September Preview

Standing Tall or Fall-ing Down

Its September…. And with a blink of the eye summer is gone and we can get down to the serious business of the football season as it kicks on into a higher gear.

It’s a commonly repeated saying that the season can never be won in August. Truth be told, realistically, so long as you’re still in the mix in January / February time, you’ve got as much chance at rising to promotion through a barnstorming end of season run and cheeky 6th place finish as you have in being in first on February 28h and losing to Reading on the final day to eventually finish 8th (see 2014-15 season for hilarious details).

September’s fixtures at least have some degree of form behind them, allowing us a small basis to preview and predict how they will pan out. But before we get into tomorrow, lets take a look back at the day before and briefly summarize how August’s games panned out and what, if anything, we have learnt.

Those first 10 minutes against West Brom… Felt good didn’t it? There was a pace and fluidity about our play, the way we were opening up a team that had narrowly lost out in the play offs barely a few months previous culminating with the build up to and execution of Matty Cash’s thunderbolt to open our account for the season. Get Silverdale on the phone and have them wax and polish the posh open topper ready for May, right? Then within the space of a few minutes, the house of cards came crashing down (and possibly but hopefully not – marked Ari Muric’s back for the season) with first what was admittedly a poor goalkeeping error followed shortly after by a fluke hole in one off the toe end of the 3 Iron. You know how the rest plays out, this is Forest.

Muric attempts to punch Worrals head into A Block

But then something happened. Sure, we got battered by Leeds in most of the meaningful statistics you’d care to mention but cemented our name once again in the footnotes of the dictionary term “shithoused” as in Forest have shithoused a point off of Dirty Leeds. Despite barely having the ball, let alone a look in on goal, we came away with a point which better still, came about due to a wonderful inversion of the previous years controversial Leeds equalizer wherein Lewis Grabban’s shoulder claimed a point near the end. The one other meaningful statistic read Leeds 1 Forest 1. And it felt like a victory.

Grabban’s shoulder overtakes Ben Brereton in the scoring charts

Then after what felt like a typical, almost routine narrow victory against a tough tackling, hard to beat lower league team in the Carabao Cup, we came to Birmingham City at home. The first game anyone realistically should have “expected” us to get something from. And we duly delivered with the 3-0 score heavily flattering the bluenoses. There really isn’t much else to be said. It felt good. It felt right.

Ain’t no Lolley, like Joe Body

Our early season 4 day vacation to London bought opposite ends of the scale with the first half at Valley Parade seing us dominated by a keen Charlton Athletic showing the more naïve side of both a new group of players and a new manager learning their way and continuing to settle in to what they need to do to compete. Thankfully, Sabri Lamouchi has endeared himself quickly to most fans with his honest assessments (Forest being shit first half versus Charlton where it all began) to having a plan B to fix tactical oversites and players not performing. Of course Don Goodman would have had the fight stopped after the first 15 minutes but by the end, there was a sense that Forest had done enough to deserve the point earned by Uncle Albert Adomah’s late equalizer.

I’ll fetch the suitcase from the van. Uncle Albert. New cult hero.

Then came a sunny afternoon at Craven Cottage. And boy was it a little bit special. Aside from the time immediately after Fulham had clawed a goal back and the unbearable tension of 8, count them, 8 minutes of added time, we looked good, comfortable even. We held strong defensively, were clinical in front of goal when required with all of that coming together so nicely, were able to pull off one of the results of the season so far. That along with the quality (in their own ways) of each of our goals was refreshing to see. What better momentum do you need to take into a midweek cup tie under the lights against your biggest rivals.

Grabban attempts to punch a tiny colleague standing in the goal.

Fielding a young side, reserve side, average age, blah blah blah. We whooped their asses. Lets just leave it at that and silently bask in the glory that the Brian Clough trophy never looked close to leaving the City Ground that night!

Grabban found the one bit of ice on the City Ground pitch

Preston are always a tough team. A current generation bogey side who we never tend to get a result against and true to form this season continued that trend. The positive to take very clearly that Lamochi’s ability to adjust in game a have an effective plan B came good again with Uncle Albert once again coming to the rescue with a late equalizer.

