Season Review (part 1)

THE STORY OF THE SEASON

August

Reading 0-0 (h), Morecambe 4-0 (h – League Cup), Swansea 1-3 (a), Watford 3-2 (h), Sunderland 1-2 aet (h – League Cup), Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-5 (a)

Pos: 16th P:4 W:1 D:1 L:2 GD: -5 Pts: 4

The season started with a highly creditable draw at home to recently relegated Reading. Guy Moussi looked like the signing of the century, dominating the midfield single-handedly, and mildly concussing Ibrahima Sonko with a shot from his weaker foot. Things went downhill slightly, and the month ended with a thrashing from Wolves on the back of a creditable defeat to Sunderland in the League Cup.

September

Burnley 1-2 (h), Preston North End 1-2 (a), Charlton Athletic 0-0 (h), Plymouth Argyle 0-1 (a), Sheffield Wednesday 0-1 (a)

Pos: 24th P:9 W:1 D:2 L:6 GD: -9 Pts: 5

September was a terrible month, with Forest only picking up one point from five matches. Wes Morgan managed to get himself sent off against Plymouth, a match Forest lost despite being the dominant side.

October

Crystal Palace 0-2 (h), Queens Park Rangers 1-2 (a), Ipswich Town 1-1 (h), Cardiff City 0-1 (h), Crystal Palace 2-1 (a)

Pos: 23rd P:14 W:2 D:3 L:9 GD: -12 Pts: 9

The terrible form continued well into October, with Forest taken two points from ten games until an unexpected away win at Crystal Palace right at the end of the month. Guy Moussi picked up an ankle injury that would rule him out until the end of February, and his replacement, Carl Fletcher, had his loan spell cut short by a back injury. Colin Calderwood dropped Paul Smith and signed Lee Camp on loan from QPR to replace him.

November

Derby County 1-1 (a), Birmingham City 1-1 (h), Bristol City 2-2 (a), Norwich City 1-2 (h), Doncaster Rovers 0-0 (a), Barnsley 1-0 (h)

Pos: 23rd P:20 W:3 D:7 L:10 GD: -12 Pts: 16

A creditable draw with Derby started a reasonably good month, with only one defeat, four draws and a win in the six matches played in November. It was a particularly good month for Lee Camp, who saved two penalties in the matches against Derby and Bristol City, and so secured two draws for the club almost single-handedly.

December

Coventry City 2-2 (a), Sheffield United 0-1 (h), Blackpool 0-0 (h), Southampton 2-0 (a), Doncaster Rovers 2-4 (h), Norwich City 3-2 (a)

Pos: 21st P:26 W:5 D:9 L:12 GD: -12 Pts: 24

A vital win over Southampton seemed to signal a new dawn for Forest, but a 4-2 defeat to Doncaster on Boxing Day led to Colin Calderwood’s sacking. Reserve team coach John Pemberton stepped up and led Forest to an away win at Norwich which hauled the club out of the relegation zone.

January

Manchester City 3-0 (a – FA Cup 3rd Round), Charlton Athletic 2-0 (a), Plymouth Argyle 2-0 (h), Derby County 1-1 (a – FA Cup 4th Round), Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 (h), Cardiff City 0-2 (a)

Pos: 17th P:30 W:8 D:9 L:13 GD: -9 Pts: 33

The best month of the season by far. At one point, Forest had won six of their last eight games, and were the form team in the country. A magnificent and unexpected win over Manchester City set up a cup tie with Derby County, now managed by Nigel Clough (Forest’s record post-war goalscorer and son of…). Billy Davies was appointed manager, and the Charlton match was his first game in charge. There were no signings in the January transfer window, and Lee Camp and Lee Martin returned to QPR and Manchester United respectively at the end of their loan spells. Paul Anderson broke his wrist in the Derby match and would be out for over a month.

February

Derby County 2-3 (h – FA Cup 4th Round Replay), Queens Park Rangers 2-2 (h), Birmingham City 0-2 (a), Ipswich Town 1-2 (a), Derby County 1-3 (h), Reading 1-0 (a)

Pos: 21st P:35 W:9 D:10 L:16 GD: -13 Pts: 37

Six games a month for the last three months began to take its toll on the small Forest squad. Their excellent form in January deserted them, and two tired performances against Ipswich and Derby in the league led to two defeats. This was the second defeat to Derby inside three weeks for Forest. An impressive win away at stumbling Reading ended the month on a high note.

