With two months of the season already gone, Nottingham Forest can feel pleased with what they have achieved so far and feel encouraged as to what the remainder of the campaign could bring.
Six wins, four draws and just one defeat from their opening 11 games represents a good start for the team and manager Billy Davies, as the club has quickly established a place among the Championship’s front-runners.
Significantly, this is also the best start that Davies has made to any Championship season, whether with Forest or previous clubs Preston North End and Derby County. His sides are notorious slow starters and with Preston, Derby and Forest, the Scotsman had previously never managed to win more than one of the first five league matches of the season.
The last time Forest kicked off a full season under his tenure, in 2010-11, the club won only two of their first 11 league games. While a year before that, Forest managed only one win in eight, as they made another slow start to the campaign.
Davies’ sides tend to pick up form in late October and go on extended unbeaten runs – once they are in their stride they are a force to be reckoned with. For example, after the stuttering start to the 2009-10 campaign, Forest subsequently went four months – 19 games in total – without suffering defeat.
The run helped the Reds to surge the table and forged the backbone of a season that ended with a playoff appearance, which they also achieved the year after.
If he can coax a similar run of excellent form from his players this season, then Forest could potentially be occupying an automatic promotion position in a few months’ time.
Forest were busy in the summer transfer market and so far, most of their new additions have performed well. Jack Hobbs joined from Hull City on loan, with a permanent switch agreed at the end of the season and he has forged one of the best centre-back partnerships in the league alongside Kelvin Wilson, who has returned to the club after three years with Celtic.
Behind them, goalkeeper Karl Darlow has barely put a foot wrong after starting the campaign as the number one, despite the acquisition of the experienced Dorus de Vries, who has so far been limited to appearances in the League Cup. Darlow’s shot stopping ability and command of his area have been impressive and at the age of 23, he could be Forest’s first-choice keeper for many years to come.
Jamie Mackie has made a positive impact, playing either on the right or in a central striking role. The former Queens Park Rangers man seems to have become a favourite of Davies already and his willingness to work hard for the team is a key asset to the side. If he could add a few more goals to his game then he will become an even more important figure as the season goes on.
Djamel Abdoun, who signed from Olympiakos, has shown glimpses of his quality as he regains full fitness following injury. The Algerian is not afraid to take players on with his skilful play and he will be exciting to watch this season.
Following the sale of Adlene Guedioura to Crystal Palace – which seemed to split the Forest fan base with some believing he was not quite right for the team, others thinking that he was a key player – the club moved quickly to bring in a replacement, albeit on loan.
Nathaniel Chalobah has joined the club on loan from Chelsea until January at least and his capture is a real coup for the Reds. The 18-year-old England youth international impressed during a loan spell with Watford last season as he helped the Hornets to reach the playoff final and is widely regarded as one of the best young players in the country.
Watford were unable to afford the fees to sign Chalobah on loan and the fact that Forest have signed him is a sure sign that the club’s owners are backing the manager to provide the players he wants. Chalobah has looked a little off the pace in his first few Forest matches, which is understandable as he has played little football this season, but once he regains match sharpness he will make a big impact in defensive midfield.
For all the talk about the club’s new signings, it is Andy Reid who has been attracting the headlines so far thanks to some excellent performances. The 31-year-old midfielder has scored five goals in 13 games, with most of those being spectacular strikes from range. Reid has a terrific left foot and his creativity with the ball plays a huge role in the Forest side. His form has not gone unnoticed as Reid has earned a recall to the Republic of Ireland squad, which is great to see.
Forest have been strong at home so far, which was the case throughout Davies’ previous tenure. The Reds are unbeaten at the City Ground, winning four matches and drawing the other one. On the road they have not been quite as dominant but they still have a good record of two wins, three defeats and one loss, which came at Wigan Athletic.
The team are playing some good football in spells, with performances against Watford, Bolton Wanderers and the recent victory at Brighton & Hove Albion particular highlights. It is clear that Davies is trying to make the most of the creative talents at his disposal with Reid and Henri Lansbury in particular being given the platform to cause problems for the opposition.
If there is a slight concern, it is that Forest have not got a proven goalscorer in the squad. Many fans have looked at the likes of Charlie Austin at QPR and Danny Ings at Burnley as examples of players to sign, but such players come at a premium and clubs are unwilling to part with them unless they receive good sums of money.
A so-called ’20-goal-a-season man’ helps of course, but it is not a necessity to succeed in the Championship. Many sides have been promoted from this division with top scorers who have barely reached double figures and provided the goals are shared around the team, there is no problem.
Davies has always tended to rotate his strikeforce anyway, so even if Forest had a Charlie Austin in the squad there’s no guarantee that he’d play every week. The Reds have scored 19 goals in 11 games so far, with several players getting their names on the scoresheet, which suggests that they aren’t struggling to find the back of the net.
Overall, Forest have performed well in the opening stages of the season, serving up some entertaining football and good results, especially away at Brighton and with a 1-0 home win over rivals Derby County.
The team have enjoyed a good start to the campaign and there are signs that there’s a lot more to come from the team over the course of the season. If they can build on their good start and continue to improve as a side, Forest could well be celebrating promotion in May.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger
Steven tweets at @steven_toplis