Three wins, three draws, four defeats and 14th place is our reward from the opening skirmishes of the season…but has there been much to write home about? Here are eleven thoughts based on events so far in 2015/16.
Left back: Let’s start with that perennial of problems. Unusually this has been far from the number one issue on everyone’s minds. At the risk of jinxing things, Daniel Pinillos has actually settled down well to life in the Garibaldi. The Spaniard has delivered some solid and assured performances and although he has had some testing times – Hull was probably his hardest game yet – he’s come through relatively unscathed. The ex-Cordoba man has now started seven games, just two less than yesteryear’s Nicky Shorey. Just saying.
Signings: Pinillos hasn’t been the only addition to the squad and, luckily, he hasn’t been the only one to start well. Ryan Mendes has woven his way around both wings with speed and promise, Jamie Ward’s lust for bedevilment is never satisfied, Chris O’Grady looks like a right pain in the you-know-what to mark and a twinkle-toed Nelson Oliveira put in his best performance yet on Saturday. All look good additions by Dougie and the scouts. Kyle Ebecilio looks a little off the pace for the whirlwind of a Championship midfield melee and will need time, while Jonny Williams is still yet to have much of a chance to live up to his ‘Joniesta’ nickname. Taken as a whole, you’d have to say the signings have been good.
Matt Mills/defence: One signing I didn’t mention was Matt Mills. He’s a player I do have some concerns about. He seems to get dragged into situations and lose his cool – not a good trait given that Dougie brought him in to be a leader. At Bolton he looked good for 20 minutes but then allowed Gary Madine – and the home crowd – to get under his skin. He gave away However, Saturday’s game against Hull was to be his worst outing – conceding a penalty, needlessly allowing the Tigers to win the corner from which they scored and then getting sent off for an aggressive challenge while on a yellow card. The difficulty is that Dougie does like him and that his partners at the back are both injury prone. A rusty – and slow – looking Jack Hobbs and Kelvin Wilson (sidelined again with a bad back) mean the middle of the defence is a worry in general and might be part of the reason why we’ve only managed two clean sheets in the opening fixtures. If only we had a 27-year-old Chelsea graduate to call on…
Mancienne: ….which brings me on to the slightly thorny issue of Michael Mancienne. I’d still like to see him given a run in defence but Dougie clearly values him to anchor his formation at the base of the midfield. I’d have to concede that, clearly, the shape of the side does work well with Michael in there. My issue is that I don’t see that he really dominates the space he occupies and, crucially, when he wins the ball he doesn’t do enough with it. Harsh, perhaps, but it still feels like he’s a stop-gap there and I can’t see how we’ll push on from mid table with him in his current berth. The opening 10 games, though, have shown that the manager definitely sees Mancienne as a midfield ‘destroyer’ and, even with signings in midfield, wants to persist with him there.
Dorus: The embarrassing episode with the non-signing of Ben Hamer seems a long while ago now and that’s got a lot to do with the form of Dorus De Vries. Barring one slip up at QPR (certainly not the worst goalkeeping slip up that day), he’s been superb and proved that he more than deserves to be our first choice between the sticks this season. With the FFP restrictions in place, it’s good to know that we don’t need another ‘number one’.
Goals: Let’s be honest, clinical is not a word you’d use to describe us at the moment. ESPN’s Dale Johnson pointed out that we’ve had 175 shots on goal, the most in the league, yet have managed just nine goals, the division’s second lowest total. For all Chris O’Grady’s endeavours he’s yet to get off the mark and our top scorer remains the departed Michail Antonio. Whatever you think about the winger’s sale to West Ham, he undoubtedly leaves big boots to fill in the goalscoring charts and, as yet, we’re still working out how to fill them.
Nottingham Forest have had more shots than any team in the Championship (175) but only Preston have scored fewer goals (9 for Forest). #nffc— Dale Johnson (@dalejohnsonESPN) October 4, 2015
Dougie: The Scot hasn’t been afraid to make bold decisions – especially with his selections against QPR and Birmingham and the changes he made at Loftus Road in particular. He also attacked Middlesbrough – which nearly paid off – and seems to relish having a few options to tinker with his tactics. He hasn’t got everything right – I thought he was wrong to take Mendes off on Saturday, for example – but he’s been brave and hasn’t lived up to his defensive stereotype. He’s handled himself with class and talked passionately about the future for the club too – showing the sort of vision and business sense that those above him in the club ought to take note of. You still have to think it’d be a surprise to see him given a full season, which is a shame.
Home: One win (against Rotherham), a draw and three defeats has continued the sorry home form of the end of last season, where the last four games on Trentside ended in defeat. The performances against Hull and Boro should be taken into account for context, but this run might well show that we’re a better dogged away team that can hit teams on the counter attack. Being more ruthless at home will be key to improving, finding the right formula might take time… and a bit more patience.
Crowds: To be fair, we might have a reputation as moaners but the fans have stayed patient so far. The atmosphere away from home remains good and the flag-wielding Lower Bridgford set have certainly been a good addition to City Ground match days. The one worry here is the attendances. Only two home crowds have topped 20,000 and one of those was a ‘kids for a quid’ game. This is probably a reflection of the sheer cost of going to football these days – and maybe a hangover from the dashed hope of last season – but certainly can’t be seen as a positive.
Set pieces: Will someone please take Henri Lansbury off set pieces? Please. In tight matches we need to make much better use of free kicks and corners than we are doing now.
Vaughan: Last, but not least, comes some praise for David Vaughan, who I’d name star man from the first ten games. De Vries came close but, for me, the Welsh midfielder wins. Now that he’s finally fit enough to play regularly, he has shown his class and full range of passing. Whether deeper or further forward, he has been a key part of the midfield engine room, helping to press the opposition and put in his fair share of tackles. A few more thunderbolts like that one against Bolton wouldn’t go amiss.