March

Preston North End 2-1 (h), Swansea City 1-1 (h), Watford 1-2 (a), Burnley 0-5 (a), Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-1 (h)

Pos: 22nd P:40 W:10 D:11 L:19 GD: -19 Pts: 41

Another great win at home to play-off contenders Preston preceded another mini slump. Paul Smith was replaced in goal for a second time by Iain Turner, signed on loan from Everton.

April

Barnsley 1-1 (a), Bristol City 3-2 (h), Sheffield United 0-0 (a), Coventry City 1-0 (h), Blackpool 1-1 (a)

Pos: 20th P:45 W:12 D:14 L:19 GD: -17 Pts: 50

An unbeaten month came just at the right time. Dexter Blackstock scored an injury-time winner against Bristol City, and also grabbed the opener in the draw with Blackpool. The 0-0 draw away at Sheffield United was particularly impressive after Kelvin Wilson was sent off for a headbutt in the 16th minute. Forest were mathematically safe after Norwich lost at home to Reading, leaving the Reds four points outside the relegation zone with only one game to go.

May

Southampton 3-1 (h)

Pos: 19th P:46 W:13 D:14 L:19 GD: -15 Pts: 53

OVERALL

Survival means that whatever else has happened, this season must be regarded as a success. Finishing as high as 19th put a little bit of gloss on the year, but it cannot hide the fact that things were touch and go for long periods of the season. That said, this was quite an unusual season, with there being a point in about March when the teams on the best form in the division were those at the bottom. Doncaster, who finished 14th, and Watford, in 13th, both spent periods in the relegation zone before some unexpected and sustained good form dragged them out of the bottom three and into mid-table. Forest themselves went on a run over the Christmas and New Year holiday that saw them lose only one game out of six, and win the other five. That one defeat did spell the end of Colin Calderwood’s reign as manager though.
The constant stream of loan players, some more successful than others, was undesirable, as each represented a short-term solution to a longer-term problem. Billy Davies has spoken of his desire to avoid a repeat of this next season, and to start building a squad he can work with for several years.

THE PLAYERS

1. Paul Smith

A poor season for him. Replaced twice by different managers, and a rumoured fall-out with Kelvin Wilson mean it won’t be a massive surprise if he leaves over the summer. Still a great shot-stopper, but plagued by a reluctance to come and claim high balls.

RATING 5

2. Kelvin Wilson

Also had a poor season. He went from Forest’s main centre-back and sometime captain to very replaceable and makeshift left-back. Questions were asked about his attitude, with some blaming him for the loss of confidence suffered by the whole defence and Paul Smith in particular.

RATING 5

3. Joel Lynch (on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion)

A mixed season. When I saw him early on in his loan spell away at Crystal Palace he looked a very good defender. Big, strong, pacy and willing to overlap. Troubled by injuries for the rest of the season, and the manner of his departure from Brighton would make me question his professionalism. There are rumours that his loan spell might be made permanent, but I think we could find better.

RATING 5

4. Luke Chambers

Still playing at right-back, and still not looking comfortable. Some poor form early on was blamed on a niggling hip injury, and he looked more assured towards the end of the season. He was Colin Calderwood’s blue-eyed boy, but with Calderwood’s departure, his future isn’t so certain. I would like to see him given a chance in his favoured position at centre-back, but wouldn’t be surprised if he is replaced.

RATING 6

5. Wes Morgan

On the occasions I saw Forest, Wes was a rock at the heart of the defence. More than once he acrobatically cleared the ball in a situation that was looking like a certain goal for the opposition. Praised for his attitude by Billy Davies, he must surely be one of the first names on the team-sheet.

RATING 8

6. Ian Breckin

To employ an over-used cliche, a rollercoaster season. In and out of the side as Forest searched for a winning combination, his return in October signalled an upturn in form. He was then transfer listed by Colin Calderwood just before Christmas, and promptly fought his way back into the team under both John Pemberton and Billy Davies, and was then taken off the transfer list. However, he is out of contract this summer, and at 34 he isn’t one for the future. His pace was never greyhound-esque to start with, and will only decrease over the coming months. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was released, though I would be a little saddened should that prove an accurate prediction.

