Nottingham Forest and the business end of the season

With 11 games to play, could Nottingham Forest be one of the sides to avoid relegation and retain their Premier League status? George Edwards takes a look at the business end of the season

A relegation battle. Something all too familiar for Nottingham Forest. But this time it’s with the elite, in the Premier League.

The season dreams were made of was always going to be hard to eclipse, especially with the prospect of facing the country’s best, but the Reds have certainly matched the glory of last season in places. Beating Liverpool, snatching a win from Southampton, beating Leicester, a last-minute goal to draw against Manchester City, to name a few.

However, inconsistent performances and an embarrassing away record has meant that Forest are well and truly in the midst of a relegation scrap — arguably the best in Premier League history. There are only really two teams (Aston Villa and Chelsea) with nothing to play for. Eighteen of the other 20 teams remain in an intense battle to secure the title, European football or survival.

So, with nine teams in danger, can Nottingham Forest maintain their Premier League status?

The Players

The sheer volume of incomings has been widely documented and criticised but the players have created a brilliantly competitive environment in which any one of them could merit a starting place. Having been to all but two games this season, I’ve seen first-hand the improvement of the squad both as individuals and a collective.

St James’ Park on the opening day was an eye-opener. The team looked way out of their depth and had a huge lack of chemistry and familiarity. Fast forward seven months and that has vastly changed. While performances aren’t always there, the positive relationship in the dressing room is obvious to see as the side clearly win together and lose together.

While the team has gelled and worked better together, individual performances have also improved starkly. The Reds now have two elite goalkeepers, a raft of solid defenders (who unfortunately lack match fitness), and a plethora of midfield options. Renan Lodi has turned his season around while the return of Ryan Yates has been widely welcomed, with the midfield looking fragile without him.

While not having the most technically gifted squad, Forest certainly have the quality of players to gain the points they need to retain their status.

The Manager

Sacking season never seems to end. The first casualty of the season was Scott Parker after only three games, the latest being Antonio Conte this week — and there have been eight sackings in between.

Six teams in the relegation battle have changed manager, with the Reds being in the minority. But there’s something different about Forest’s leader compared to the others.

Leicester City and West Ham are the other sides in the bottom half that have backed their man, with the mood very different at those clubs. Brendan Rodgers has split the Foxes’ followers but undoubtedly does not have the overwhelming support of the fanbase, while David Moyes has survived by getting wins in matches that it was rumoured he’d have been sacked should they have lost — like that hammering of Forest last month.

Steve Cooper, meanwhile, continues to be backed by almost everyone at the City Ground.

Without that man, all of this would not be possible. Everything about him is loved and is just what you’d want in a manager. He always speaks eloquently to the media and isn’t scared to tell the brutal truth; he’s always looking forward; he’s the most humble and empathetic manager Forest have had for years; and he’s created such a positive mood in the dressing room and around the club.

In the eyes of the fans, is there anyone better to lead us to survival — or bring us back up should the worst happen?

The fans

The supporters are a huge part of the reason that Cooper is still in his post. Cast your mind back to October when the Forest visited the King Power and found themselves 4-0 down. There were already whispers of the managers sacking before the game and the result certainly didn’t help matters. But with the scoreline as bleak as it was, Forest fans stayed in their thousands, chanting Cooper’s name and showing his players their unconditional support.

Home form is the main reason that Forest are still in the fight as they are greeted by decibel levels that are off the scale on a weekly basis. It all starts with Mull of Kintyre. Imagine being one of those players in a huddle when that famous tune rings out. Spine-tingling it must be — the City Ground rendition can be heard as far as Carlton. If that doesn’t motivate you, nothing will.

Throughout the game, Forest fans usually dominate. I’m sure you’ve heard the viral clip from BBC Radio 5 Live when commentator Ian Dennis paused to take in our atmosphere. That just sums us up. In the moments the team need them most, the Forest faithful always deliver by stepping onto the pitch as the 12th man, and they more than anyone deserve a sparkling end to the season.

The fixtures

The run in. Last season Forest returned from the international break in style by battering Blackpool and continued on a rampage. They only lost two games from then on, winning seven and scoring 21, a run that cemented them in the play-offs. Despite the disappointment of narrowly missing out on automatic promotion, it set them up with real belief that they could win the play-offs and get back into the Premier League.

Now they are there, this period is as important as it was last season — 40 points is always the aim for staying up, but anything above 36 is usually enough. With the Reds on 26 points, that’s another 14 to get to 40, from a possible 33. Without a win in six, that seems like an uphill battle.

Firstly, the away form has to improve — no debate. With only one win, four goals and six points on the road this season, the timid and defensive outlook the Reds take on their travels must change. If they approach away games like they did at home, with confidence and on the front foot, then they stand a better chance of gaining points than their current ways. They have got to come away from Villa Park and Elland Road with at least four points and that final game against Crystal Palace looks like it could be key.

If we get seven points from the remaining away games — with Liverpool, Chelsea and Brentford also to play on the road — that still leaves seven points needing to be acquired from home games. The blip against Newcastle must not snowball and we need to get back on track at home as we were for the 10 league games before.

The Wolves game this weekend has got to be a win, with Wolves three places but just a point above Forest. Their following two home games are against Manchester United in third and an in-form Brighton side — and if the Reds can come away from those games with a point, that will keep the tally and the confidence ticking over.

Southampton will visit the City Ground following the Seagulls and with league leaders Arsenal the final side to come, victory against the Saints will be almost mandatory. With the crowd, manager and home record they have, the players must be confident they can pick up those points as everyone involved with the club seems more driven than ever.

It won’t be easy and will, in all likelihood, go down to the wire — but we know you can never write this Forest side off.

Follow The Famous Club on:

Google News | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Flipboard | Reddit