Steven Toplis continues his review of last season:
Forest’s 2012 began with the re-signing of striker Marlon Harewood on a four month contract. The 32-year-old had been playing for Guangzhou FC in China and his free transfer to the Reds provided further competition up front.
Steve Cotterill’s men got the New Year off to a perfect start as they beat fellow strugglers Ipswich Town 3-1 at Portman Road. Marcus Tudgay’s fifth minute opener brought an end to Forest’s ten hour goal drought and he would go on to nod in another after Garath McCleary’s excellent 20 yard drive which sealed a much-needed win, Forest’s first since they beat the same opponents at home in mid-November.
Harewood started Forest’s next match at home to Southampton but it was an afternoon to forget for him and his teammates. The table-topping Saints ran out 3-0 winners at the City Ground as Forest fell to their fifth successive home defeat, not helped by captain Luke Chambers’ sending off after the break. A week later they travelled to second placed West Ham and despite a better performance, were beaten 2-1 after the Hammers were awarded two debatable penalty kicks.
In amongst this was an FA Cup third round tie with Leicester. After a goalless encounter at the City Ground, Forest travelled to the King Power stadium for the replay, where they put in one of their worst performances of the season. Robbie Findley managed to miss an open goal from three yards out but in truth Forest were poor and deservedly beaten 4-0.
Following the defeats to West Ham and Leicester, Forest finally began to act in the transfer window. Nigel Doughty’s decision to withdraw his funding had already been felt and it meant Frank Clark and Steve Cotterill would have to wheel and deal to bring in new players.
With a day of the transfer window remaining, centre-back Wes Morgan was sold to rivals Leicester City for £1 million, the popular defender swapping a relegation battle for a promotion push with the Foxes, after eight years as a Forest player.
A further £1.5 million was raised by selling the highly-rated youth academy product Patrick Bamford to Chelsea. The striker had caught the eye with some impressive displays in Forest’s FA Youth Cup run and it was hoped he would break into the first team given the Reds’ struggles in front of goal.
However the money accumulated from those sales would prove crucial as Steve Cotterill now had the funds available to bolster the Forest squad. He cited a lack of defenders as a major issue for the club’s struggles and moved to bring in three on loan before the transfer window closed; Danny Higginbotham from Stoke City, Manchester United youngster Scott Wooton and George Elokobi from Wolves. Also joining on loan from Wolves was midfielder Adlene Guedioura.
Also joining Forest was Sean O’Driscoll. The former Doncaster manager came in as First Team Coach and was Cotterill’s first addition to the backroom team, having been working with Steve McClaren’s staff since joining Forest. With the quality of football gradually getting worse under Cotterill, It was hoped O’Driscoll could encourage the Reds to get back to playing attractive, passing football.
Guedioura made his Forest debut against Burnley the day after his arrival, but could not stop the Reds’ poor home form as two Jay Rodriguez headers sealed a 2-0 win for the visitors. However within days Forest’s struggles on the field became somewhat irrelevant.
On Feburary 4th news broke that Forest owner Nigel Doughty had died suddenly at his home in Lincolnshire. The tragic news came as a huge shock not just to those associated with Forest, but also in the sporting and business worlds. As a life-long Nottingham Forest fan, the 54-year-old invested over £70 million into the club after taking over in 1999 and saved the Reds from administration. After resigning as Chairman in October he remained the club’s owner.
There were those who criticised some of Doughty’s decisions during his chairmanship, but his support and dedication to Forest could never be questioned. For his generosity over the last 13 years, Reds fans will be truly grateful.
Forest were due to play Derby County at Pride Park the day after Doughty’s death, but poor weather saw the game abandoned. The first game since his passing was a home match against Watford and an emotional City Ground paid their respects to Doughty with a minute’s applause before kick-off. A Reds side including some of their new recruits played out a 1-1 draw against the Hornets, with Garath McCleary’s strike the only reward for an improved performance, despite Forest creating more clear-cut goalscoring opportunites.
A 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough three days later meant Forest were second bottom in the table, six points adrift of safety and it looked as if the Reds would be doomed to the drop. However Coventry were beaten 2-0 at the City Ground in a relegation six-pointer, a brilliant solo goal from the ever-improving Garath McCleary and a Robbie Findley finish seeing off the Sky Blues. This result, coupled with Portsmouth’s ten point deduction for going into administration for a second time, saw Forest go from six points adrift of safety to three points clear within a week. Then, against the odds, Forest defeated play-off chasing Birmingham City 2-1 at St. Andrews thanks to a brace from Dexter Blackstock, his first goals since returning from a horrific knee injury.
A McCleary goal was enough to earn Forest a point away at Barnsley, before they faced two relegation rivals at home in consecutive matches. The first could not have gone worse from a Reds perspective as they let bottom of the table Doncaster win 2-1 and were in danger of moving back into the relegation zone. However on the following Saturday they dispatched Kenny Jackett’s Millwall 3-1, with goals from McCleary, Danny Higginbotham and an impressive Andy Reid securing the three points.
Three days later came the re-arranged Derby County fixture. Unfortunately for Forest it would be the Rams’ celebrating a double over their fierce rivals as a Jake Buxton goal in stoppage time saw the Reds defeated.
