Fans warm to manager dedicated to playing the Forest way
As Forest were stringing passes around the City Ground pitch against Charlton, a short song was audible in homage to the architect. ‘Sean O’Driscoll, he plays on the floor’ may not be the loudest, wittiest or tuneful terrace chant, but it was certainly meaningful.
After several years of poor managerial appointments, bickering behind the scenes and disunity between fans and board, it is clear that the Forest faithful have taken O’Driscoll to heart and a happier, more united era may be on the horizon.
The start of a Championship football season is an unrelenting whirlwind of matches, with clubs lurching from hope to crisis in the space of 48 hours, all amidst the backdrop of the hectic transfer window. Some managers – like Steve McClaren last year – find themselves under pressure before they have even got started or completed their signings. However, with Forest’s transfer business thoroughly completed and an unbeaten start under the belt, the two-week international break gives the club chance to reflect on a great start to the Al-Hasawi era. The results have been encouraging, but the style in which they have been achieved has really caught the eye.
Much is talked of certain clubs playing in a particular style that suits their heritage. West Ham fans may be torn between Premier League football and playing long balls to Andy Carroll, but for Forest fans there is no such concern that this incarnation of Nottingham Forest will play anything other than the ‘Forest way’. O’Driscoll will earn a lot of plaudits for this approach and some patience too, as shown by the measured response of fans to the 4-1 home defeat by Wigan in the Capital One Cup.
This measured approach is certainly one shared by the manager. When appointed he said he was a ‘process’ rather than an ‘outcome’ manager. Listening to his reactions to games, you can tell that this is more than just management-speak. He is confident that if the team plays as he demands, the overall effect over 46 games will be positive, no matter what happens in individual games.
He took the sickeningly late equaliser at Huddersfield on the chin because the performance was outstanding, but was less complimentary after the Bolton game where a spell of not keeping the ball could have cost the game. Other managers may have got more carried away by the creditable scoreline. O’Driscoll will not get carried away by anything and, if success does come his way, his even character suggests he will not implode like a certain former manager who also found success in this league.
The exciting aspect of this transformation of style is that passing football has allowed other clubs to punch above their weight. In an era of ridiculous wages and transfer fees, good coaching is all the more important. Swansea developed a passing style that has overcome many clubs with bigger budgets, from Forest themselves in the play-offs, to several bigger fish in the Premier League. It works on the simple premise that if you have the ball, the opposition cannot score.
However, ‘good’ football must also be effective in an attacking sense. I remember watching Swansea early in Brendan Rodgers’ reign and they were well beaten at the City Ground, perhaps passing the ball too much in the wrong areas. Spain certainly fell into this trap in the European Championships and were accused of being boring, before rediscovering their killer touch against Italy in the final.
O’Driscoll’s Forest are anything but boring. Lee Camp is looking to throw the ball out at every opportunity and will become more effective at this week by week. Our defenders look comfortable on the ball and Simon Gillett is providing structure to a skilful midfield that is revelling in playing such attractive football.
It is also good to see two strikers being utilised and two genuine goalscorers in Simon Cox and Billy Sharp joining the club. In the era of ‘false number 9s’, strikers are an endangered species. After the rather freakish (but brilliant) 7-3 victory over Leeds, Steve Cotterill became a little too obsessed with the 4-4-1-1 formation that was working away from home but failing to score enough goals at home against teams sitting back.
In the Football League most players have been brought up in the 4-4-2 system that is so badly outdated at the top level. However, few players in the Championship are genuinely effective in the number ten position that these modern formations are built on. Neither Lewis McGugan nor Raddy Majewski have been consistent enough to build a side around and it was no surprise to me that Forest clicked when the more direct Simon Cox was brought in alongside Dexter Blackstock. McGugan has now slotted into a deeper role and is playing his best football for the club.
Of course there are 42 games to go and there will be many ups and downs, injuries, suspensions and losses of form. But let’s enjoy it, secure in the knowledge that win, lose or draw Forest will entertain us this season and maybe give us some truly memorable moments in the coming months.