With snowfall cancelling many matches and international fixtures seeing even those clubs with the facilities to stage a football game in Arctic Britain not playing, this weekend represents a chance for football fans to pause and reflect on their current situation. Supporters of Blackburn Rovers, who sacked Henning Berg the same week we axed Sean O’Driscoll, will despairing at the owner’s continued lack of a coherent vision as another managerial change takes place. Leicester City will be wondering what has happened to their season after winning just one of their last 10. And what of Forest, who could so easily have been contemplating very similar situations? We’re catching our breath after six of the most staggering weeks in the club’s history.
If you don’t already appreciate how remarkable our recent form has been, check out this clever visual representation that shows the development of this year’s Championship table like one of those horse-racing games at the arcades. Forest trot along quite steadily until January, come to an abrupt halt for a month or so, and then set off like Usain Bolt sometime in mid-February.
It’s quite frankly a miraculous turnaround and one that has had people talking about automatic promotion. Two months ago I had given up hope of the play-offs. In fact I had never really been too concerned about them while Sean O’Driscoll was in charge, happy to let the new team bed in and consolidate the club’s position after the previous year’s instability. Now I’m booking days off work and cancelling social engagements on certain dates in May.
Billy Davies deserves a huge amount of credit, to the extent where I don’t think the comparisons with Brian Clough made by Paul Severn are undue – that isn’t to declare Davies quite the same level of genius as Old Big ’Ead just yet, but simply to say everything Davies has done since he returned has been good management. Really good management in fact. Even things like the culling of City Ground staff and the media near-blackout (with the inexplicable exception of Natalie Jackson. Well, inexplicable unless you believe those rumours…) have helped foster a resilient, us-against-the-world attitude in the Forest camp that has quickly brought about results. I find it annoying that Billy doesn’t talk to Radio Nottingham after games and I still don’t really understand the reason, but if it has contributed in some way to us getting 19 points out of a possible 21 since he came back then I can live with that.
So, well done Billy, and well done to the players a well. There’s a lot for Forest fans to be pleased about at the moment, so we’re very grateful for that. But amid the mutual back-slapping that was going on in Kuwait this week, I do have a few small reservations, a couple of caveats to add to my praise.
Firstly, Fawaz Al-Hasawi is an extremely lucky bugger. The decision to hire Billy Davies was a sound one, a visionary one some might say now, but it was also a desperate one because it was simply the only thing he could do at the time to restore some popularity with the fans. So, well done also to Fawaz, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that we were only a point away from the play-off zone with Sean O’Driscoll. O’Driscoll wouldn’t have needed to win six games on the trot to break into the play-off places; a run of two or three would probably have done it. Davies may have turned Forest into Rocky with this amazing comeback, but it should be noted that it is Rocky’s own lack of boxing technique that means he ends every fight with his face covered in blood and swells. Sacking O’Driscoll and hiring Alex McLiesh was the football chairman’s equivalent of failing to maintain a strong guard when in the ring with Apollo Creed – near suicidal and needing some Hollywood magic to recover from. Billy’s feats serve to highlight how badly things went under McLeish and how wrong the chairman got it in appointing him.
My second caveat is that although Forest have been playing well and deserved their wins, it is not only Fawaz who has been blessed with luck recently – the whole club has. Forest have had their luck on the pitch, the deflected shot it took to beat nine-man Ipswich, for instance, but we have also been lucky to see a couple of the teams above us flounder. Leicester have plummeted and Brighton have been hit-and-miss recently, allowing us to leap-frog them both into fifth by a single point. Without these teams losing form, even a six-game winning streak wouldn’t have been enough to salvage this season.
Luck has always been an important part of football and I’m not saying Forest have simply been lucky – we’re there on merit and the way the team are currently playing you couldn’t say we’re not worthy of a place in the end-of-season knock-out rounds. All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t forget the monumental cock-ups earlier in the season and kid ourselves to thinking that this was all in the grand plan. If there ever was a plan for this campaign, it’s been scrumpled up, tossed out of the window and written afresh several times by a capricious chairman and the fickle hand of fate.
As for us fans, well we’re having a good time and probably lamenting the fact that we have no game this weekend. When Forest are playing to this standard you want to watch them as often as possible, knowing only too well that it rarely lasts. A few weeks ago opinions were very much split on the re-appointment of Billy Davies. In a very short time the argument would appear to have settled itself. But those who had doubts about Davies, take heart – your concerns were valid and we’ve yet to see how our pugnacious manager and our flighty chairman work together when things aren’t going so swimmingly.
And those who were delirious to see him back (of whom I was one), don’t gloat too much. Even Billy’s most ardent advocates couldn’t have foreseen things going this well. It’s just a surprising, wonderful, unbelievable turn of fortune (with the element of luck that term connotes).
We’re seven games into Billy Davies Pt II and so far it’s been brilliant. Brilliant and breath-taking. But take a deep one now, because there are another eight matches to go this season – possibly even another 11 – and we may not get the chance to pause and reflect like this again before it’s all over…