For Nottingham Forest, this season has largely been one to forget. Having reached the Championship play-offs in 2010 and 2011, the Reds kicked off in August with hopes of promotion, instead they battled to avoid the drop into League One. Thankfully safety was secured last week by virtue of Coventry City losing at home to Millwall, while Steve Cotterill’s Forest watched Reading celebrate promotion back to the big time as they lost 1-0 to the Royals.
At the beginning of the campaign it was hoped such jubilant scenes would be witnessed at the City Ground, instead the relief was palpable as Forest earned themselves Championship football for next season, which is some form of success given the events of the last eight months. There were times when it seemed the club were doomed to the drop, but much improved form since February hauled them out of the bottom three to secure safety with two games remaining.
With the high-profile managerial appointment of Steve McClaren being replaced by Cotterill in October after a sluggish start, Chairman and club owner Nigel Doughty stepping down from his chairmanship before tragically passing away in January and the financial uncertainty which has arisen, many are glad to see this tumultuous campaign nearing its end.
Steve Cotterill may still not have won over the Forest faithful, but he deserves credit for the turnaround in the last couple of months. Working with a squad which was top-heavy with strikers but woefully short on defensive cover, Cotterill addressed the problem with the astute loan signings of George Elokobi, Danny Higginbotham, Scott Wooton, whilst bringing in midfielder Adlene Guedioura, who has been nothing short of a revelation since joining from Wolverhampton Wanderers until the end of the season.
Nigel Doughty put funding in place before his death, promising to fulfill contracts signed during his time as chairman and that will continue until 2013, but his resignation in October left Cotterill – and new Chairman Frank Clark – working on a tight budget without the luxury of spending money to reshape the team.
The January sales of Wes Morgan to Leicester City and young striker Patrick Bamford to Chelsea brought in £2.5 million, which funded the loan signings to provide a more balanced squad, which ultimately led to improved form and Forest’s climb out of the relegation zone. Cotterill then brought in Sean O’Driscoll as First Team Coach and the former Doncaster Rovers manager has also played a part in the revival. The quality of football had decreased after Cotterill joined Forest and the results were not forthcoming either. Since O’Driscoll’s arrival the Reds have improved on that front, playing some attractive, passing football once more and picking up points in the process.
That magnificent 7-3 victory over Leeds United at Elland Road was the undoubted highlight of a forgettable campaign and it is the Reds’ away form that has propelled them to safety. With the worst home record in the division, Forest collected impressive wins at Blackpool, Birmingham and Crystal Palace amongst others – which is quite a contrast to previous seasons when their home form was excellent but their away form patchy.
The fact Forest will be in the Championship next season is significant, as the club can now expect greater revenue and can begin to plan for a new campaign knowing which division they will be in. With the club up for sale, they are a more attractive proposition than if they were a League One outfit, so this will hopefully attract more potential investors.
As we head into the summer, the club’s ownership is the most pressing issue. Rumours are already circulating of investors from Kuwait battling a consortium from the United States to buy the club. Whether it is one of those two or another party who takeover the club, the financial stability it will provide is vital for Forest’s future. As it stands the club have to spend within their means and work to a tight budget, which makes the signing of new players and the offering of contracts difficult.
As many as six players could walk out of the City Ground when their deals expire in the summer including captain Luke Chambers and Paul Anderson, with a further eight seeing their contracts ending in 12 months time and Steve Cotterill has already expressed his concern with the club’s policy over retaining players.
Garath McCleary and Joel Lynch, two of Forest’s stand-out performers this season, have been offered new contracts but the club’s financial plight means it may not be easy to offer new deals to other out-of-contract players. Until the ownership issue is settled, there isn’t much Cotterill or anyone else can do.
Recent defeats to Reading and Hull City only served to highlight some of the shortcomings which have blighted Forest’s season. Despite performing well and carving out good opportunites at the Madejski and KC Stadiums, the Reds lost 1-0 at Reading and were beaten 2-1 by Hull, with Radoslaw Majewski’s strike a mere consolation. A lack of cutting edge has cost Forest crucial points across the season so a new striker will be top of the list of transfer targets.
Garath McCleary’s explosive form under Steve Cotterill, including a four goal haul at Leeds, has seen him go from squad player to first-choice winger in a matter of months. The former Bromley man, signed for £25,000 in 2008, could also end up being the club’s top scorer, he currently sits top of the list with nine for the season. Despite having the likes of Ishmael Miller, Matt Derbyshire, David McGoldrick and Marcus Tudgay on the books, Forest’s striking options have not delivered the goods this season. Dexter Blackstock has arguably been the best performer of the lot since returning from injury in January, netting six times.
The players brought in on loan have largely performed well and many supporters would like to see their stays made permanent, none more so than Adlene Guedioura. The Algerian midfielder arrived at the City Ground in January from Wolves and quickly caught the eye with some dominant displays in the middle of the park. He has provided both defensive steel and attacking threat and he could easily be the best midfielder in the Championship next season. Hopefully he will be proving that in the Red of Forest rather than the Gold of his parent club.
Fellow Wolves loanee George Elokobi and Manchester City defender Greg Cunningham have ably filled the left-back spot and either of them would be welcomed back should they return. Danny Higginbotham would be a good signing, his experience and leadership skills were crucial in defence during a period when Forest were battling for their Championship lives. Scott Wooton has also done well, the 19-year-old centre-back is highly rated and if Manchester United were willing to let him go, either on loan again or permanently then Forest could do a lot worse than bringing him back.
Steve Cotterill could potentially have a strong squad on his hands should his loan signings become permanent, but again that would all rest on the finances being in place to make that happen. It only makes it all the more important that Forest can secure new investment through owners who want to take the club forward.
It is going to be a nervy wait until those new investors are in place, as everyone associated with the club hope the ownership issue can be resolved sooner rather than later. The football club and all parties involved will rightly remain silent until a deal is struck. For now though we can all breathe a big sigh of relief that Nottingham Forest will be a Championship side next season and happily draw a line under the current campaign.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger
Steven tweets at @steven_toplis