Preview: Nottingham Forest

Friday night’s win over Reading came at an important time. Having dropped into the relegation zone and with confidence draining at an alarming rate, beating the league leaders not only got us out of the bottom three but showed that we can compete at this level if we play with organisation, effort and belief.

As important as that victory was, it only counts for three of the, circa, 50 points we need to survive. The challenge for the players is to follow one impressive result up with a run that pushes us away from danger. It is too early to call any game a six-pointer, but this trip to a struggling Nottingham Forest side is an opportunity to relieve pressure on ourselves and place it on another team. The difference between a calm season and one of struggle will be in taking these kinds of opportunities.

Possible Line-Up (3-5-2): Marosi; Rose, Ostigard, Hyam; Dabo, Sheaf, Hamer, Shipley, Giles; Godden, Biamou.
Possible Line-Up

Expected Line-Up

Mark Robins’ gambit of switching to a 3-5-2 system and dropping Kyle McFadzean from the defence was rewarded with three points on Friday night, however, it was far from a perfect performance, particularly defensively. The victory should help boost confidence, but we need to aspire towards improvement if we want to push away from danger.

There are unlikely to be any changes for this game, although there are a few players who may be under pressure if they don’t raise their games.

In particular, Michael Rose and Ben Sheaf have struggled to assert themselves at this early stage of the season. For Michael Rose, he is fortunate that his strongest competition for a starting place on the right of the back three, Leo Ostigard, is currently being deployed in the middle. For Ben Sheaf, while he has shown some talent, he has lacked the calming and physical presence that Liam Kelly provides as the midfield shield and is a concern heading into a tough away game.

Elsewhere, there is likely to be a temptation to utilise Tyler Walker against his former club at some point during this game. Looking further forward, the move to two up-front boosts Walker’s chances of breaking into the side sooner than had previously appeared likely. Although our big summer signing has been unfortunate with fitness issues, we’re getting to the point where we need to see some kind of positive impact from him.

Last Time We Met

Nottingham Forest and Coventry City were both fighting the drop from the Championship back in 2012, when the teams last met. While Andy Thorn’s Sky Blues had yet to win away from home, this was an excellent opportunity to drag a side that had won just one of its last 13 games into the mire.

Instead, the Sky Blues produced an insipid display that was epitomised by Nottingham Forest’s opening goal, with Garath McCleary sauntering unchallenged from his own half to the edge of the penalty area to fire past Joe Murphy. The three points were then sealed via Forest’s American flop, Robbie Findlay.

Here’s the highlights, which I could only find in Arabic.

The Opposition

The Manager – Chris Hughton

A sensible man whose name virtually guarantees promotion from this division, it is a somewhat curious decision from Chris Hughton to have chosen to walk into a such an unsensible club as Nottingham Forest have been over the past decade.

After churning through a carousel of players and managers, Forest looked to be on the right track last year under Sabri Lamouchi, with a top six finish virtually guaranteed heading into the final weeks of the campaign. However, the club reverted to type in blowing that opportunity to make the play-offs, signing nearly an entirely new team over the summer, then sacking the manager after some disjointed performances early on.

Hughton has, understandably, taken his time to assess the players at his disposal, which has led to an unspectacular, but solid, record of one win, one defeat and three draws in his opening five games. It’s going to take a while for Hughton to whip this Forest side into shape, but a win here followed by another against Wycombe Wanderers at the weekend will buy him some breathing room to ease into the job, this is an important game for Forest and their manager.

Possible Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Samba; Christie, Figueiredo, McKenna, Bong; Yates, Colback; Knockaert, Freeman, Lolley; Taylor.
Possible Line-Up

Who To Look Out For

Nottingham Forest have an array of some very reliable attacking players for this level of football. The wide threat of Joe Lolley and Sammy Ameobi was crucial to their play-off push last season, with Lolley an absolute nightmare for defenders with his ability to drive past them and towards goal with ease and Ameobi a more languid presence who creates goals at a reliable rate nonetheless. That threat has been added to over the summer via the additions of creative attacking-midfielder, Luke Freeman, and the unpredictability of Anthony Knockaert – who worked with Chris Hughton at Brighton & Hove Albion.

With the goalscoring ability of Lewis Grabban and the work-rate and physicality of Lyle Taylor to call upon to lead the line in attack, it is understandable why Nottingham Forest felt Tyler Walker was surplus to requirements over the summer. With Lewis Grabban currently injured, Lyle Taylor has been particularly important, with Forest lacking goals elsewhere in the side.

Further back, Nottingham Forest have a cavalcade of options in defensive midfield and across the back four. The physical, domineering presence of Samba Sow in the centre of the park had been crucial for the team last season, but they have moved towards the combative duo of Ryan Yates and Jack Colback due to Sow’s fitness issues.

A notable name among Forest’s defensive phalanx is former Sky Blue Cyrus Christie. Like Chris Hughton, he has carved out a career as a serial Championship promotion-winner but just been a little short of the quality to step up to the Premier League.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

With pace in wide areas and a physical centre-forward in Lyle Taylor, Nottingham Forest have the ability to be a very effective counter-attacking side. What they lack is a quality passer of the ball in those deeper midfield roles, which has seen them lack fluency in possession. If we can deny Forest space to counter-attack into and ask them to try and break us down through the middle of the pitch, we might be able to frustrate their attacking threat.

Due to Nottingham Forest’s pace and skill out wide, the concern is that they’ll be able to exploit the space in behind our defence – in particular, in the channels between centre-back and wing-back. Furthermore, if we attempt to address that by deploying our wing-backs slightly deeper, the danger is that we end up harming our own attacking threat.

Nonetheless, if we can produce another organised and energetic performance, we stand a good chance of getting a positive result here. The main doubt is whether this team is currently capable of sustaining energy and performance levels across multiple games at this level of football and at this stage of the season. Now would be a good time to demonstrate that we can.

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