I’ve got a Barney in me poclet. Uncle Albert strikes again

And that was August. 1 defeat, 3rd round cup tie away at Arsenal, bragging rights against the sheep. Generally the camp seems to be a happy one. So now, let’s take a quick look over what’s to come in September…

The first international break always puts a sudden halt to the start of the season. So much so that the first league game of September comes almost half way through the month on the 14th with a trip to the deepest darkest corners of South Wales and the Liberty Stadium where Swansea City play hosts. Ironically, having had what everyone perceived to be a tough start to August against two play-off semi-finalists, we now come up against this seasons’ (kind of) surprise package with the Swans sitting in 1st place and currently unbeaten in the league with 5 wins and a draw. The international break may well have come at a good time for Forest. How often can half time kill the momentum of a team playing well? Hopefully the same affliction hinders Swansea’s march to the top and we come back refreshed from the break and having had more time to gel on the training ground. Optimistically you might think we will be stronger and the break will make Swansea weaker (even if only in momentum being slowed), these tend to be the kind of games we do well in so a hopeful shout for a repeat of Fulham and a cheeky away win would do nicely.

Barry McKay cant afford adequate lighting now he’s no longger at a big club

A week later we entertain Barnsley, a side languishing near the foot of the table with only a smash and grab win against Fulham on opening day to shout about, this is a game most fans will likely expect us to win. These have typically been the types of games we struggle in before so it will be a good measure of how this Forest team cope with the pressure of expectation. One expects if we are set up right and we take our chances, this has the makings of another Birmingham City.

A few days later comes the next round of the Carabao Cup. A trip down south to the capital and a first visit in the clubs history to the Emirates Stadium, home of our fellow Garibaldi wearing (and cohabitants of NFFCCHI’s home The Globe Pub) Arsenal. Holding the most recent example of Forest performing a newsworthy shock (for the right reasons) in any cup competition, we probably shouldn’t expect a repeat of a few seasons ago and the Eric Lichaj / Ben Brereton masterclass that led to a 4-2 thumping. It will largely come down who turns up and performs on the day, Arsenal’s second string or Forest’s Cup team. Anything could happen so best thing is just to enjoy the game, see how the players stack up to a big occasion and hope nobody gets injured.

Famous 4 member Eric Lichaj celebrates becoming a new dog owner.
(Famous 4 t shirts available here > https://teespring.com/Famous4color?tsmac=store&tsmic=nffcna&pid=369&cid=6565&sid=front )

Septembers wraps itself on the 28th with a trip to the Potteries and Stoke City. The surprise team of the season so far in that they are literally making everyone else look better. We knew from the Rowett saga that something wasn’t right at the Britania and if prominent press journalists are to be believed, there’s a deep rooted dressing room problem similar to what we may have witnessed at Forest for a number of years. By the end of the month, City might have a new manager but the squad – post transfer window closing – will be the same and so far, they have stuttered and stumbled to sit at the foot of the table. The international break might see their fortunes renewed and the real Stoke City might start playing. One has to think that with our away form as it has been, this may also become another must win game if we have any ambition for top 6.

Murphy and Dias all tied up at 1 a piece in the latest round of rock, paper, scissors.

By the end of September we will likely know little more than we do now about our top 6 or even top 2 aspirations. The teams we are playing represent opposite ends of the scale. You’d be happy with 7 points for sure, 9 isn’t impossible, anything less than 5 would be very disappointing.

See you in a few weeks for another international break!

August Preview

And then… It’s August… And it begins.

Summer tends to go in stages doesn’t it?

From the initial emptiness following the end of the season and lack of anything football related to do on a weekend (unless we are fortunate enough to be in the bi-annual cycle of watching England crash out of a major tournament) to the transfer window opening with much gusto only to be met with days, even weeks of inactivity as clubs let players contracts run out at the end of June before pouncing like a leopard to snare its prey on July 1st (or shortly thereafter).

It usually coincides quite closely with players reporting back for preseason training, the first preseason fixtures are just around the corner and typically run in parallel to the new kit designs being released and modeled by current players, new signings and celebrities alike.

There’s updates on season card sales, international training camps and pre-season fixtures abroad allowing a few lucky ones to imagine what it must have been like back in the day to watch Forest in Europe.

The lads were invited to a fireworks display whilst holidaying in Greece

There’s the tedium of blocking kids posing as ITK journalists on twitter claiming to have seen Peter Crouch at the McDonalds in Carlton – it’s really happening folks!

Then there’s the calm before the storm where we let our expectations soar and our optimism run wild. These signings, yeah, they look good… I mean, I’d not heard of half of them before Chippers tweeted about them but they look good on YouTube. And that player who’s always had potential but never really fulfilled it? He’ll come good now he’s at a real club with our stadium, history and support. It’ll click. It has to.

And then… It’s August… And it begins.

Often hectic in the same way only December can be, fixtures come thick and fast. League and Cup alike, there’s plenty to get stuck into in the first 4 weeks of the season before the international break arrives as a welcome relief from the carnage.

