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!



It’s only a game…

17 01 2012

Saturday 14th January

Thoughts for the Day:

‘If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there.’

Brian Clough (1935-2004)

‘‎140 characters is way 2 few 2 come near describing the lackluster inept #NFFC performance 2day.’Relegation’ was writ large 4 all 2c :(‘

‘2day goes from bad 2 worse.1st #NFFC’s woeful defeat v Saints then #GRFC edged out of the Heineken Cup at Quins :(‘

@Tricky Tree on Twitter


Nottingham Forest 0 Southampton 3

This was my first outing to the City Ground for some time, and my first game since the pre-Christmas goalless draw away at relegation rivals Bristol City, but sadly nothing has changed.

I’m afraid Steve Cotterill’s brave new world is fast disintegrating into a nightmarish re-run of the David Platt and Gary Megson eras and a return to lowly League 1 (unthinkable 12 months ago) is becoming more of a probability than a possibility with every passing game.     

Forest, currently 22nd, have picked up just 4 points form the last ten Championship games, failing to score in nine of them, and their current form is the worst in the league.

The manager’s post-match ‘spin’ during this period would have supporters believe that despite such woeful stats, performances are getting better and we are about to turn the corner. If Saturday is anything to go by that is optimistic to say the least.

From the outset I never thought Cotterill was the right man for the job at the City Ground. Most ‘Pompey’ fans were pleased to see the back of him and his track record, outside of Leagues 1 and 2 is mediocre, at best.

At any other time, Cotterill’s job would be under serious threat, but we can’t afford to get rid of him, which rules out a moves for Neil Warnock (recently sacked by QPR) – a manager who does have a successful track record at Championship level – or a triumphal return for Billy Davies, whose unreasonable sacking back in July catapulted the club into a downward spiral that it’s never looked even close to pulling out of.

Saturday’s game vividly illustrated so much that is currently wrong with the less than ‘Tricky Trees’:

  •         Negative tactics – from the outset the game plan is simply to stop the other team playing and hopefully score from a set piece. This is Cotterill’s trademark modus operandi.
  •         Setting up with two holding midfielders at home – Greening and Moussi – is not only negative but has not worked all season; it has to be one or the other!  
  •         Lewis McGugan, the most likely player to create anything from the centre of the park – stuck out on the left touchline, looking totally disinterested. Is it time to  cash in?
  •         More  potential creativity and goal scoring talent on the bench than in the starting line-up. Andy Reid, Paul Anderson, Dexter Blackstock, all subs, &  Raddy Majewski left out!
  •         Captaincy has weighed heavily on Luke Chambers’ shoulders all season, his form has dipped dramatically. He is not currently worth his place in the side.
  •         Lee Camp, in goal, was the beating heart of the team last year. Ever since he was denied a move to Premiership Swansea at the beginning of the season he has lost his spark.
  •         No cover for inured defenders, but promising left back, Kieron Freeman, is sent on loan to Notts County, and Arsenal target, Jamaal Lascelles, is denied a first team opportunity. 
  •         Confidence is low, but doesn’t excuse the lack of passion from players who are supposedly, playing for new contracts. They  looke down hearted, disinterested and defeated.
  •         Worst of all the fans seem to have accepted the inevitability of our demise. I’ve never seen such a reaction, as when the 3rd Saints goal went in.Thousands of fans rose as one,           in abject silence, and made despondently towards the exit.

I was with them. At least I got a quick get-away and arrived home in time to catch the second half Sky coverage of Harlequins v Gloucester in the Heineken Cup.

Against all the odds Gloucester were leading, and edging towards an unexpected victory that would have left them with everything to play for in next week’s final group stage home game versus tournament favourites Toulouse.

My hopes were raised, but I should have known better. Just as in their opening game, away in Toulouse, where they led for so long, they were finally, cruelly denied in the dying stages.

This time it was a particularly wicked bounce of the ball that was their undoing. Clinging on to a 14-13 lead with less than ten minutes to go, a grubber kick from former England scrum half Danny Care evaded covering Gloucester winger Charlie Sharples, fortuitously bouncing off the knees of Quins full-back Mike Brown before he dropped on it to score the crucial try. A conversion from Nick Evans, who had kicked poorly all afternoon just rubbed salt into the wound and put the tin lid on my sporting day!  

The one saving grace was Valeria’s pizza for Saturday night supper – juat like her Mamma makes!         




Will ‘the wally with the brolly’ be singing in the rain?

12 06 2011

Although speculation has been rife about Billy Davies’ position as manager, since the ‘Tricky Trees’ failed to gain promotion via the play-offs from the Championship for the second successive season, he seemed to have weathered the storm – but not so!