RATING 7

7. James Perch

Another who has had a mixed season. He started off partnering Guy Moussi at the heart of the midfield, and became the main defensive midfielder when Moussi was injured in early October. He was made captain by John Pemberton, and Billy Davies kept him in this role. His form dipped in February, though the winning goal in the crucial match against Coventry in mid-April can only go down as a good thing.

RATING 7

8. Lewis McGugan

McGugan’s season has probably had more ups than downs. A thigh injury and a public telling-off from Billy Davies about his weight and diet will be moments he’ll want to forget, while his continued progress on the pitch will only enhance his reputation as one of the brightest talents outside the Premier League. Five league goals in thirty-three matches is a decent return in his first season at this level, and his willingness to burst forward and create is a useful weapon.

RATING 7

9. Nathan Tyson

I personally didn’t have a particularly high opinion of Nathan Tyson coming into this season. However, having seen more of Forest than any previous season, I have been won over by his work-rate and how dangerous his pace is. I still think he doesn’t score enough goals to justify a starting role up front, but I would much rather have him in the side than playing against Forest.

RATING 7

10. Rob Earnshaw

Seventeen goals in all competitions, in only 36 games was a fantastic return, though it could have been more had ‘Earnie’ not suffered niggling calf and hamstring injuries throughout the season. Was often hampered by being played alone up front and expected to win aerial balls against defenders almost twice his size.

Very popular with the fans, he is a major player for the club, and one of the priorities must be to find him a regular partner for next season, preferably one over six feet tall and able to win the ball in the air.

RATING 8

11. Paul Anderson (on loan from Liverpool)

I remain slightly underwhelmed by Paul Anderson. He clearly has pace and a good amount of skill, but he struck me as lightweight and pretty ineffective. He started most of the games he was available for, and so must have been doing something right. I would be interested to know how many assists he got throughout the season.

RATING 6

12. Garath McCleary

Hard to believe he was playing non-League football only eighteen months ago. At times he looks like he was born to play at this level or higher. However, a tendency to flit in and out of games reveals that he hasn’t completed the adjustment to the Championship. Often looked more effective as an impact substitute than as a starting player. He possesses great pace and skill, and certainly knows how to cross. Next season could be a big one for him.

RATING 6

14. Arron Davies

Injury-prone to say the least. Only four starts and eleven substitute appearances indicate that he isn’t really in the first team plans. I wouldn’t be surprised if he left over the summer. I get the nagging feeling that he could be out of contract, which would make his departure even more likely in my eyes.

RATING 4

15. Chris Cohen

During the season, Cohen has played in a variety of positions – left wing, right wing, attacking midfield, defensive midfield, left-back and wing-back to name a few off the top of my head. No matter where he has played, his energy, work-rate and all-round ability have impressed. Voted Player of the Season, an award he fully deserves.

RATING 8

16. Joe Garner

Eight goals, including a stunning 40-yard chip away at Southampton make this a successful first season in the Championship. However, he struggled to impress Billy Davies at first, and only made it back into the first team scene at the end of the season when Nathan Tyson picked up an injury. He comes across as a cocky chappy, and this sometimes leads to unnecessary bookings. A valuable weapon, but not the target man needed to partner Rob Earnshaw. Still only young, definitely one for the future while still more than capable of contributing in the present.

RATING 7

17. Lee Martin (on loan from Manchester United)

Despite being signed by Colin Calderwood and arriving with a bright reputation (and hair to match), he underwhelmed and his loan was not renewed in December having fallen from favour. The best goal of the game against Watford at home was definitely the high point of his spell with Forest.

RATING 5

17. Chris Gunter (on loan from Tottenham Hotspur)

His signing relieved the strain on the full-back positions. In the final game against Southampton he looked a class above any of the other defenders on the pitch, and if I had anything to do with it, would be back at the club next season, an idea he has revealed he would readily agree to. Two-footed and composed, one of the best loan signings made this season.

RATING 7

18. Isaiah Osbourne (on loan from Aston Villa)

Loaned in when James Perch earned himself a suspension in March with Guy Moussi still short of the fitness required meet the demands of Forest’s busy schedule. Went on to feature in eight games. Looked like a technically gifted player, but needed to stamp his authority on matches.

