At Nottingham Forest this season, we have seen the good, the bad and, at times, the ugly.
Following the return of club icon Stuart Pearce as manager during the summer, the Reds went their first 12 league games unbeaten and were top of the table during the early stages of the campaign.
However, Pearce’s men have floundered in recent weeks and have gone their last 10 games without a win in all competitions, including nine in the Championship, following Wednesday night’s 3-1 defeat to Brentford at The City Ground.
The manner of the defeat to the Bees, along with recent reversals to Huddersfield and Blackburn, is what frustrates the most, with poor defending and a lack of creativity costing Forest points. The defence, in particular, have struggled of late, giving away sloppy goals and handing the opposition chances on a plate.
Forest started against Brentford without a recognised striker, as Michail Antonio played alone up front, while Michael Mancienne moved into a defensive midfield position, with Kelvin Wilson and Jamaal Lascelles behind him in the centre of defence. In theory, these personnel changes would give the defence more protection, which is understandable given the fact they had shipped 12 in their last five games.
However , this theory was blown out of the water within 17 minutes as Jon Toral gave the visitors the lead. In the build up to the goal, Jack Hunt sustained an injury and had to be replaced by Eric Lichaj who, within a few minutes of coming on passed the ball straight to Brentford forward Andre Gray, and he finished beyond Karl Darlow to double the Bees’ lead.
Then, another poor backpass – this time from Wilson – went to Gray, but his effort was saved by Darlow. Brentford extended their lead five minutes after the break, as Gray went on a surging run into the box and Wilson brought him down to give away a penalty. Alex Pritchard put the spot-kick away to make it 3-0.
Forest improved as the game wore on, with Britt Assombalonga having an effort disallowed and Henri Lansbury, Thomas Ince and Danny Fox all testing the goalkeeper with strikes from distance. Forest netted a consolation late on, as Jamie Paterson played a cross-field pass to Antonio, who cut inside on his left foot and unleashed a superb drive that flew past goalkeeper David Button. There was little hope of a dramatic comeback, though, and the score ended 3-1 to the visitors.
The performance was poor, especially in defence. Brentford could have had at least three more goals and the ones they did get were the result of some poor work at the back.
There are a small number of supporters already claiming that Pearce is not good enough for the job and should go, which after 16 games in charge is a harsh viewpoint. Managerial changes have not helped our cause in recent seasons and it’s hard to see how it would improve the club right now.
We won’t be able to bring in a man more determined to make Forest a success than Pearce. His legendary status among the support will buy him time, and this is just what he needs to turn things around.
He is a honest individual who will be trying his hardest to stop the slump and he’s not the one telling players to inexplicably pass the ball to the opposition or miss chances when in front of goal.
Forest and Pearce missing their leaders on the pitch, the influential players who make the team tick. Pearce was able select his strongest line-up at beginning of the season and the results were positive.
Much like last term, the manager has been robbed of three of his most influential players – Jack Hobbs, Andy Reid and captain Chris Cohen. With our most dominating centre-back, our most creative player and our skipper out the team are suffering and Pearce has himself admitted this. The trio are genuine leaders and any side at this level would miss their qualities. It’s no coincidence that results have tailed off without them. Cohen is out for the remainder of the season, but Hobbs and Reid coming back will be a big help.
Forest are still a good side and should be doing better, but it’s clear to see why they’re struggling at the moment. Even when they weren’t at their best during games earlier in the season, they defended resolutely as a team and got the results they needed. Now the goals are flying into the net too often, games are being lost unnecessarily. In the weeks following Hobbs’ injury, Mancienne, Wilson and Lascelles performed well enough in defence and it is only in recent matches where the goals have started to be shipped at a worrying rate.
Pearce and the team need patience and support from the fans. Granted, the starting eleven against Brentford was surprising, but at least Pearce was making changes in an attempt to improve our fortunes. It would be even more of a concern if he was persisting with a losing formula game after game.
With a home match against Norwich City coming up on Saturday, Pearce should revert to back to a tried and tested line-up, with Assombalonga in attack and Mancienne at the heart of the defence, where has been one of our best performers this season.
As it stands, Forest are five points behind the playoff spots and eight off leaders Bournemouth, so a win is vital if we don’t want to be cut adrift of the promotion race. Getting three points on the board would also provide a confidence boost, which is what the players sorely need right now.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger
Steven tweets at @steven_toplis