Over the summer, after the turbulence of the managerial change settled and we could start looking forward to the football as opposed to dreading the headlines, there was a noticeable lack of certainty surrounding a number of players and positions at the club. Spoilers hidden in the titles aside, Worrall, Lolley and to a degree Cash, were all the subject of a lot of discussion and not in the ways that we maybe should have anticipated.
Lets start with a broad sweeping statement… Once Martin O’Neil left and the then unknown figure of Sabri Lamouchi was quickly introduced as his replacement, the level of expectation for the season dropped a few notches to something that probably should have been the baseline anyway were it not for our hopes and dreams of Forest finally regaining our perch in the promised land getting blown out of any reasonable proportion (as is the norm).
A change in system from O’Neil and probably a general system of play better suited to the Greek ownership and their familiarity with European football over the more nostalgia tinged British method of manager, assistant and good old-fashioned work ethic. Things from that point on were naturally going to be a bit different.
Some new players arrived to bolster the ranks, some we’d heard of and most we had not. Some would surprise us and immediately become household names and be amongst the first names on the team sheet. Some are Rafa Mir (still hoping he can get a run and find some confidence, all is not lost young Jedi).
But some of the loudest discussions and concerns over the summer centred around 3 players. The retention of Player of the Season Joe Lolley, who could easily have been tempted away by the lure of Premier League football at his boyhood club Aston Villa (not to mention the obvious wage hike that accompanies such a move). The return of local lad and Forest fan Joe Worrall after his loan spell at Rangers the previous season and the likelihood (based on pre-season) that Matty Cash would be used as a defender and not a midfielder as we had come to expect. None of those stories – or the expectation on those players has quite panned out as we had expected or predicted over the summer. Well, it has and it hasn’t….. Lets get into it with what I think is one of the more inaccurate viewpoints… Who are you and what have you done with the real Joe Lolley?
Lolley’s form is always near the top of any post-match discussion list. With his undoubted talent on the ball and ability to “foot like a traction engine” it in from all of 35 yards, people come to expect game defining performances from young Joe every week. Lolley’s goal ratio this season is slightly down, sure, we can all see that, numbers don’t lie. But should that one statistic allow the hundreds of normally peaceful and objective Twitter commentators the right to call him out on it? Also, more specifically, what is IT? What are we calling Joe out on?
Sure, watching games on TV doesn’t give you the bigger picture of being at a game and seeing every nuance of an individual or a team performance, but from afar, it has been noticeable that Lolley’s work rate, specifically tracking back and his defensive game, has greatly improved on the last season(s). Standout attacking moments against Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers also helped to easily remind us of Lolley’s ability to single handedly have an impact on a game in a split second – not many other players in the current squad possess that and lastly, bringing us on to the other half of that right sided partnership, there has been the Matty Cash factor to consider.
When Cash burst onto the scene initially as a central midfielder and later being shoehorned into a right sided midfield / wing back squad role, some things were very clear right away about the sort of player we had developed through the Nigel Doughty Academy. Cash was direct, quick and athletic enough to largely keep up the same intense level of energy throughout the majority of the 90 minutes. Hence why he fitted into the ill-fated wing back role briefly while we flirted with a 3-5-2 formation back in the good old days.
Cash has been a revelation this season and you can chalk most of that up to the kid’s natural ability and personal drive to be the best player he can. Adapting to less familiar role but drawing on his attacking tendencies has been a perfect fit for the Lamouchi system and Cash, now adding the occasional goal to his repertoire, has taken to the new challenge like a fish to water. But let’s not ignore the Lolley effect on Cash. It has been noticed quite widely that the link up play between the two has been on point, Cash has a number of assists this season…. When was the last time a full back was a genuine threat at teeing up strikers with goal scoring chances… Lolley’s work rate to cover the defensive duties (along with a better defensive back 7 if you include the two holding midfielders roles) down the flank has allowed Cash the freedom to become the attack minded full back he now is. Cash’s multiple inclusions in the EFL team of the week says a lot about Cash, but it also says a lot about Lolley…
It comes down to what is tangible and what is hopeful… If Lolley could get close to his goal scoring tally from last season without any cost to the function and level of performances that Cash has brought to the table, great, I don’t think anyone would be against that idea…. But the opposite side of the coin could be dropping Lolley for the likes of Adomah, Ameobi or Johnson and losing that spark that has made the right side of the Forest line up so much of a threat. Careful what you wish for?
Which brings us nicely onto one of the other major topics of pre-season… Joe Worrall….
Before a ball had been kicked in August, the vast majority of people would have had a fully fit Figueredo line up alongside Alex Milosevic in the center of defense. Maybe a shout for a fully fit Dawson to replace one of the two but with question marks over his ability to stay fit for extended periods of the season, Figueredo and Milosevic seemed like the obvious pairing to shore up the defensive frailties that have plagued us for so long. So when Dawson and Worrall were named on the opening day against West Brom, people were naturally going to question it… Aside from Dawson’s injury woes, it hasn’t worked out too badly so far has it!
Were it not for the supersonic rise of Matty Cash, Worrall would (and still is) a shout for the best player of the season so far (along with Brice Samba – all defenders, funny that!). Worrall has been like a new signing. Such that when fan favorite Milosevic parted ways with the club, what would normally trigger a Twitter wide meltdown, yielded nothing more than a handful of people wishing him well and ruing the loss of a talented squad player – but that ultimately, in the same respect as the Osborn transfer, that it was probably best for both parties… Now imagine the same scenario with Joe Lolley, Lewis Grabban or João Carvalho departing… Probably be a somewhat different reaction.
Milosevic leaving and the subdued reaction to his departure is a testament to how good Joe Worrall has been. Captaining the side to victory against the Sheep in the Carabao Cup one of many high watermarks that young Joe has set this season, but largely, for the first time in what feels like forever – and again in no small part to having a decent keeper behind him – we feel pretty strong at the back but importantly not at the cost of being fun to watch (sometimes!).
Worrall is a Nottingham lad. He’s a Forest fan. It would be foolish to think that his main ambition as a footballer is anything other than to play for Forest in the Premier League. If Burnley, Newcastle United or Leicester City (or whoever) end up signing Worrall, we should all be very worried because as long as Joe Worrall continues to wear the Garibaldi, it should show to us that he still believes that it’s possible and that the current plan, strategy, owners, vision, whatever label you want to call it, is possible. So long as Joe Worrall believes, so do I!