MFW is delighted to welcome back our favourite [well, mine anyway] Forest fan, loyal supporter and all-around scion of matters concerning activities in and around the City Ground Christian Brown to inform us about how things stand before tomorrow’s match. Christian and I haven’t spoken for a whole season so it’s about time we did. Here we go.
Sabri Lamouchi really didn’t work out for you, Christian. What went wrong?
Christian: Oh, Sabri. There are three key things it boiled down to. The first is the January transfer window, where we needed a dynamite winger, a dependable back up striker for Lewis Grabban and a versatile central defender who can also operate at left-back, due to a mixture of losing players in those positions or wanting to strengthen in general.
We signed Nuno Da Costa as the striker [no goals or assists, unless you count winning a penalty], Gaeten Bong as the defender [played 59 minutes against Charlton Athletic – more on that match very shortly – and was so bad, he was never seen again until this season] and finally, we signed Adama Diakhaby on loan from Huddersfield Town as the winger, who will go down as one of the worst loan signings in our history, also with no goals or assists. So naturally, that left us very short of quality and depth.
The second was the aforementioned Charlton game. Despite the depth issues, we’d just not only beaten, but outplayed Leeds United in a 2-0 at home and as a result, there was a real belief that this would be the year. Next up was relegation threatened Charlton at home, so a great chance to strike while the proverbial iron was hot. Lamouchi completely underestimated them, making seven changes and we lost 1-0. A win would’ve taken us second as Leeds drew at Brentford, which felt like a real punch in the gut and subsequently proved to be a turning point.
The third was in the 96th-minute against our good chums Derby County, where our centre-half Joe Worrall decided at 1-0 up with about 10 seconds left to play, that he wanted to change running direction and intentionally slam a Derby player to the floor, even though the ball was 30 metres away, harmlessly rolling to our goalkeeper. From that free-kick, they scored with the last kick of the game and we drew 1-1 in a game we had been, up to that point, tactically perfect.
Lamouchi, for whatever reason, just couldn’t pick the players up after that game. We went from looking like a team ready for the Prem to one that looked as if it would be fortunate to survive in League One. What came next was an unmitigated disaster and really, Lamouchi should’ve been sacked after the capitulation against Stoke City, which Sky are very much enjoying reminding us about every single time we have the pleasure to be featured by them. [Don’t worry mate we know that feeling too – Martin]
Everyone and his dog seemed to know that Chris Hughton was going to get the job before it was officially announced. Do you have any insight on that?
It was strange, because even though he was linked with the job via a number of tabloids, we still weren’t really that convinced someone as reputable as Hughton would take it. I mean after all, why would he?
I guess we all see our own clubs in a different light because as supporters, we don’t have that external glance – when it was looking like we really needed to make a managerial change, some of my non-Forest supporting mates said to me, “Oh it’s chance to manage a huge club with a great fanbase, they’ll get to call a top ground their home and there’s a possibility he’ll be a hero if he’s the man to end the two decade exile out the Premier League,” whereas I was like “Yeah, but we’re a joke, a complete shadow of what people actually think we are and our last manager was the first since 2011 to last a full season.”
So yeah, on the one hand we – like everyone else, it seems – did sort of get the heads up that Hughton might be sounded out, but I don’t think any of us actually realistically expected him to take it.
The obvious question, really. What do you guys think of the Hughton appointment and indeed, what do you realistically expect from him?
On paper, it’s the best appointment we’ve ever made in my time supporting the club. This is someone who’s won promotion twice from the division – automatically, as well – and whose lowest finish in a full 46 game campaign is fourth. He’s also never officially been relegated from the top flight [although you guys may contest that], so if we do go up, he’s proven he can keep us up.
That said, in terms of expectations, right now the expectation is to keep us up and I think Hughton is realising with each passing week just how big the job is given the circumstances. In the summer, we needed to sign five, six or maybe seven at a push, but we ended up signing 14 new players. It’s been a total overhaul to a team that missed out on the top six on goal difference and so far, it just hasn’t worked. There have been notable times where you can tell the players aren’t familiar with each other and yet somehow, Hughton has been tasked with getting them into promotion shape.
