Oh ‘Eck! Turbulent times on Trentside – again …

18 01 2013


nottingham post‘With wealthy Kuwaiti owners and a new manager in situ, who has promised a busy January, few clubs outside the big six in the top flight have attracted so many rumours over the past few weeks.

Alex McLeish jokes that there will come a point in the future when even he finds out about Forest’s latest signings on Twitter.

But while the Reds boss says it has been a whirlwind for him, since he was appointed at the end of December,   it is nothing compared to the storm of speculation his arrival prompted…’

this is Nottingham.co.uk – the Nottingham Evening Post (online) – January 11th 2013

As I’m sitting here watching snowflakes spiralling towards the ground my first concern is whether tomorrow’s big East Midlands clash, at ‘Prideless Park’, will go ahead. If so, given the local road conditions, will I be able to get there in time for the 1.00pm kick off. Hopefully an update on the local situation will be available later today.

A much bigger concern, however, is the current state of my club. The last time I opined my ‘Views from the Trent End (Upper)…’ was in early October.

downloadBorne along by a groundswell of enthusiasm following the Kuwaiti takeover and the appointment of Sean O’Driscoll as manager I wrote, “I’ve been hugely impressed and excited by how SO’D’s team is developing. It’s very much a case of evolution rather than revolution, focussed on laying strong foundations, instilling good habits, enabling player to take more responsibility for making on pitch decisions. It’s been largely entertaining too. Football played on the floor with good levels of precision and skill – which only bodes well for the future.”       

I should have known better. How naïve I was to think that the recent turbulent times on Trent-side were over.

th (1)Up until now I’ve kept my powder dry on recent comings and goings at the City Ground, over what has been a stormy four-week post-Christmas period. But on the eve of our return match with ‘Direby’ and a week away from a home encounter with Gianfranco Zola’s in form Watford /Udinese – in effect the pivotal point of our season, the time is right to speak out again.

images (9)December 26th, a festive City Ground, Yuletide joy abounds as the Tricky ‘Christmas’ Trees un-wrap Warnock’s Leeds, 4-2, to place themselves one point outside the play-off places. Reds supporters set off, homeward bound, full of good cheer, with a seasonal spring in their step, and SO’D, pleased with the second half stuffing and roasting of the visitors, completes his post-match interviews.

It’s a case of ding dong merrily on high, until Forest fans flushed with success hear the breaking sports news. Peace and joy to all men, except Sean O’Driscoll. The Al Hasawis have given their manager the Christmas sack – SO’D’s law!

The goalposts have shifted. The patient 3-5 year plan, announced following the take-over, has morphed into a more urgent one-year promotion plan and apparently the thoroughly decent and well liked SO’D is not the man! But Fawaz knows a man who can…

…Well Alex Ferguson knows a man who can and Fawaz seems to be star-struck in his presence – so enough said…

_65246314_65246313…No it’s not to be a hero’s return to unfinished business for ‘King Billy’(Davies), but everybody’s worst nightmare – Big Eck, who turned down the Al Hasawis when they came calling in August, but has had a change of heart. Cue twitters of internet laughter from Glasgow to Brum, where he is everybody’s favourite villain.

I’m willing to give anybody a chance but, oh ‘eck, another ginger, whose surname begins with ‘M’. They don’t have a great track record at the City Ground. Think Megson, McClaren – the wally with the brolly – and now McLeish!

If SO’D’s departure split public opinion, and I was firmly for him remaining – to be judged at the end of the season – then McLeish’s appointment was almost universally unpopular.

images (4)True, his CV is not all bad; in fact it was half decent at Rangers where he was in direct opposition to most Forest fans’ dream managerial appointment, City Ground  legend Martin O’Neil, who enjoyed a particularly successful spell with Celtic.

There was also a year in charge of the Scotland national side during which they narrowly failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals, despite an historic away win in Paris – defeating France 1-0 at the Parc des Princes.

But south of the border his record is moderate, at best.

A four-year stint at St Andrews, in the blue-nose half of the second city was something of a roller coaster ride, relegation from the top-tier, followed by an immediate return, a season of mid-table Premiership stability, and finally the sweet champagne moment of a Wembley, Carling Cup Final victory, against Arsenal, soured by a dramatic final day of the season drop into the Championship.

images (7)If that wasn’t a bitter enough pill for the Beau Brummies to swallow, Big Eck then swore his allegiance to the claret and blue half of the city. Castigated on both sides of the divide, and vilified by the Villa Park faithful for the baggage he brought with him – a perceived, negative style of play – it always seemed a recipe for disaster, and so it proved.