I was genuinely surprised to receive a text from Nicci, on this thoroughly wet and miserable Sunday afternoon: “just heard on Sky News Forest have sacked their manager!”    

Having checked it out on teletext and the official club website, it seems Forest have called time on Billy and he has had his contract terminated with immediate effect.

This extremely curt announcement was followed by a statement that they are currently engaged in negotiations with the former England boss Steve McClaren – universally known in the footballing world as ‘the wally with the brolly’, following his inept managerial performance from the touch-line as England slipped to defeat against Croatia in the Wembley rain, failing miserably to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals.

I’m sure it’s not the case but he did appear more concerned about protecting his boufant hair style and slick city suit from the elements than winning the game – an attitude not likely to go down too well on Trent-side!

I’ve never posted anything on Forest’s official club website before but immediately felt moved to do so – along the following lines:

I feel it is the wrong decision. Forest haven’t seen fit, so far, to clarify the circumstances surrounding Billy’s departure. Did he jump or was he pushed? I strongly suspect the latter and hope that in due course the club have the good grace to genuinely thank him for the outstanding job he has done over the last two and half years – firstly saving us from what seemed like certain relegation back to League 1 and then qualifying for the Championship play-offs in the following two full seasons. Football people have very short memories!

Yes, it is disappointing having come so close to promotion twice, only to falter at the final hurdle, but I believe there are few other managers who would have done any better with our current squad and such limited investment in new players over the last 12 months.

Billy had a three-year deal, with one year still left to run, and Forest obviously expected him to have gained promotion by the end of it. But he is only two thirds the way through a three year plan and had stated clearly, following defeat in this year’s play-offs, that he fully intended to see out his contract and finish the job off next season despite, it seems, frequently operating at complete loggerheads with the chairman and his acquisitions committee.     

I’ve always said there is only one manager that I would be happy to see replacing Billy and that would be Martin O’Neil – a former player who has a strong emotional attachment to the club, an excellent managerial record wherever he has been, and is currently available.

When a club sacks a successful manager surely they must have a significantly better replacement lined up. I’m not convinced that Steve McClaren is that man but I’m sure Martin O’Neil would be.

Either Forest are short on real ambition, lack the financial wherewithal to attract him, or simply don’t fancy taking on another opinionated Celt who won’t suffer fools gladly. It is equally possible that Martin wouldn’t fancy stepping down into the Championship or more likely that the erudite and passionate Irishman would balk at working for a board that treats its managers in the tardy fashion that Billy has been dealt with.

If, as I suspect, Steve McClaren is appointed I’m sure it won’t be long before we see him adopting a similar pose to this, but I’m sure he realises he will be on a hiding to nothing. Obviously he should be given a fair chance but it will take time to win over sceptical and frustrated Forest fans with whom Billy had developed such a good rapport. It will help if Forest get off to a flyer at the beginning of next season!

McClaren has a curate’s egg of a cv, even allowing for a woeful performance as England manager where he was clearly out of his depth. He has recently been successful in Holland, winning the 2009-10 Eredivisie with unfashionable FC Twente, but then following a move into the German Bundesliga with Vfl Wolfsburg, he was fired  mid-season having secured just five wins in 21 games.     

In the UK he was eminently successful, as assistant to Alex Ferguson, at Manchester United (during the ‘99-01 period when the Mancs swept all before them, picking up 3 Premiership titles, the Champions League and the FA Cup) but only moderately so, as manager in his own right, at Middlesbrough where he only achieved a 38% win record, despite enjoying a 2003-04 League Cup Final success and a helter-skelter 2005-06 UEFA Cup run (eventually losing 4-0 to Sevilla in the final).     

It is fair to say Billy has never managed at such high level as McClaren but his record in the Championship is second to none, with a 44.5% win record at Preston, 43.63% at Derby (which includes a disastrous couple of months in the Premiership where ‘the Sheep’ couldn’t buy a win) and 42.06% at Forest – consistently successful to say the least!

As a former ‘Sheep’ boss (McClaren also has history down the A52, as a player and assistant manager) Billy wasn’t everybody’s first choice when he joined the City Ground and there are those who constantly criticiesd his team selections and tactics (the joy of football is that everybody has an opinion) but he won most over with his enthusiastic, forthright manner and, above all, by nurturing a young team that have more often than not been worth the admission fee. 

Most fans would now acknowledge that Billy deserves huge credit for what has been achieved at Forest over the last two years. I can’t see him being out of work for too long and I somehow think he might be back to haunt us. It would be ironic, should that be in next year’s play-offs!

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that and by next May, McClaren has secured automatic promotion. If so we’ll all join ‘the wally with the brolly’ in ‘singing in the rain’. Come to think of it, with tongues firmly wedged in cheeks, perhaps we should adopt it as a new club anthem for 2011-12.

Altogether now…