"He has to get promotion or find a new job": a Nottingham Forest writer gives us the inside track ahead of Sheffield Wednesday clash
Sheffield Wednesday make the trip to the midlands this weekend hoping to topple a promotion rival as they head to Nottingham Forest’s City Ground.
The two-time European champions found themselves among the Championship pace-setters before stuttering in recent weeks.
But who are the players that make Forest tick? And how seriously should the league be taking their promotion credentials? We asked Nottingham Forest writer Barry Cooper, of the Nottingham Post, for the inside track.
Have you been surprised as to how well Sabri Lamouchi has adapted to life in the Championship?
I think it would be fair to say that the speed at which he got to grips with the Championship has taken one or two by surprise, myself included.
When he and Phillip Cocu were both appointed at Forest and Derby respectively in quick succession during the summer, I remember saying that on paper, Cocu looked a marginally better appointment – it hasn’t quite turned out like that, has it?
The speed at which Lamouchi got to grips with his players was telling, and it didn’t take him too long to have an impact.
When Forest and Derby met at the City Ground in the early stages of the Carabao Cup, Lamouchi was the one who appreciated the importance of the fixture, and Cocu didn’t.
Since then, albeit with one or two bumps in the road he can certainly be happy with his work so far, though the Christmas period followed by the January transfer window may well shape his and Forest’s immediate future.
It was 'Sabri who?' in the summer, but is it fair to say he's fast becoming the most popular manager since ex-Wednesday star Paul Hart?
Not sure you’d go that far, yet. Since Paul Hart there’s been Gary Megson…ah I jest.
Billy Davies, Stuart Pearce and Aitor Karanka have all been particularly popular on the terraces and Lamouchi is no different.
Beating Derby twice in the space of a couple of months has certainly helped his cause, as has his honest appraisal of things.
He’s charismatic, stylish and comes across well so the fans have certainly warmed to him.
There’s still a way to go before the BBC start printing ‘We love you Lamouchi we do’ car stickers.
Who have been the stand out performers for Forest this season?
Such has been Forest’s transformation (albeit the point’s comparison may not say so), there have been one or two.
Joe Worrall has been a revelation since coming back from Rangers, while Ben Watson is a man transformed under Lamouchi, Matty Cash, too, deployed in the unfamiliar right-back berth can be pleased with the way he’s taken to that role and seen Premier League interest because of it.
New arrival Samba Sow in midfield was key before picking up an injury which Forest have most certainly felt, while 10 goals from Lewis Grabban shows his importance.
However, there’s one stand-out performer and that’s in between the sticks.
Brice Samba, a summer arrival from Caen has made a huge difference to the solidity of the side, and the ability for Forest to play quickly on the counter-attack.
Last season Costel Pantilimon kept 15 clean sheets, a terrific stat, but you never felt he had the complete trust of his defenders like Samba.
If you’ve got a top goalkeeper and somebody at the other end who scores with a degree of regularity, you have half a chance and Forest boast both.
Who are the main threats?
You’d still have to say Joe Lolley is one, although by his own admission he probably hasn’t reached the heights of last season, partly down to the fact teams are doubling up on him and making his life on the pitch a living nightmare at times.
Joao Carvalho and Tiago Silva in the number 10 role have the ability, they just lack the consistency to perform on a regular basis, and Sammy Ameobi has impressed since joining in the summer, again end product with consistency is a problem.
The biggest threat though, is Lewis Grabban.
Forest don’t score too many goals and his 10 are the reason they’ve had such a good season so far, he showed at Millwall last Friday evening what a threat he is when given the chances in and around the six-yard box.
Being given the chances at home continues to be Forest’s problem. He’s scored just two of his 10 at the City Ground.
What style of football (or system) should Wednesday expect to come up against?
They’ll face a Forest side with something of a point to prove having gone two home games without a win, losing to Cardiff and drawing to a very poor Middlesbrough outfit on Tuesday since beating Derby last month.
Forest are better suited to playing away from home which allows them to sit back, soak up pressure and spring on the counter-attack.
At home where the emphasis is on them to set the tone they seem to be finding that a little tricky, especially when teams come with a very defensive mind-set.
Boro at one stage in the first half has seven men lined up along their own 18-yard box, and then once Forest hit the front through Ryan Yates, they sat back and didn’t go for the kill.
Last month in the defeat to Cardiff, Forest had 32 attempts on goal but only hit the target with two, one in each half, and they were hardly troublesome for Neil Etheridge.
Finding a way to break teams down in the league and then kill them off is a big problem for them, only against Birmingham have Forest scored more than once at home (3-0).
Are Forest exceeding expectations this season - what is their target?
Just like every other club in the Championship, its promotion. Sabri Lamouchi’s task is quite straightforward, you suspect.
Win promotion or find a new job.
While they didn’t spend a huge amount in the summer just gone, the £13m and £6m arrivals of Carvalho and Grabban in summer 2018 gives an example of their thought process.
There’s £100m investment going into redeveloping the City Ground, the training ground is being improved and that’s all with the aim of giving the very best chance for Premier League players to flourish.
Owner Evangelos Marinakis hasn’t invested a huge amount in Forest for it to remain a Championship club; they’re desperate to end the long wait.