The final run in… can Nottingham Forest avoid relegation?

With nine games to go, George Edwards takes a look at how Nottingham Forest should approach their final fixtures and whether they have enough to escape the drop into the Championship

The final international break always brings perspective. After a turbulent yet cherished winter of football, one final breath is taken before a deep plunge into the final stretch, where fate is decided.

This period has been so important to Nottingham Forest over the past few years.

In 2022, they returned from the break in style, batting Blackpool aside and pushing for promotion, nearly achieving so automatically, eventually settling for the play-offs… and you know what happened next.

Last season, Forest gathered their thoughts and made a sustained push for Premier League survival, picking up 11 points in their final six games to secure a second year.

This term, the task remains the same: survival.

Ambitious supporters would have demanded survival to be a given this year, building on last season’s foundation a must. It was never going to be that easy, though, with more chaos in the transfer market meaning many of Forest’s core were replaced or out of the side.

It’s well documented that Ryan Yates is the only one left from Wembley. The past two seasons were built on the united front shared by the players, management and fans. But, as those players and eventually the manager moved on, that task was always going to be difficult. Expectations would rise given the seeming strengthening of the squad.

Forest’s points deduction brings it home. They aren’t an established Premier League side, nor did they get promoted with a squad capable of success in the top tier. Recruitment and replacement were a necessity, and with that had to come patience.

Brighton & Hove Albion are a club many people take inspiration from; even the club’s hierarchy have spoken of trying to emulate their success. Upon promotion, they finished 15th before dropping to 17th in their second season, surviving by just two points. Following that was another 15th place, in Graham Potter’s first season, before a 16th place finish in 2020/21.

Only after that, four years of beating the drop while assembling a competitive and united squad, did the Seagulls begin their tackling of the top 10. Sometimes you must take a step back to take a few forwards, with second-season syndrome being so rife in football.

The key difference between this season’s run-in and last is the manager. Yes, the playing squad shows differences, and the competition seems slightly weaker, but Steve Cooper was the man who gave you belief. He could bring the best out of every individual, get the crowd going and pull a result out when it mattered.

Forest are better under Nuno Espirito Santo, no doubt. They look more balanced and more of a threat going forward. However, in this period, that galvanising spirit has the capability to eclipse all of that, shown by the either persistent or unexpected wins against Brighton, Southampton and Arsenal which took them over the line last time out.

A points deduction and a break have the chance to bring that — to forget recent refereeing injustices, missed chances and poor tactical decisions, realigning the focus on the here and now. Come Crystal Palace next Saturday, that siege mentality will likely return, and more of that is key.

Which means the game against the Eagles looks vitally important. A Forest win could immediately reinstate them above the dotted line, with Luton playing Spurs at the same time, while returning momentum. A term used so often, particularly at this stage of the season, but one that remains so very true and needed.

Victory would breathe fire and belief back into both the players and manager, the latter of which has been wavering within the fanbase over recent weeks.

Confidence is also vital. Currently, Forest sit a point behind Luton Town, making that late equaliser look even more sickening than it was at the time. However, the Reds seemingly have better fixtures and a better squad than the Hatters, so should be convinced they can outscore Luton by a point, or two to be safe, in the final run in.

It all starts on Saturday. Nine games with everything on the line. Their competition in Luton will leave everything out there and never lose belief. If Forest can replicate that, they should have enough to bring it home. But that’s a big if to answer.

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