Nottingham Forest seem to have turned the proverbial corner in recent weeks, as they picked up 11 points from a possible 15 – leaving them unbeaten in five matches ahead of the Christmas schedule.
First Reading were defeated 3-1, then Fulham also had three put past them in a 3-0 win – both on home soil – before away draws at Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers, and a 2-1 success against MK Dons at the City Ground.
The change in form represents a nice switch from a time where it seemed that Forest couldn’t buy a point, no matter how well they played. The turnaround has almost certainly saved Dougie Freedman’s job, which is probably a good thing in all honesty. In truth, the way Forest were playing under the former Crystal Palace boss, it was only a matter of time until their fortunes changed.
Forest’s approach play is wonderful to watch, with sweeping passages of play, easy on the eye passing and even when the ball does go long into a channel it is, by and large, pretty successful. This all changes when the team get into the final third however, and then suddenly they look like a non-league side.
The lack of Ryan Mendes is one of the reasons for this and his absence was evident against Blackburn, but it is something that’ll need to change in order to prove that these results aren’t just flash in the pan glimpses of what the team is capable of, because as we all know too well, if you don’t take your chances, you don’t win games of football.
One thing that is refreshing to see is how week after week, Forest are looking more and more sturdy as a defensive unit, with Blackburn being a perfect example of that. Yes, Rovers missed two free headers and hit the bar with a deflected long range effort – but other than that, created nothing of note despite whipping the ball into the box repeatedly.
The return of Michael Mancienne to centre-back is one of the reasons for this, as now he’s playing in his preferred position. We’ve also welcomed back one of the league’s best defenders, Matt Mills, who has been one of the best free signings in recent memory and is a colossus in the air, with the duo working brilliantly already.
In fact, for a backline which has cost the club £500k in transfer fees – with Eric Lichaj, Dani Pinillos, Dorus de Vries in goal and Mills all coming on free transfers – to say it’s looking imperious is quite impressive, really.
The club have conceded the sixth least amount in the division this season, which proves that theory further. However, it’s in front of goal where the issues have been – and against Blackburn, chances weren’t exactly at a premium. However, Forest’s best chance came from a recent breakthrough in the set-pieces department, where amazingly the Reds have gone from being useless at corners, to being incredibly ruthless with them.
Mills’ aerial threat has seen him shoot to the top of the scoring charts with Nelson Oliveira, and he would have gone ahead had Jason Steele not pulled off a sublime save to tip a 93rd minute header onto the post from a corner.
As good as it is having Mills so high up on the list, ideally you’d want your forwards banging goals in as well – so the ever-closer return of strikers Matty Fryatt and Britt Assombalonga will hopefully boost the club’s chances in front of goal.
The dream scenario would be Oliveira and Assombalonga up front, with Oliveira dropping back into a number 10 role when Forest are defending, and pushing right up alongside Britt when attacking. One can only dream at this stage while Assombalonga recovers from his serious knee injury.
The latest win against MK Dons was the fourth home win on the bounce – whisper it so quietly a mouse won’t hear it, but that’s play-off form.
Let’s see if Freedman has a few more tricks up his sleeve, or if Santa has been kind to him this festive season. Happy Christmas!