Three defeats on the trot. And then Danny Taylor’s explosive long-read on the turmoil behind the scenes at the City Ground. If this week wasn’t a low-point in Evangelos Marinakis’s tenure at Nottingham Forest, then I hope there isn’t worse to come.
It’s impossible to pick an actual highlight from The Athletic exposé, given the lengthy list of contenders for most mystifying moment of the past three years. But in reality, it merely confirms what many have said for what seems like a decade now — probably because it is a decade, and I don’t mean 2020 which just feels like a decade. Without a clear strategy, direction and purpose, we are more likely to flail and flounder, with varying degrees of success and failure, firmly in the Championship.
Chris Hughton, of course, has been here before. So after Saturday’s improved performance against Swansea, what could the Reds muster at home to recently relegated Watford to redress the balance, steady the ship and put it back on course?
Well, alarm at the absence of the injured Scott McKenna was allayed by the return of Joe Worrall. And a starting place for Cafú saw a 4-1-4-1 formation with Ryan Yates as a single pivot.
As ever with Forest, what we see on paper means nothing unless it is translated on the pitch. And as we saw against Swansea, we’re not always as bad as we were at Bournemouth last week. It’s a case of trial and error as Hughton works with the squad and implements his training and tactics. And there are promising signs. Apart from scoring obviously.
There was an attacking intent last night with Cafú, defying his unfair definition as a ‘defensive midfielder’, driving forwards. Yates was equally keen to move up the pitch. And it was evidently clear the confidence that Worrall brings to the back four; his assuredness in defence brought the best out in Tobias Figueiredo.
And herein lies part of the problem — the lack of key players from last season’s settled side has undoubtedly caused us issues. Ben Watson’s departure has left a huge hole in midfield, and the lack of Lewis Grabban’s tireless team performances upfront has removed an important part of how we play.
But there were some signs of those partnerships that worked from last season — Figueiredo and Worrall at the back, Yuri Ribeiro and Joe Lolley on the left. It’s those understandings between pairings across the pitch that we need to replenish.
The first-half was uneventful, as was the second. We didn’t manage a single shot on target, despite 13 off target, but Watford were kept at bay — and that was as much down to Hughton’s tactics to prevent them playing through midfield, as it was their own performance.
There were signs of hope — the defence were largely untroubled, the midfield balance seemed to work, and the front three, though somewhat impotent, will score goals. Eventually. Incredibly, our xG continues to impress.
The most important thing last night was to stop the rot. We did that. And we were the better team. But we are severely lacking confidence. It’s going to be gradual, it’s going to take time, and Hughton will aim to give us a solid base to build on.
The manager added: “I thought it was a good enough performance that we could have taken more from the game and in the final third we need to be making more chances and opportunities so that was the only negative. We got the ball into some really good areas and good crossing positions so that was pleasing but we need to make sure we do a little bit more from those positions. It was important to stand firm tonight and make sure we kept that clean sheet.”