Starting at home this season, we welcome play off semi finalists West Bromwich Albion to the City ground for a lush 5:30pm televised season opener. You probably remember last season’s fixture well. Adlene put in one of his finest shifts in the Garibaldi, netting Forest’s only goal and nearly scoring a genuine contender for goal of the century and something that could finally surpass McGugan’s free kick as “the best goal I’ve seen at the City Ground” but it wasn’t to be and thanks to a late equaliser the game finished 1-1 and Albion went back to the West Midlands with a point. Despite it feeling like 2 points dropped, there was a tangible sense of optimism about what we’d seen. Memories like that can fade fast in NG2.

Adlene “Foot like a traction engine” Guedioura

Next up is our “other” big rivals in the division and the team everyone loves to hate, Leeds United at Elland Road in another “moved for SKY” kick off time of 12:30pm on Saturday August 10th. Leeds don’t like us much, we tend to have a bit of a sign over them recently as well and were it not for some ludicrous bad luck with refereeing decisions in the away fixture last season, we would have taken 6 out of 6 points from them. Leeds biggest signing over the summer was in retaining the talents of Bielsa as manager. Someone in the hot seat who finally “get” Leeds and what it is to manage such a prestigious club with its great history and Premier League facilities and fan base (sound familiar). There will be a level of expectation from the home supporters this season after they too (like West Brom) lost in the play off semi finals to them down the road, much of their own making having been 2 up on aggregate approaching half time. Leeds always seem to be hindered by a lack of discipline on the field, if Bielsa can get them playing fair, they are going to be right up there again and coming off the back of playing an experienced West Brom side, amounts to two very difficult fixtures to kick off the campaign – not least with a manager at the helm who may need time to learn the league to get the best out of his “big spending” Nottingham Forest squad.

Our first goal direct from a corner since the days of Duncan McKenzie!

Next up is Fleetwood Town in the Cup at the City ground where 3-5,000 fans will watch our second string limp to a narrow victory against a courageous lower league club while half the Forest fans prey they nab a late equaliser to enable their hopes of a late summer reccy to Blackpool to watch the replay before realizing that on 90 minutes that it goes straight to penalties!

Mick Fleetwood Town A.F.C.

Rudderless Birmingham City follow at the City Ground and its anybodies guess who will be in charge for the Blues after the sacking of Gary Monk over the summer, I mean, it could be Pep Clotet but at the same time, it could be Harry Redknapp again. Nobody knows. On paper this is the first easier league fixture we have and with Che Adam’s threat having departed, we might be catching Brum at the right time while they steady their ship. Definitely winnable if we turn up.

Big Dazza Murphy with the equaliser back in August 2018

Charlton Athletic and Fulham away on a Wednesday / Saturday shift gives some fans the dilemma of staying in London for 3 nights and catching both or returning home to work then crawling down the M1 again on one of those vintage Silverdale coaches. Charlton could do anything and thankfully (for them) having dodged the bullet of Fawaz Al-Hasawi ownership last year look to be this years surprise package as they carry momentum from their promotion last season. Fulham away is always a marquee fixture for fans with Craven Cottage arguably being the second prettiest ground in English football behind the world famous of course. Neither team has any tangible form to trace from last season into this so we’ll have to wait and see and hope that whatever team turns up, the one we put out has clicked by then and is better. Could be a big 4 days so early in the season especially if we’ve taken anything decent from the first 3 league games.

August concludes with a home game against Preston North End. A team that we never seem to beat as they always try to stifle any opportunities for decent, free flowing football that we try. If we have a plan B or C that can break them down then there’s everything to play for and Saturday games at the City Ground in August and September are usually fun times to watch Forest. Supporters are still on side with the plan, are optimistic for the season, are allowing the new signings and manager alike to “settle in”.

Coldplay, it’s like watching Coldplay…. Floodlight failure last season against Preston (H)

The glass half empty in me says those opening 2 fixtures are a step or two too far for a new manager getting to know the league, his players and the best system for them to play and that coming off the back of 2 difficult opening fixtures and what will inevitably be a battle against Fleetwood (and disruption to the starting XI as players rotate for game time) that Birmingham already could become a crunch fixture followed by 2 on the road where historically we don’t do well and then Preston who are one of this generations Walsall’s (read: bogey side) and that potentially every point in August is going to be a scrap.

The glass half full in me says the players we’ve signed feel better than those we signed last season and a home opening fixture against a team that will probably let us play football is the perfect opportunity to settle on a style, grabs some points and gain some momentum before going to a team that hate playing us and will suffer from an immeasurable amount of fan pressure to do well this season which will stifle them against one of their greatest foes. And everything after those 2 fixtures will be a walk in the park.

And we won’t have to worry about player fatigue later in the season when Fleetwood knock us out of the cup in Round 1 allowing us that much needed facility of being able to “concentrate on the league”.

Feels good to be back, doesn’t it!