However after that disappointment came a night which will live long in the memory of any Forest supporter. As they travelled to Elland Road to face Neil Warnock’s Leeds United, few were expecting the Reds to get much from the game, especially when they fell behind to Robert Snodgrass’ early penalty. However Forest, lining up in a 4-51 formation which saw Radoslaw Majewski restored to the side, supporting Blackstock up front, fought back.
Adlene Guedioura hit a brilliant 35 yard drive which powered into the top corner to level matters within two minutes and the Reds began to take control. They went 3-1 ahead seven minutes into the second half thanks to a McCleary strike and a close-range Blackstock header, only to be pegged back to 3-3 within a mad three minutes. Then Cotterill’s men ran riot. Garath McCleary scored a superb volley to make it 4-3 and added two more to take his tally to four before Blackstock sealed a memorable 7-3 victory with a clever finish eight minutes from the end.
Buoyed by that fantastic win Forest drew two and won one of their next three games, sharing the spoils with Brighton thanks to a late Joel Lynch equaliser and battling their way to a goalless draw at Leicester, a far cry from their showing at the King Power Stadium in the FA Cup a few months previously.
Then a Radoslaw Majewski hat-trick saw Forest win 3-0 at Crystal Palace to put further distance between themselves and the bottom three before the Easter Saturday visit of Bristol City, a side attempting to gain ground on Forest as they fought their own battle to stay up. After a tight first half, a moment of madness from Lee Camp in the second period gifted the Robins a penalty which Chris Wood dispatched and despite a late rally, Forest could not find an equaliser, falling to their twelfth home defeat of the season.
They made up for that disappointment on Easter Monday by winning at Peterborough United. After dominating for long spells, Dexter Blackstock’s goal proved enough for Cotterill’s side to bring all three points back to Nottingham. The downside though was the sending off of Garath McCleary for a rash challenge, which may have looked a harsh decision by the referee at first, but it meant Forest would be without their in-form winger for the next three games.
The first of those came at home to Blackpool, where Forest earned a credible point against Ian Holloway’s play-off bound Tangerines to move seven points clear of the bottom three, but two difficult away assignments followed at Reading and Hull.
Reading’s surge up the table meant if they beat Forest they could secure promotion to the Premier League, while Forest could guarantee safety with a win. For most of the match the Reds looked the better side, but Mikele Leigertwood’s goal kicked off a promotion party for the Royals. However Coventry City’s defeat at the hands of Millwall meant, whatever happened at the Madejski Stadium, Forest were safe.
As thousands of Reading fans streamed onto the pitch at the final whistle, Forest supporters everywhere could breathe a sigh of relief as The Reds were staying up with two games to spare.
Four days later Forest travelled to Hull and again put in a good performance with some neat, passing football causing their hosts many problems. However a lack of cutting edge cost Steve Cotterill’s side as a Chris Gunter own goal and Matt Fryatt’s penalty gave Hull the win. There was enough time for Majewski to net a last minute consolation.
Forest hosted Portsmouth on the final day of the season in a match which, earlier in the campaign, looked as if it could be a relegation shootout. However as Pompey were already down, both sides could enjoy the match with the pressure off and a Blackstock double in the second half saw Forest take the spoils.
It has been a largely forgettable campaign from a Reds perspective, as hopes of a third consecutive promotion push were quickly extinguished, replaced by fears of the club dropping into League One.
Steve Cotterill may not have been popular amongst all sections of Forest support, but he did his job in keeping Forest in the Championship and for that he has to be congratulated. His loan signings were astute and went a long way to helping the side stay up.
Adlene Guedioura was a revelation, his energy and drive in midfield a key factor in Forest’s upturn in form from February onwards. He provided defensive steel and a threat going forward and could easily be the best player in this division next season. Hopefully he’ll be proving that in a Forest shirt rather than a Wolves one.
Garath McCleary was given an extended run in the side by Cotterill and flourished, becoming the Reds’ main attacking threat down the right hand side, setting up goals and scoring several key ones himself. Having struggled to break into the Forest first team since joining in 2008, he looked a new player this season and has already been offered a new contract. To see him leave would be a massive blow.
Sean O’Driscoll deserves credit for the job he’s done behind the scenes as First Team Coach. His influence was well received amongst the players and it’s perhaps no surprise the standard of football improved once he arrived at the club.
With several first-team players coming to the end of their contracts, Steve Cotterill has already expressed his concerns with the club’s transfer policy, which has seen many players leave for nothing over the past couple of seasons. With McCleary, Joel Lynch, Luke Chambers and Paul Anderson in the final weeks of their current deals, the club needs to act quickly to keep hold of them.
As the summer approaches, the pressing issue at Forest is the ownership of the club. Forest is up for sale, but Nigel Doughty’s estate has pledged to provide funds for next season should there be no suitable buyers. It is hoped there will be new owners in place sooner rather than later but with no news as of yet, the waiting continues.
For now though we can all enjoy the summer knowing Forest will be a Championship club next season. The past nine months have been difficult to say the least, but everyone can now draw a line under the current campaign and hope for better things next time around. Some investment would be nice to start off with!