RATING 5

19. Guy Moussi

On the opening day of the season, he looked like he could be the best player outside of the Premier League. Later in the season, he looked like a headless chicken, with more enthusiasm than intelligence. The serious ankle injury that kept him out for five months could have disrupted his adaptation to English football, but the ability is clearly there if only he and/or Billy Davies can harness it. A bit more maturity could make him one of the most important players in the squad.

RATING 6

20. Carl Fletcher (on loan from Crystal Palace)

Played five matches before having his loan cut short due to a back injury. Forest picked up only three points in those matches, and his impact seems minimal to say the least.

RATING 4

20. Iain Turner (on loan from Everton)

Signed by Billy Davies in the aftermath of the 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Bunley, he conceded four goals in his three appearances before breaking his toe and ruling himself out of the final four matches of the season. At fault for both of Bristol City’s goals in the 3-2 win in April, though Davies admitted he was picked despite being ill, it is unlikely he will return, and as Everton have high hopes for him, and return would be only on loan again.

RATING 4

21. Lee Camp (on loan from Queens Park Rangers)

A penalty save against Derby cemented his place in the hearts of Forest supporters, and he went on to establish himself as number one during his fifteen appearances. A better all-round keeper than Smith, though not such a good shot-stopper, his future remains clouded in doubt. Rumours of a permanent return persist, but he hinted that Colin Calderwood was the manager that wanted him, and that perhaps Billy Davies didn’t, and so returned to QPR in January.

RATING 7

22. Gary McSheffrey (on loan from Birmingham City)

McSheffrey joined from Birmingham in order to get match practice but succumbed to a knee injury after only four appearances. Against Watford he showed glimpses of ability, but was some distance short of the player who lit up this division for Birmingham a few years ago. Even though he hinted that should the loan be made permanent he would have no objections, I feel it unlikely that any such move will happen. For one thing, in Earnshaw and Garner, we have enough diminutive strikers, and also a fit, on-form McSheffrey is probably a valuable weapon for a club with loftier ambitions than those possessed by Forest at this moment in time.

RATING 4

23. Dexter Blackstock (on loan from Queens Park Rangers)

A surprise signing, particularly as he was QPR’s runaway top scorer. Two vital goals – the winner against Bristol City, and the opener away at Blackpool – mean he could be credited with keeping Forest in the Championship if one were feeling very generous. Tall and pacy, he offered something different from the other strikers on Forest’s books, and it remains to be seen whether or not Billy Davies will look to make his loan move permanent. A regular scorer at Championship level, he would be a valuable addition if available at the right price, though I feel someone more prolific would be needed for a serious attempt at the Premiership.

RATING 7

24. Mark Byrne

Only two substitute appearances, and a loan spell at Burton Albion would indicate that his future is up in the air. One problem he faces is the strong competition for a place as the more attack-minded midfielder. Getting past Lewis McGugan, Chris Cohen and Matt Thornhil could prove too much for him.

RATING 4

26. Matt Thornhill

Further established himself as a first team regular this season, and weighed in with three goals. Made 28 appearances in total, with a dozen coming as a substitute. Tidy without being spectacular, he should push on next season.

RATING 7

27. Brendan Moloney

One of the brightest prospects at the club if some are to be believed. Called back from a loan spell by Colin Calderwood, and responded with a strong performance in the win over Barnsley in December. In and out of the team after that, with his last appearance coming in the 2-1 defeat away at Ipswich in February. One for next season perhaps.

RATING 6

28. Emile Sinclair

Only four substitute appearances, and loan spells away from the club would imply that his future lies elsewhere, a view supported by the fact that Billy Davies described him as "a million miles away from a first team player". Seems blessed with pace but lacking in almost every other respect.

RATING 3

29. Julian Bennett

A season to forget for last year’s Player of the Season. An injury in October kept him out for nearly two months, and then ruptured ligaments on Boxing Day three substitute appearances into his comeback ended his season after only a dozen league appearances. Next season will be the one where he needs to show he can make the step up to Championship level.

RATING 5

36. Joe Heath

On the three occasions I saw him play he looked like he lacked pace, and was generally vulnerable. This season hasn’t been the ideal situation in which to give young players experience, but a dozen appearances indicate that he can’t have been too far out of his depth. Finished the season out of the first-team picture as the arrival of Chris Gunter and Joel Lynch’s return to fitness meant the left-back spot was filled.