He kept Villa in the Premiership, by the skin of their teeth, but in so doing alienated the supporters and lost the confidence of the owners. He was shown the door, leaving as, statistically, their worst manager ever, with a win percentage of only 21.4%.

These are early days, but I have to say I’m pretty underwhelmed so far. He vehemently denies a liking for the long ball approach and says he would prefer to play a passing game, but with added steel at the back.

images (2)In his first three games, in charge from the technical area, Forest have conceded seven goals, three in the second half away at Blackburn, three in the second half in a home FA Cup 3rd round exit against lowly League 1 Oldham, and one against Peterborough. He did, however manage a first City Ground win against the Posh.

On the plus side he has displayed a degree of ‘no messing’ with regard to soon out of contract, wanting away, goalkeeper Lee Camp, dropping him from the first team and telling him to find a new club and go.

This has meant throwing young, 22-year-old, prospect Karl Darlow in at the deep end. Not a bad thing, if he is as good as the goalkeeping coach Paul Barron says, and I wish the lad all the best. I hope he grasps his chance with both hands. But where is the back-up? We were promised an experienced keeper would be on his way soon, but instead the Kuwaiti international keeper Khalid Al-Rashid has washed up and we’re now told there will be no further goalkeepers arriving. By all accounts he looks useful – but hardly ‘experienced’ in terms of Championship football.

reyesDespite promises that the squad would be strengthened, with quality not quantity, the only addition to the first team squad during the current transfer window has been the loan signing of Chilean international fullback, Gonzalo Jara Reyes, from West Bromwich Albion.

Bids have been tabled for Peterborough midfielder George Boyd and Birmingham winger Chris Burke and rebuffed as derisory. Both would be welcome additions, but it raises the question is  there as much money available for transfers as we are led to believe?

images (10)Since the appointment of McLeish, Fawaz Al Hasawi and his family have been subjected to rank Twitter abuse by a moronic minority. This is totally unacceptable. As the chairman has intimated, in response, he respects supporter’s opinions but key appointments are his to make and the money is his to spend, as he sees fit – “judge me at end of the season”. It’s a pity he didn’t have the patience to follow a similar line with regard to Sean O’Driscoll.

I have to say the more I hear about the chairman, the less I like what I’m hearing, and the more concerned I am becoming for my club. There seems to be a developing trend of saying one thing and meaning another, making out of the blue decisions and pronouncements, intolerance towards those behind the scenes who aren’t in total agreement with him, and a growing interference with player recruitment and team selection.

This week, chief executive Mark Arthur, head of recruitment Keith Burt, and club ambassador Frank Clark have all left without any explanation from Fawaz. It is rumoured that Arthur left of his own volition after Burt and Clark had been notified of their dismissals by special delivery letter and told to stay away from the players and the ground.

Arthur was not popular with many fans due to his leadership of the fabled ‘acquisitions committee’ and was held responsible for failure to recruit players that might have made a difference to King Billy’s promotion push, the manager’s subsequent departure, and the ill-fated arrival of Steve McClaren.

FOREST1_2454996bClark, however, is much revered – a popular member of the 1979 European Cup winning team, the only manager to enjoy any sort of Premiership and European success, post Brian Clough, and chairman of the club in the dark days following the untimely death of Nigel Doughty.

Following the Kuwaiti takeover it was Fawaz who said, “Mr Clark will remain with us and he will be ambassador to Nottingham Forest and he will be close by us at all the time. We really admire this man and respect him quite highly.”  So what has changed?

If he was to be dismissed, why wasn’t he told face to face and why has he been ordered to stay away from the ground – he’s a true supporter?

Fasawi’s recent ruthless actions might have been made with the best of intentions but, frankly, they appear cowardly and lack class. Forest may not have been very successful in recent years but as a club they have always been considered well run and held in high regard. Under the current ownership the good name and the future of Nottingham Forest is in the balance. I fear that we could become the next club under foreign ownership, to become a Football League laughing-stock!

I hope I am wrong and that the Al Hasawis are successful in bringing long overdue success back to the City Ground. In urging fans to get behind Big Eck and the team, Fawaz believes that  twelve more wins will see us into the play-offs, and he obviously fancies our chances.

imagesThe next four fixtures are crucial. ‘Direby’ away, and Zola’s ‘Hornets’ at home, I’ve already mentioned. They are followed by an away day at one of McLeish’s former clubs, Birmingham, and a trip to Ashton Gate, where a certain Sean O’Driscoll has just filled the vacant manager’s seat.

We could, of course, win them all and the promotion push would be up and running. It’s what every Forest fan is hoping for – but without any real conviction. Equally, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that we could lose the lot. In which case, how ironic if SO’D’s Bristol City side should call time on his former club’s challenge!

   

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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!