When appointed Nottingham Forest manager on July 19th, Sean O’Driscoll had a big task on his hands to get the club ready for a new campaign. Having inherited an imbalanced squad with one senior defender on the books, he had to bring in eight new players to have a team capable of competing in the Championship. Six weeks down the line Forest have enjoyed an unbeaten start to the season and played some good football in the process, which is a job well done by O’Driscoll and all concerned – so far.
After last year’s largely forgettable campaign there is a feel good factor returning at the City Ground thanks to the quick turnaround since the end of last season, when the club was looking for new owners, had a manager in place who divided the fans and saw several first-team players leave for nothing as their contracts expired.
Since the Al-Hasawi family completed their takeover of the club in July, they have said the right things and look to have a long-term plan they wish to see through. Despite talk of an ‘iconic’ name replacing Steve Cotterill following his sacking as Forest manager, the Al-Hasawi’s gave the job to O’Driscoll, which is already looking a shrewd move.
Backed by the new owners, O’Driscoll addressed the problems in defence by bringing in Danny Collins, Greg Halford, Dan Harding plus Daniel Ayala and Sam Hutchinson on loan. He also moved to bring back fan favourite Adlene Guedioura on a permanent deal alongside Simon Gillett and striker Simon Cox.
It is the speed with which Forest concluded their transfer business that is pleasing. We have been told by the Al-Hasawi’s that there is money to spend, but O’Driscoll has not broken the bank to bring in new faces.
On the pitch Forest overcame a spirited Fleetwood Town 1-0 in the first round of the Capital One Cup before league action got underway with a home meeting against Bristol City, which also ended 1-0 to the Reds thanks to an Adlene Guedioura strike midway through the second half. It was Forest’s first goal and first win on an opening day since 2006.
Sean O’Driscoll’s teams are well known for an attractive style of play and there were signs of that during the Bristol match, Forest putting together some good moves which were pleasing on the eye.
The Reds travelled north to face newly-promoted Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium on Tuesday and picked up where they left off against City, enjoying most of the possession for two thirds of the game, dominating their opponents in an impressive display of composed, passing football. Cox put Forest ahead in the second half and it should have been more, but Forest were to be punished for failing to take their chances when Jordan Rhodes converted a last minute penalty to salvage a point for the hosts.
A trip to relegated Bolton Wanderers on Friday was on paper Forest’s most difficult match of their opening three fixtures and a good chance to test themselves against a team boasting Premier League quality.
For the opening thirty minutes, Forest looked more like the side relegated from the top flight as they passed the ball around with confidence and didn’t give Bolton a sniff. Lewis McGugan gave the Reds the lead with a brilliant long-range drive which flew in off the bar from 25 yards out, but Bolton rallied and in the last fifteen minutes of the half got themselves back into the game.
Despite what looked like a two handed push by Kevin Davies on Danny Collins, Chris Eagles fired in an equaliser after Davies’ header came back out off the post with Collins on the floor. Davies then helped Bolton take the lead early in the second period as he seized on Greg Halford’s hesitance in defence to square for Marvin Sordell, who made it 2-1 with a guided finish off the far post.
Forest rode out the pressure and got themselves a deserved equaliser ten minutes later when Cox controlled Dexter Blackstock’s flick-on and laid the ball perfectly to Andy Reid, who curled it in off the inside of the post for 2-2. Both sides had their chances to win it, but the draw was a fair result and a good one for O’Driscoll’s side.
The draw puts Forest eighth in the Championship table with five points on the board and much to be optimistic about. O’Driscoll deserves much credit for getting the side performing and getting a new backline to settle quickly.
Danny Collins has had the captain’s armband and has been comfortable in the role, putting in some commanding displays. Greg Halford alongside him has been solid and his ability to play in the middle of defence or at full back is valuable. Harding, despite conceding that penalty at Huddersfield, has performed well at left-back while Brendan Moloney has also caught the eye with some good displays on the right hand side of the back four. Having been understudy to Chris Gunter for the last few years, he has a chance of making the position his own following the Welshman’s move to Reading.
Simon Gillett has impressed in midfield, doing the kind of job Paul McKenna used to before his move to Hull – sitting in front of the defence, breaking up the play, hassling opponents and starting attacks by passing the ball onto the more creative players in the side. O’Driscoll managed Gillett at Doncaster and it’s easy to see why he rates him.
Lewis McGugan has started all four games in league and cup, with O’Driscoll giving the talented midfielder a chance to impress. He has done well so far and his goal at Bolton was another spectacular strike to add to his collection, but he has blown hot and cold in recent years. Hopefully a new manager will get him producing his best consistently, because the talent is there.
Despite having numerous strikers at the club, Forest paid £2 million to bring Simon Cox in from West Brom and he has already looked a great signing. He works hard off the ball, is a good team player and has shown he can find the back of the net. The Ireland international has been involved in three of Forest’s four league goals so far, scoring with a clinical finish at Huddersfield and setting up two – including Guedioura’s with his first touch in a Red shirt against Bristol City. He will be a big presence in this Forest side throughout the season.
The slight concern in the squad is a lack of width on the right hand side of midfield following the exits of Paul Anderson and Garath McCleary during the summer, so there may be a new addition there. Today Forest made it nine summer signings with the purchase of Henri Lansbury on a four year deal from Arsenal for £1 million.
The 21-year-old is a talented midfielder who can play through the centre or on the right and knows all about winning promotion from the Championship, having done so with Norwich and West Ham in the last two seasons during loan spells. The deal could rise to over £2 million should Forest achieve promotion in the next two years. Having been schooled at Arsenal he is the kind of player who will fit in with Sean O’Driscoll’s style of play and is a signing that has already got fans excited.
It has been an encouraging first week to the campaign and gives Reds supporters much to look forward to as the season goes on. The team is a work in progress but given the way new players have settled in and the style in which Forest are beginning to play, they will be a match for most sides in the Championship.
O’Driscoll is a manager who likes to get on with the job quietly which is exactly what Forest need after the year they’ve had. In his post match interviews he’s been reserved but honest in his assessment of the team and how things are progressing.
There will be the inevitable ups and downs as is so often the case during a 46 game campaign, but the signs are there that this side will continue to improve as they play together more, which is an exciting prospect.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and Nottingham Forest blogger
Steven tweets at @steven_toplis