You can’t fix Nottingham Forest in a season

The Fawaz Years took their toll on Nottingham Forest and while off the pitch things have been progressing in a strategic manner, on the pitch remains a matter of time and patience

I’ve long said you can’t fix Nottingham Forest in a season.

And then along came Sabri. Now that’s not to say he’s ‘fixed’ us. It’s just that we look competitive.

He’s created a togetherness, a belief, a bond amongst the players. It’s whole that is more than the sum of its parts. But perhaps significantly, he’s made the best of the players available. Ben Watson was always a good player, but now he’s instrumental in how we play. Joe Worrall came back from his loan stint at Rangers a vastly improved player. If Matty Cash isn’t one of the Championship players of the season then something’s seriously wrong. Lewis Grabban is the best striker in the league, in the same way that Joe Lolley is one of the standout players.

‘Why are we signing another ‘keeper?’ people yelled in August. And then Samba Brice turned out to be a masterstroke — that’s down to head of international recruitment Jose Anigo.

‘Why isn’t Carvalho playing?’ people yelled at Martin O’Neill. Well, it turns out, perhaps, just maybe… that this economical, effective way of playing that Lamouchi has established doesn’t have a place for him. But that doesn’t mean to say he doesn’t have a future here.

But all this points to the brilliance of Lamouchi’s management. It doesn’t point to the brilliance of the squad. We’ve got 12-14 players who, on their day, can beat anyone in the Championship. Unfortunately, there are injuries and there are off-days and there are games when it just doesn’t work.

I’ve long said you can’t fix Nottingham Forest in a season.

On Saturday we beat Leeds, in a game that brought us within two points of an automatic promotion position with 15 games to go. On Tuesday we lost at home to Charlton, in a game that left us within three points off an automatic promotion position.

This game was always going to come. The point of gatecrashing the promotion places, and then losing a game. All is not lost. We have not crumbled under pressure. We have not given up the ghost.

But we are, and have been, punching above our weight. And the players brought in are not the worst you’ve ever seen. But the first XI have an understanding, there are partnerships across the pitch, they know each other’s movements.

Give Lamouchi two or three seasons and he’ll embed the squad, they’ll all train together, know what’s expected of them, and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each player and area of the pitch. But when he’s only been here for eight months, and Marinakis is still rebuilding Nottingham Forest, then appreciate the miracle of where we are.

In May 2017, less than three years ago lest we forget, Britt Assombalonga and Chris Cohen scored the goals against Ipswich Town that kept us up on goal difference. Facing relegation in the face, we stayed up. We finished that season on 51 points. We’re currently three points better off with 14 games to go. Another 24 points should secure a play-off position. Thirty points might be enough for automatic.

I’ve long said you can’t fix Nottingham Forest in a season.

This is not about apologising for where we are. Or managing expectations. Or even suggesting it’s over. Really, it’s about recognising how far we’ve come in less than three years. The progress that has been made off the pitch — something woefully, almost fatally, dealt with by Fawaz — is the foundation for what’s happened on the pitch.

While the hiring-and-firing of managers didn’t seem to have changed — the quality was there, and the ambition matched the strategy.

There is still an incredible opportunity this season. The best in a decade. And now we pull together. We don’t dish out abuse. We don’t duck. We don’t shy away from the fight. We accept that won’t win every single game… unless we do.

I’ve long said you can’t fix Nottingham Forest in a season.