Innocent bystanders

by , March 7, 2012

In my last contribution to LTLF, a call for a bit of pragmatism from the fans in the face of difficult circumstances, I made the bold statement, ‘I don’t think Southampton will find us an easy game on Saturday.’ And what goes and happens? A pathetic 3-0 defeat at home, as easy as they come for the Saints. After that I haven’t dared write again for fear of jinxing things any more, but last night really was a worst-case-scenario result and nothing to do with my ramblings, so I think it’s safe to venture out into public again.

Losing at home to Doncaster represents arguably the season’s lowest point so far, which is saying a lot. Though we’ve lost a lot of games and put in some abominable performances, the fact of losing to the side at the bottom of the table on our own turf is very hard to take, hard to explain and hard to get over. I mean, even Steve McClaren managed to beat Doncaster Rovers!

But what makes it so bad is that it came so soon after the high point of the season, the 2-1 win over Birmingham City. The worrying thing about Steve Cotterill’s Nottingham Forest is that, like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. I realised this after my boo-boo predicting a tough game for Southampton – I was expecting them to face the same Forest who had recently beaten Ipswich by two goals, the confident, attacking Forest we’ve seen a few times in Cotterill’s time here; instead we got the roll-over-and-die Forest from the Leeds game and several similar performances under McClaren.

We’d see them again against Leicester in the cup replay, but against West Ham we seemed to be back to at least creating chances and losing only due to poor finishing and some dodgy refereeing decisions. Against Burnley we were awful, but the Watford game a week and a half later was completely different, hinting at the spirit-lifting (not to mention what they did to our league position) wins over Coventry and Birmingham that were to come.

As well as making bad match predictions, my last article also pointed out that due to his long contract and our lack of funds, Cotterill was going nowhere. Protests and petitions against him were pointless. This is no less true now – in fact, the sad passing of Nigel Doughty makes the chances of replacing him even slimmer. Without an owner the club isn’t in a position to form a long-term strategy. And besides, who would be willing to step into Cotterill’s shoes now? Even Paul Hart has given up managing disaster zone clubs for the more stable job of running Charlton Athletic’s academy.

It’s hard to see a long term future for Steve Cotterill at this club. He seems to have legions of detractors and the only people willing to defend him are the stoics like me who can only point to reasons not to sack him, not reasons why he should be in the job. But for the short term he is all we have got. Like it or lump it. Okay, just lump it.

Forest aren’t doomed, no matter how incompetent some people may argue Cotterill is. Our fate is in our own hands and we only have to out-perform three other teams between now and the end of the season. What happens after that, no one knows. Frankly, my dear readers, I don’t give a damn. Forest’s survival this season is all that matters.

The ‘Cotterill Out’ brigade say in order to guarantee that survival, the manager needs to be replaced before it’s too late. Well, sorry folks, but it already is too late. Any money available to spend on loan players has been gambled by Cotterill – and to give him his dues, it was a gamble that was paying off until they all started getting injured. Our hand isn’t great, but we’re better off sticking rather than twisting at the moment.

The last few weeks have shown that Cotterill is capable of getting Forest playing well, is capable of getting them scoring and holding out for results, is capable of getting the best out of some players. What they’ve also shown, unfortunately, is that he doesn’t seem capable of getting the team playing consistently. It’s not just the meddling with previosuly successful formations and starting XI’s, it seems the attitude and outlook of the players varies from game to game. Now that might not be Cotterill’s fault, clearly some of our playing staff need to sort their attitudes out if they want to be useful, but it is Cotterill’s job to try and fix it, to get the players’ heads in the right place as best he can.

If Forest get relegated, clearly Cotterill will have done a bad job. Keeping Forest up this season was never going to be easy, but then again it was hardly the biggest challenge a manager has ever faced to start with, all things considered. If Forest stay up, many will still say Cotterill has done a bad job. Fine. As I’ve said, it’s near on impossible to build a case for him, only one against him being sacked.

But bad job or not, though, Forest will still be in The Championship. Isn’t that what matters? I know any call for fans to unite in support of the manager and team will fall on stubbornly deaf ears. There are those for whom the frustration of the last few months has just got too much and booing the team off the field in the only response they can muster. I’m veering into that camp myself, to be honest. But then there are those who think they are doing the club a favour, their direct action against the manager serving a higher purpose.

These people are deluded if they think they can bring about a change in the manager now. Sacking him would be bringing yet more unknown variables into the club’s future and that’s something the board can’t afford to do. At least with him here they know there is a chance of survival, a good chance depending on which Forest turn up for the remaining 12 fixtures. Unless I’m jinxing it again by writing this, Cotterill will be here come the end of April, and once again I say to those people who dispute this – get real. Get real and think what your negativity from the stands during games is actually achieving. I know you think you’re helping the club, but perhaps what you’re really doing is bringing relegation that much closer.

This isn’t a ‘the fans are to blame’ rant, and for the record I think Luke Chambers’ outburst the other week was very ill-advised. There are a minority of people who seem to want Forest to lose, even to be relegated, if only it will prove them right about Cotterill. These people are beyond help. But the rest of us are innocent bystanders. Every true Forest fan will be celebrating like crazy if Forest stay up, and by god we’ll have deserved a bit of celebration. Then the blame games can start, the post-mortem if necessary. But until then we owe it to ourselves to remain innocent bystanders, not accomplices in sending Forest down.

Here’s another way of looking at it: if you hate Steve Cotterill, if really want him gone, don’t give him any more excuses. If you start cat-calling and yelling obscenities at the players during a game, there’s a small chance you could negatively affect the outcome of that game. And even if you didn’t, Steve Cotterill can say you did. The more focus is put on the troubled atmosphere in the City Ground, the less scrutiny is applied to the real footballing issues. Cotterill may be the root of all evil in your eyes, but wouldn’t it be terrible if the fans got blamed for our relegation rather than him?