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The state of the Nottingham Forest nation

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The international break seemed like a decent time to sit back and assess how the season has gone so far. Unbeaten, joint top of the league - all rosy? Nick Miller, Daniel Storey and David Marples discuss...

Tony Marshall

Nick Miller: And so, with nearly a quarter of the season gone, Forest are joint-top of the table, haven't lost a game and Stuart Pearce is back. All good, right? Well, yes, but it still feels a bit strange. Can we all agree that the performances have not been quite as good as the results suggest...?

Daniel Storey: Yes. We've been largely uninspiring for large portions of games, but more often than not scored when on top. That doesn't sound like a negative when it's written down, but is it really sustainable? In addition, have we beaten a 'good' team yet?

David Marples: It's a difficult one. Of course our position in the table and 'unbeaten' boast is highly pleasing and perhaps beyond what we could have realistically expected at the start of the season, especially given the high turnover of players. But of late, we have looked less than impressive: our last victory was a rather bizarre one against Fulham - yes, that long ago.

Since, then performances have been uninspired. To suggest that cracks are being papered over at the moment runs the risk of sounding ungrateful and doom mongering....but....it doesn't look sustainable unless we can find something else in our locker - and I don't mean more signings - but alternative systems when it isn't going for us.

DS: I think the point of increased expectations is very valid. Football fans (Forest probably more than most) are a very fickle bunch. If we had been offered this position at the start of the season we would, obviously, have been very happy indeed.

I guess we need to be careful about 'expecting' wins rather than earning them, and suspect that applies to the players too after their initial success. As businessman Andy Grove once said: "Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive."



NM: I think there's an element of thinking we should be very happy about all of this, but at the same time having the nagging feeling that it's...I dunno...not quite built on sand, but knowing that it isn't as good as it looks. Antonio's goals are a good example - history and just watching his all-round play tells us that he's going to stop scoring soon enough. I actually don't think he'll be in the team by December, but that's another topic.

That said, things like Antonio's goals aren't quite papering over cracks, more masking the problems that come with a new manager and half a new team. Louis van Gaal said at the weekend that United haven't played well, but they're still fourth, so what will they be like when they do start playing? The next month or so will probably tell us if we're just building up to something or this has all been a bit of a freak run of form.

DS: Indeed. I thought we'd finish ninth so can't really get pissy about us being second. Plus, there clearly isn't likely to be one team that runs away with the league a la previous seasons - simply being resilient may be enough.

One massive plus has been the away form, because too often in last couple of years we have lost away games cheaply. Aside from first half Bolton we've looked solid at the back on the road.

I do, bizarrely given money spent, think that we need another striker, either on loan or in January. Without being too greedy, Veldwijk is for the future at best and Fryatt has had so many injury problems over the last few years. Someone on loan would be wonderful, although a risk is always made doing that.

DM: I wonder whether we are delicately skirting around the elephant in the room here: Pearce's tactics. He hasn't strayed much from playing a lone striker (Britt) and pushing on the two wingers in order to support him. Of course, Fryatt has played up front as a partner but often drops deep or into wide positions. Lansbury has been given the role of a withdrawn striker too. But essentially, when the opposition have pegged our wingers back or they have been simply ineffective (Burke most alarmingly in recent games), we have struggled to implement an effective back up plan - unless you count sending big Lars or pushing Antonio up front.

That said, injuries have once again severely disrupted Pearce's hand. Furthermore, we haven't been overrun or thrown in the towel like we did so many times last season: there really does appear to be a steely resolve made from girders and sponsored by Irn Bru at the heart of this team.

Reading back on my own comments regarding Pearce's tactics, it feels faintly heretical and given the injury situation and the mass influx of new players, it must be said that he has produced a coherent and effective team remarkably quickly. It's just that us Forest fans are used to bright starts giving way to monotonous, goalless and winless runs around this time of year and were this anyone else in charge, I wonder whether we'd be a little more anxious than we are. However, context is all and I'd agree with the pre-season prediction of ninth so let's not get too anxious (that's directed at myself).

Let's not overlook his willingness to throw in the young ones too: it is easy to do that in the League Cup but for Grant to make the bench for league games and for Osborn to be enjoying the game time that he has fills me with hope and pride.

NM: Hope and pride almost sounds like a throwaway line, but it's important. The difference between going to games under Pearce - and not just because of who he was before - than under the last bloke is astonishing. SB Nation's own Andi Thomas said recently that a football team is a series of folk stories - everything else, from players to managers to owners to grounds to club colours, is transient, so the better the folk story, the better it is. Pearce is our best (living) folk story.


DS: I think that's right, but the problem with having Pearce as manager is that it creates that horrible scenario of failed returning hero.

