A stay of execution?

Tonight, my beloved Nottingham Forest won away at Carlisle. “So what?” I hear you cry. This is a big deal down in League One, for reasons which will become very clear to you very soon. 

However, before I get dragged into tedious statistics about how long it is since Forest won away, and since Carlisle lost at home, this result has greater implications.

In recent weeks, the vast majority of Forest fans seem to have run out of patience with Colin Calderwood, mostly due to his bizarre tactics and team selections, as well as his transparent ‘mind-games’ and ridiculous post-match interviews. Had Forest lost tonight, it is highly likely that the pressure on him would have reached breaking point, or if not that, it would be very close to it. As it is, he may have saved his job, at least for the rest of this season (though it is highly unlikely that he would have been sacked, stranger things have happened). It may seem odd to an outsider that Calderwood’s job would be under threat with Forest sitting in fourth position, having been in the running for promotion all season, but these people are not seeing the whole picture. As well as the flaws I have already mentioned, many of Forest’s performances in important games during Calderwood’s reign have been little better than abysmal. The playing squad at Forest is arguably the best in the division, and the signs were that they had sufficient quality to overwhelm the vast majority of the teams in the division, but when the result was in a little more doubt, on a night like tonight for instance, when tactics and team selection could make the all-important difference, Mr. Calderwood’s ineptitude prevented them from overcoming the more able teams. Tonight’s result will go a small way to dismissing that impression. Carlisle were second in the division, and had won their previous fourteen home games, while Forest had managed only two away wins since the 7th of December.

It is not just this season that Forest have under-performed. Part of the reason for the lack of faith in the manager is the fiasco that was last season. At the beginning of last year, before Forest had played a competitive game under him, Colin Calderwood boldly proclaimed that anything less than promotion would be failure. It seemed at first as though he would back up this statement with the results – Forest won six of the first seven league games they played under him, and after a 3-1 home win over Millwall, Forest were sitting six points clear at the top of League One at the start of December. By the 1st of January, having just lost 5-0 to Oldham, Forest were third, a point behind Scunthorpe. Their form never recovered, and they finished in the play-offs, where their humiliation was completed by Yeovil who thrashed a shambolic Forest side 5-2 at the City Ground despite Forest going into that match 2-0 up on aggregate having done the hard part and won away at Yeovil a week previously. By his own standards, the season was a failure, and so this year was surely his last chance. Not just that, but now he has the squad he wants; no longer can he claim he is being let down by the previous regime’s players (not that he ever has to my knowledge, he just can’t start now). Even with all this, the current season has been even more of a disappointment, with Forest never really looking like title challengers, and spending most of the last eight months lurking in the play-off places again.

Despite their obvious quality, it is widely believed that Forest’s players lack the courage and determination to deal with the pressure of the play-offs, and so it is unlikely that they would gain promotion should they end up in that position again. If this were to be the case, Calderwood would have failed again and this time it should prove too much for both the fans and the chairman to take, and would probably result in him being given the sack. Tonight’s result may not save Forest from the lottery of the play-offs, but it should restore a little confidence in the man charged with the responsibility of getting Forest promoted. Whether he is truly up to the task will become clear over the next month or so, though it may well prove worthless if he is already beyond redemption in the eyes of many fans.

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