Oh, to be a football manager. In the space of 90 minutes, you can either be heralded as a genius who has transformed the fortunes of your club, or a complete idiot who has ruined your weekend. Players also share a brunt of the blame, but ultimately, it’s those pesky managers who get it in the neck.
Step forward Dougie Freedman and Nottingham Forest. Generally, an away point in the Championship is seen as a good result by and large, in a league so competitive, frenetic and even as it is.
However, Freedman could be forgiven for thinking that is not the case after the Forest fans’ reaction following the 1-1 draw with Charlton Athletic last week. His side were booed off the pitch with the chant, “Attack, attack, attack attack attack!” drowning out the protest outside The Valley at full-time.
A manager cannot be 100% responsible as to what happens when his players cross that white line and engage in battle. He can’t take the one-on-ones for his hapless striker. He can’t make his centre-back stay on his feet in the 98th minute as opposed to sliding in like Lee Cattermole to give away a last minute penalty. He can just give orders, and hope his players follow them correctly.
Ultimately, the 1-1 draw at Charlton hinged on three factors.
1) Robert Tesche’s inability to trap a football. After Nelson Oliveira had fired a shot on goal, the rebound came to Tesche…who missed the ball completely. Charlton sprayed the ball out the wing, Callum Harriott got a cross in, and Simon Makienok equalised. It only takes one mistake at any level, and here was perfect proof. As Brian Clough once said about Gary Megson, the quote “couldn’t trap a bag of sand” was uttered more than once in the away end in Tesche’s direction following this instance.
2) Chris Burke slicing a pull back from Henri Lansbury at 1-0, in what was a golden chance and would have put the game to bed. Had Burke shown a little more composure about 10 yards out, the three points were going back to Nottingham.
3) Nelson Oliveira going solo in the last minute of the match – and ultimately forcing a save and winning a corner, but missing all the same – when had he looked up and squared the ball across, there were two Forest players in acres of space waiting to tap the ball into an empty net.
The fact Charlton went down to 10 men is irrelevant. If you don’t take your chances, you don’t win matches – it’s quite simple.
While I can understand the fans’ frustration that Forest didn’t put the struggling Addicks to the sword and inflict further misery, had one of those golden chances been taken, it’s a different story entirely.
Here now comes Freedman’s issue. Earlier on in the season, Forest were playing flowing football, they were trying to put teams to the sword, they were attacking – however, a lack of finishing meant they were dominating games and losing. The Scot then went public and said he was going to change his gameplan to get points on the board, so Forest became more resilient, set-up like a traditional Italian team which Freedman admires so much, and played for the counter-attack. Almost like Catenaccio, but not quite.
Forest defend out of possession, close down the space, are very tough to break down and break when a mistake inevitably happens. The result? The Reds are now on an eight-game unbeaten run, and have taken good away points at Wolves, Blackburn and Cardiff. The only downside is that out of those eight games, just three have been victories, which in turn has seen Freedman accused of being a negative manager. What can he do?
We know full well if we attack teams, until Britt Assombalonga is back from injury, we haven’t got a ruthless finisher to kill the game off and give the side the initiative. So by throwing men forward, Forest leave space and are ultimately punished.
The Brentford game was a perfect example. Forest did try and attack, they did get men forward, and in two five-minute spells, Brentford made the most of Forest’s impatience to score and found the net twice themselves in a 2-1 win for the Londoners. Or the Middlesbrough game, where while Forest missed a penalty, the Reds had chances galore, didn’t take them, and Boro won by the same scoreline.
Ultimately, it comes down to what your expectations are for this season. Do you expect Forest to be a play-off chasing side despite the embargo? Do you want Freedman to nail down a style of play and have stability? Do you expect Forest to go up with the players at their disposal?
Personally, a top 10 finish playing half decent football with hope for next year, with youngsters like Oliver Burke becoming more important and being out of the embargo off the pitch, would be a good season for me.
While the name Nottingham Forest brings expectation, that expectation has to be managed. We can’t go out and spend £23.5m for a promotion charge like our neighbours down the road. We don’t have parachute payments to fork out for huge wages. We have Danny Fox and Chris O’Grady on loan. That’s the bottom line.
Next up for Forest is an FA Cup match against Queens Park Rangers. A cup tie against a same division rival is never ideal, but a cup run is always nice. Let’s see what tactic Freedman applies this weekend.