee Camp who had not made a noteworthy save all night, guessed correctly, but the ball just squeezed past the fingers of his outstretched glove, and in off the inside of the post for the most un-deserving of equalisers.  

I suppose it was almost inevitable that I would leave the John Smith’s Stadium with a bitter taste in my mouth – but not for long. There were far too many positives, from a Forest perspective, to be taken from the game. I know which team I’d rather watch and which will finish further up the league.

Hopefully there will more evidence of that in tonight’s Sky Sports live match, at Bolton.

Wanderers, a Premiership side last year, will provide a real test at the Reebok Stadium, and the match should give a much clearer indication of whether new-look Forest are genuine promotion contenders, or if such ambitions are Pye in the Sky!        

PS. An excellent 2-2 draw. 35 first half minutes when Forest were dominant – enjoying 60% possession.  Two quality goals from Lewis McGugan and Andy Reid (Sky’s Man of the Match) and a ruffled, ratty, post match interview from under pressure Bolton manager Owen Coyle – just about say it all. Things are definitely looking up!               

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