RATING 5

37. Adam Newbold

Marked his debut with a goal against Morecambe in the League Cup, and went on to make five more substitute appearances. Finished the season out on loan, and will need to work hard to get into the first team reckoning if Billy Davies succeeds in building a squad with the five senior strikers he wants.

RATING 5

41. James Reid

Only one appearance made, as a substitute in the 1-0 win over Barnsley in December. However, he makes regular appearances for England youth teams and would appear to be one for the future.

RATING 5

NEXT SEASON

Transfers

It was announced before the final game of the season that Ian Breckin would be leaving at the end of his contract as he couldn’t be guaranteed regular football. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Arron Davies, Emile Sinclair and possibly Paul Smith follow him out of the club.

I suspect that the loans of Gary McSheffrey, Iain Turner and Isaiah Osbourne won’t be renewed, and I think it is entirely possible that Liverpool will be reluctant to let Paul Anderson go out on loan for a third consecutive season. Either they’ll decide to keep him, or they’ll sell him. Joel Lynch will almost certainly be sold by Brighton this summer after effectively burning his bridges with the manner of his departure, and with Brighton struggling in League One, he could be available for a bargain price. Whether or not Davies considers him to be good enough for the club and is willing to commit to a permanent signing remains to be seen.

As already mentioned, Chris Gunter has expressed an interest in returning on loan next season if Tottenham are willing to let him go and feel it would benefit him.

There are rumours in some newspapers that Billy Davies wants to bring in Lee Camp and Dexter Blackstock permanently from Queens Park Rangers.

Given that Paul Smith has been dropped or overlooked by all of Colin Calderwood, John Pemberton and Billy Davies when an alternative has been fit and available, it would appear that the signing of a keeper, whether it is Lee Camp or not, is highly likely.

It is almost certain that Davies will sign at least one striker over the summer. He has mentioned in interviews that he likes to have five senior strikers in the squad, and with only Rob Earnshaw, Nathan Tyson and Joe Garner permanent members of the squad there is room for two more. One striker with physical presence and aerial threat is a must, though Dele Adebola (who Davies tried to sign back in January) wouldn’t be my choice. At 33, he would only be a short-term answer to a long-term problem.

The departure of Ian Breckin means that a centre back is a must, and also a player of experience, since there is now nobody in the squad over the age of 30. Both of these boxes could be ticked with one signing, and with Davies supposedly trying to sign him back in January, Rob Jones of Hibernian could be the man to fill the void.

A right back has been lacking for several years, and despite Brendan Moloney’s emergence into the first-team scene, Davies might opt for someone with more experience. The manager has been quoted as saying he wants to play James Perch in his more favoured role – defence – but whether that would be at centre-back, the position Perch played in the youth teams, or right-back remains to be seen. Either way, the defence could do with some more depth, and so a couple of signings wouldn’t go amiss.

Tactics

Rob Earnshaw’s diminutive stature means that if he is to play, he really needs a partner with physical presence, which would indicate that two up front might be the way forward.

I would be interested to see Forest experiment with the 4-3-3/4-5-1 hybrid that has become so popular in recent years, with a front line of Tyson on the left, McCleary on the right and Earnshaw through the middle. This would leave Earnshaw on his own up front however, and this season has shown that not to be an effective tactic. On the positive side, it would allow Davies to play all three of Moussi, Cohen and McGugan in midfield. Given that Davies has expressed an interest in playing Cohen in central midfield, a 4-4-2 would require him to play either Cohen or McGugan, or rein in Cohen’s attacking instincts and use him as a defensive midfielder. Neither strategy being particularly appealing.

Aims

Billy Davies has spoken on more than one occasion of his desire for the club to progress next season to the point where they aren’t involved in the relegation battle, and this must be the minimum aim. Promotion, or even a push for the play-offs should be out of the question, and it is important that the club remembers to walk before they try to run. I think we should be aiming to be the equal of clubs like Sheffield Wednesday and Crystal Palace next season, and finish around the halfway mark. This should be easily achievable. I know I’m biased, but playing for Forest must surely be a more attractive proposition than turning out for Plymouth Argyle, Barnsley, Blackpool or Doncaster Rovers. As a result, we should be able to attract better players than the aforementioned clubs – and possibly also the likes of Coventry City, Watford and Leicester City – and hopefully finish higher up the league as a result.

Another aim for the season has to be gaining some footballing revenge for the 3-1 home defeat inflicted by Derby County back in February.

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