The View From A Distance: Reality Dawns

by , September 30, 2008

And so the hysterics begin in earnest.

Hopelessly mired at the foot of the table, cut adrift from safety by an unbridgeable gulf of 2 points, shipping goals by the barrow-load, and with only 38 games left to save our season. The demands for a root and branch restructuring of the club have resumed: we need a new manager; a new chief executive and a new chairman… Just don’t mess with the world class banqueting facilities.

It was all so predictable. The pre-season optimism at times bordered on the delusional. A team that laboured for three seasons in the third tier was suddenly expected to sweep aside the great and good of the Championship on the way to a genuine push for the play-offs. Some fool-hardy souls even dared to believe that Nottingham Forest might be but 12 months away from once again taking a place at English football’s top table.

In terms of PR, the club played it by the book. The chairman, newly versed in the wisdom of Brian Clough, wasn’t here to consolidate. The scenes of the club’s greatest triumphs were to be emblazoned on the new kit, encircling the tricky tree like a proud garrison defending its monarch. The move harked back to a glorious past whilst simultaneously hinting at a brighter future. In terms of charm offensives, it was an all out assault, complete with an assortment of commemorative DVD’s and a ludicrous “promotion brochure.”

But, for once, the rhetoric was matched by deeds. In the transfer market, the club operated smoothly. Earnshaw and Cole, household names the pair of them, arrived on Trentside. Joe Garner, barely out of his teens and with fewer than 50 professional games under his belt, was procured for a cool £1.2million, whilst Paul Anderson, a leading light of Swansea’s League 1 Championship winning team was convinced not to reprise his role at the Liberty, but instead to move closer to his parents in Melton Mowbray. The much maligned new stadium project was beginning to take shape. Plans that had previously been limited to an absurd rendering of a giant bowl of noodles, surrounded by trees, courtesy of Microsoft Paint, had been augmented, expanded, to include a viable location, a definable time-frame and a workable budget.

And so, as the Sky cameras rolled for the first game of the season, the glorious August sunshine was reflected in the mood of the Forest faithful; a pathetic fallacy straight off the page of an ‘A’ Level English exam paper. At times Forest played dazzlingly attractive football, redolent of Cruyff’s Dutch team of the 70’s, had they been managed by Arsene Wenger. In the centre of midfield Guy Moussi was lauded as (depending upon whom you spoke to) the next Patrick Vieira, the best piece of business since we paid £50,000 for Roy Keane, or living, breathing proof that Jesus Christ was, in actual fact, a black man, as the Prophet Shaun Ryder had proclaimed all those years ago. Never mind the fact that we created nary a half-chance all game, or that Paul Smith dug us out of jail with a spellbinding last minute save; we had played out an admirable point against a Reading team containing 8 of the 11 players that set a record Championship points tally on the last day of the 2005/06 season. Furthermore, Derby had been vanquished less than 24 hours previously by Doncaster Rovers and, according to the final League 1 standings, they were even worse than us last season!

Ee-Aye-Ee-Aye-Oh, up the league we were sure to go.

But reality has a habit of biting hard in football. Here we are, a further 7 games into the season and the mood has most definitely changed. Forest are struggling whilst Derby are resurgent. Even Leicester City, who are to East Midlands football what Theodore was to The Chipmunks, are attempting to prove just how easy promotion from League 1 can be. And thus, it is perhaps more important than ever, to take a deep breath, step back and assess the first eight league games with a degree of detachment.

Yes, it’s fair to say that, collectively, we probably expected more – but for that we only have ourselves (and our proudly decorated history) to blame. The defeats to Wolves and Burnley in particular, suggest that we have a long and difficult season ahead of us. But we also have good players returning from injury. Anderson and Garner were brought in to strengthen the squad and will, presumably, do exactly that when returned to full match fitness. Lewis McGugan, has been a huge loss, but in his absence Matt Thornhill has staked a serious claim to a starting berth. The two things that we knew about Rob Earnshaw upon his arrival, namely his goal scoring prowess and his susceptibility to injury, have both been in evidence, but his positive influence on the squad, as heralded by Calderwood, has been a pleasant surprise. Paul Smith still looks too good to be playing at this level whilst James Perch looks more comfortable in a Championship midfield than ever he looked in League 1. Chris Cohen has made a seamless transition from the third tier and Andy Cole hasn’t released a single in nigh on a decade (though he has gone from “Outstanding” to merely standing – he’s a Forest fan, he’s only here for the free season ticket).

It is impossible to be relegated with four-fifths of the season remaining. A cursory glance at the relegation zone shows that we are keeping company with Barnsley and Crystal Palace, semi-finalists in last season’s FA Cup and divisional play-offs respectively. Meanwhile, the top eight contains four teams that we have already encountered. The start to the season has been demanding, but upcoming home games against Palace, Ipswich and Cardiff represent realistic opportunities for maximum points. Let’s do away with the unattainable and focus upon the realistic. The play-offs are a pipe dream, 21st the absolute bare minimum. Lower mid-table represents a comfortable halfway house and, should we achieve such a standing come May, then all concerned can afford themselves the satisfaction of a job well done.

I’m serious about having modest ambitions – are you?