I'm not actually arsed about the Premier League, I think I'd actually prefer the Championship, but us not getting there in the next 2-3 years means that Pearce has failed, and that's a horrid thought. Perhaps that is why we are analysing everything so greatly, because there is this overwhelming about of goodwill and faith in this being right.

What the Al-Hasawi ownership has done is caused a romance vacuum. For me a large part of Forest had changed forever, and I mean that as a negative. Pearce is that one connection with the old Forest (other than, perhaps, Cohen and Reid to a lesser extent).

NM: This has become quite downbeat quite quickly. It's weird that we're all like that when we're top of the table. At least we're not, say, Bolton. What's wrong with us?

DM: Where to start with that last thought...

However, rather than laying my soul bare for all to see, I'll try to analyse what's wrong with us in terms of Forest fans as a collective.

It's been fifteen years since we tumbled out of the Premier League and David Platt took the reins. Frankly, the less said about that period, the better. Since then, it's been hard. Looking back over that period, the highlight is probably that final day win at home against Yeovil Town that meant a return to The Championship. Yes, there's been a few exciting play off moments and the odd satisfactory result against local rivals. But essentially, arguably our finest moment was gatecrashing the top two on the last day of the season to escape League One - where we had resided for three years.

I think that by now, most of us have accepted that we aren't a 'Premier League' club. Or if we haven't, we really should have a long look in the mirror. But even when we have got tantalisingly close, we've blown it, bottled it and traumatised ourselves in the process. Even the 'good times' were built on sand. Maybe we have come to expect some sort of breakdown after even the merest hint of hope. Paul Hart's team was broken up too early and it took us an age to recover from the sales of Dawson, Reid et al. Billy Davies' teams were built for a season with not a thought beyond: win or bust.

And deep down, although we kind of accept that we're not 'big time', a vast swathe of us few remember seeing us at Wembley and regularly upsetting Liverpool and Manchester United. Hell, some of us even went to Europe to see us win the cup twice (just thought I'd get that obligatory mention of that in there - it's the Forest fans' version of Tourette's). We know it'll never be that good again so we beat ourselves up about it and resign ourselves to the fact that even if we were to get promoted, spectres such as Blackpool, Burnley, Charlton and Bolton lurk - financial ruin lies in wait for any Championship team lucky enough to slum it with the big boys for a season. After that? Back to where you came from and spend years recovering.

Admittedly, West Brom and Stoke City have shown us that what is possible but even then, that doesn't look like much fun either. Maybe it's the condition of the Championship football fan: we share the dream of promotion whilst at the same time, fear the dream becoming reality. So we moan about it - there's nothing left to play for.


NM: Blimey. I had no idea there would be this much soul-searching.

Let's get back to some lighter topics. I'm not sure I knew love until I saw Michael Mancienne's majestic interception in the Blackpool game. One moment a potentially threatening attack was germinating, there was a troubling space in the Forest defence, and then he was just there, appearing like Batman from the dark night to nonchalantly intercept the thing. I think I can speak for all of us when I say he's been our player of the season so far, which is pretty impressive given Antonio and Assombalonga have 14 goals between them. His form is doubly impressive when you consider he's a new signing and has had four different partners already, one of which is Danny Fox.

DS: Yes indeed. I'd like to give a mench to our other Hamburger Robert Tesche too. Expected absolutely nothing of him when he came in, and first appearance was a bit shaky. Since then he's actually looked pretty solid. No bells or whistles but hardworking and does the simple things well. I'll stop talking solely in cliches now.



DM: Let's not forget Mancienne's timely interception right at the start if the game at Hillsborough too: he stole in like the Cadbury's Milk Tray suave gent. Tesche too has been 8/10 each game (just to add to the cliches).

Honourable mention for Jack Hunt: a right back who can genuinely dribble and defend; quite unlike Chris Gunter who thought he could dribble, but couldn't, and always looked incredibly uncomfortable once beyond the half way line whose aim was to 'fall over' once within close proximity of the penalty area. I also think that Darlow has been excellent too. I was worried that some fans would take any opportunity to get on his back at the slightest mistake but he hasn't given them a chance to do so.

I miss Andy Reid and Chris Cohen. Also, Jack Hobbs out for three months? The injury 'situation' is definitely developing into a 'situation'. Injuries happen; sometimes you are lucky, sometimes you aren't but one does start to wonder whether the tea at the training ground is laced with arsenic.

Moving away from the football, the Lower Bridgford End project, with their flags and songs, has been lovely to see. It has always been difficult to generate atmosphere at home games, given the familiarity and routine inherent in home game fixtures. But it looks kind of fun down there and I like their approach in supporting the team as opposed to taunting and baiting the away fans in close proximity.

If only, the catering could be sorted. And the scratchy needle on vinyl noise every time there is an announcement on the tannoy.