Realistically, I’ve already written this season off. I know that sounds defeatist and I know Aston Villa under Dean Smith were languishing in the lower half until March and still went up via the play-offs, but they also had Jack Grealish at their disposal. We have an unfit Luke Freeman. Right now, it’s just about giving Hughton the time to properly assess the squad, let him make his ins and outs [even more players!], get a full pre-season in and look to get into the top six next year. Whether he gets that time is another matter, but I know he’s the right man.
When Hughton managed at Carrow Road he always set us up for a 0-0 and anything else was a bonus. Has he changed his approach at Forest or is it still same old, same old?
I would say he’s definitely been more adventurous than that so far. For his first game against Blackburn Rovers that was maybe the case [we won 1-0 thanks to a 93rd minute winner], but that was completely understandable given we’d lost five games in a row in all competitions this season.
What’s been our undoing so far is our profligacy. Under Hughton we create several excellent scoring chances per game, but our issue is we haven’t been taking them. So far, the Forest way this season is to get a foothold in a game, make some key chances, miss them and then concede. So on the one hand, at some point that will have to stop because we will eventually start being more clinical, but on the other, until it does, we drop closer into a relegation battle.
When we face you, our injury list is likely to be still in double figures. Do you think you can exploit that factor?
I mean, it is possible. On paper, we have one of the better squads in the league, although as we all know and as the great man Brian Clough once said, football is played on grass. Until we start deciding that scoring goals is quite useful in games of football, we’ll always be vulnerable in matches – even against an injury depleted side.
All City fans will be aware of Harry Arter, Sammy Ameobi and the not much lamented [in these parts] Lewis Grabban. Who else do you reckon we should watch out for?
Anthony Knockaert is the first name that springs to mind. When he’s on it, his quality for this level is unbelievable. He has been desperately unlucky thanks to our profligacy as he really should be sitting on quite a few assists already, but so far [at time of writing] he has no goals or assists. Despite that, he is still a huge threat and his crossing ability is exceptional.
Elsewhere, Joe Lolley – if he can get his game back – is one of the best wingers in the league. He’s a bit out of form but form is temporary and class is permanent. He’s a bit of a rarity in that even though he very clearly has a stronger foot, his weaker foot is so good that if you show him inside, he’s very capable of scoring with either foot from 25 yards and if you show him outside, he’s very capable of planting a ball on a sixpence with either foot. A very exciting player to watch on his day and our wingers regularly swap sides during the game, so expect to see both popping up on either flank.
We’re likely to have 2,000 fans inside Carrow Road for the match while to the best of my knowledge you’re stuck in *Tier Three* and won’t have the same limited opportunity.
My view on this is simple in that I will not be applying for a ticket until everything is back to normal and we can all return. I don’t mind masks or carrying ID to match my ticket but there’s talk of West Ham and others not allowing anybody in who doesn’t carry the Government test and trace app on their phone. That’s my bridge too far. What do you think?
It’ll depend on person to person I suppose – much like you, I’m not that fussed about going back unless it’s the full experience, although obviously I do miss it dearly. This will be the first season in my lifetime where I won’t be able to watch my team play, but obviously there are much more important things at stake and anyway, football is much more than the 90 minutes on the pitch.
It’s the other things you do on matchday, the people you meet etc etc – all of which will be subdued or on hold in the short term. I’m sure football lite as it basically is now will be great and much needed for some, but I’m happy to wait. It’s not like we’re Clough’s late ‘70s team where I imagine it would physically hurt to miss games, either – at the minute I’m passing on an identity bereft set of individuals scraping by from game to game.
As for the app, it’s just an app at the end of it I guess. I don’t even look at it on my phone and if it comes to a case where I have to scan a QR code to get into a stadium, taking up about 10 seconds of my time, that’s a very small sacrifice to make – especially in comparison to what those in the NHS have had to sacrifice to keep us safe.
And yes, you’ve guessed it, your score prediction please?
2-0 Norwich. I still think you’ll have enough quality on the day and unless Grabban is back from injury, I can’t see us having that ruthless touch in front of goal. And to be honest, 2-0 Norwich would still be better than our last outing at Carrow Road!