With such a gruelling run of games since late December; it was evident the players were running out of gas and reinforcements were needed. I’ll offer my own personal experience in comparison to our transfer dealings: I once fell foul of paying £5 for a haircut. I got £5 worth! A harsh lesson was certainly learnt from that experience and I can only hope Anigo and Modesto do also. Maybe a bowl cut for those pair to sport would be just punishment; it really was a shambles considering where we were in the table.
The group needed more help particularly with the sales of Chema and Jack Robinson but what we ended up with was inexplicably a diluted squad. Not only was the squad lacking the injection of quality it needed; it arguably had lost the healthy competition for places too. Adama Diakahby looked a player that’d had the stuffing knocked right out of him in terms of confidence; Nuno Da Costa had been struggling with injury at Strasbourg and Gaeten Bong had barely played any football at Brighton. Of course you want deals to work out but at the end of the season when all is judged, it was a massive chance missed to support the coaching and playing staff.
The strength of those signings were tested immediately; a shocking display in a 1-0 home defeat to Charlton left me in despair. How do Forest manage to have you feeling complete euphoria on a Saturday and then total abjection on the Tuesday?
‘I don’t know what #nffc fans have done in a former life to receive such treatment. That's a lot of people to do a lot of bad things! Maybe we should all go to mass confession in Market Square.’
— ScottE (@munich_madrid) February 13, 2020
In true Forest style, they picked me right up again when I travelled to the cracking 2-2 all draw away at West Brom. Bonkers; this football club. Once more we played very well on that day and showed the top teams that we weren’t done yet.
'In all of my years following #nffc since the late 1980's, I can't think of many better right backs on this seasons form. Brian Laws? Des Lyttle? Thierry Bonalaair? Matty is in the form of his life.'
— ScottE (@munich_madrid) February 17, 2020
Once more however, Forest couldn’t continue to apply pressure at the top end of the table. A moving ball out of the quadrant denied Joe Worrall getting a winner against QPR but Tiago Silva conjured up a moment of magic against Cardiff in a convincing away win on another promotion rivals home patch.
'In fairness, Sabri tweaked his midfield around yesterday, moving from his usual 2 running midfielders ahead of Watson, to deploying Lolley in the much requested No.10 spot at home. There was positivity in that set up.'
— ScottE (@munich_madrid) February 23, 2020
The Jekyll and Hide performances continued however and again, Forest let their promotion credentials slip with a really poor showing away at Middlesbrough in a 2-2 draw. The home side looked devoid of confidence but having taken the lead against the run of play through a well hit Ryan Yates strike, Forest capitulated before the break to go in 2-1 down with Brice Samba struggling in the Forest goal once more. Lewis Grabban recued a point with a beautiful strikers goal and an encouraging cameo performance off the bench from Joao Carvalho earned him a start in the No.10 position at home to Millwall. Capitualtion was witnessed at The City Ground once more as Forest favourite Gary Rowett had done his homework and let Matt Smith loose on the Forest defence as Millwall went 3-0 up at half time in a crushing defeat. One step forwards and two steps back; a pattern was well truly emerging on the Forest season. The result divided the lads Forest Whatsapp group – some had seen enough of Lamouchi’s tactics and were questioning his suitability for the task at hand.
With the global pandemic kicking in; it was good couple of months before we could restart and I thought it may well have been a blessing in disguise. It was a welcome break in some respects. The players certainly needed a rest and with Samba Sow and Tiago Silva having time to recover from their injuries; I thought a fully fit squad would give us every chance in the unprecedented mini season to at least secure a top 6 finish. Despite a few jitters, we were still well on course. The break had also allowed emotion in the Whatsapp group to calm down; a string of Forest Pub Quizzes on a Thursday evening soon brought the lads back together and reminiscing about days and players gone by. Sadly, the upturn in mood was to be short lived on recommencement.
With bad habits not only reappearing, we went full blown addiction in giving away stupid goals and stubborn tactics. I wouldn’t quite describe post lockdown football as a roller coaster ride but there were definite parallels with The Oblivion at Alton Towers given our nosedive in the final couple of games. Not even Grotbags and David Brent could save us…
David Brent sitting next to Grotbags at The City Ground was my highlight of this evening pic.twitter.com/UEs9H7Z7Nz
— ScottE (@munich_madrid) July 7, 2020
Forest had started relatively well (unlike ifollow’s coverage), going unbeaten in our first four games of the restart against Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield, Bristol City and Derby. The Huddersfield game had seen some emphatic finishing from Lewis Grabban as he became the first Forest striker in almost two decades to reach the 20 goal mark and Tiago Silva conjured up another moment of magic in a hard fought win against Bristol City.
It pains me to say it but conceding in the last minute at Pride Park was a massive psychological blow that Forest really never recovered from. With a play-off spot almost guaranteed with victory and Derby’s playoff hopes with it; Chris Martin’s last gasp equalizer was a massive disappointment. Forest had controlled the game and should have been 2 or 3 goals up before ruing their efforts. It had been a tactical masterclass from Sabri up until that decisive moment. It would have completed a treble winning season against the Rams so it was another bitter pill amongst the many, to swallow.
‘Like Michaelangelo's David and Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales; Sabri Lamouchi's tactical composition from Saturday can be added to the list of unfinished masterpieces.’ We were bloody good!
— ScottE (@munich_madrid) July 6, 2020
Fulham, Preston and Swansea were all up next and in the tough run, it felt like we’d forgotten how to play the game at times particularly in the final third of the pitch. Negative tactics weren’t helping. Fatigue played it’s part too. Players looked drained off energy in games from chasing the ball and squad fitness was another decisive factor in the downfall; contending with injuries to Watson, Sow, Lolley, Cash and Brice Samba in the final 8 games.
The manager’s persistence with allowing the opposition have the ball meant that any confidence and fluidity with the ball slowly ebbed away. We were increasingly retreating into our shells until we had no more left to give. The writing was sadly on the wall.
We needed Forest to take the game to the opposition and it didn’t happen. Ball players in John Bostock, Joao Carvalho and even Brennan Johnson barely got a look in and hadn’t been fancied all season. Carvalho didn’t even make the bench in the final couple of games when we were crying out for a spark. Tactically, Sabri’s stubbornness to budge meant that we were limited on finding another way out of a game and it was all pretty much resting on Sammy Ameobi’s shoulders to come to the rescue. But boy did he try. If you’d told me what I’ve just written at the start of the season, I’d have probably said can I have some of what you’ve been smoking. Testament to Sammy, he finished the season as the best player in a red shirt.
Our game management badly let us down in the final run in and individual player errors and decision making were pivotal in plotting our own downfall. When the pressure mounted; we sadly crumbled. Failure to hold onto precious points at Sheffield Wednesday (Semedo), Derby (Samba and Worrall) and Barnsley (Grabban not squaring to Watson) cost us massively in the end. Fine margins in those very last moments cost Forest a shot in the Play-Offs on goal difference. Cruel. If we’d taken those points – Lamouchi’s game plan works a treat but failure in doing so left him exposed and labelled tactically inept.
Alas, the final 20 minutes against Stoke left me with a similar feeling etched in my Forest memory bank; Des Walker’s own goal at Wembley and in the 2003 play off semis, relegation from the Premier League, Yeovil, DJ Campbell, Swansea away. Dumb-founded are probably the right words for it. I’m embarrassed to say it but I saw it coming and a flutter in predicting our downfall paid dividends. The problem I have now is wearing the jacket I treated myself to with the winnings; it will never feel as it should. Funnily enough – it fittingly is the colour ‘blue.’