As we approach the business end of season after what seems an age waiting in lockdown, it feels right to talk about all things Forest once more. The lockdown has provided me with plenty of time to reminisce about better times in years gone by but also the opportunity to reflect on the current season so far.
It’s been pretty good all in all and one of our better ones in recent years. On and off the pitch, the club continue to make progress. I only had to read a few of Chipppers new blogs (very good by the way) to be reminded about the absolute shambles we were under Fawaz. There’s been some top quality moments under Sabri Lamouchi since he took over the reigns in July 2019 that’s had me dreaming about Forest reaching the Premier League. It’s all to play for in the next 9 games or potentially more…..
Taking stock of things as a supporter brings me onto some thoughts of personnel for the future. It’s been great to see Sammi Ameobi get a year’s extension which will hopefully keep his motivation levels up to that of this season. However, one players future I’d like to see resolved over the summer is that of Ben Watson. With an awful lot left to play for in the coming weeks, a refreshed and in-form Ben Watson will be a crucial player or us. Over the course of this season, he’s really shown what a good player and professional he still is at the ripe old age of 34. I’d like to see him remain at Forest beyond this summer; whether that’s back in the Championship or following us up into the Premier League. I’ve penned a few thoughts on his merits of getting a new deal…
On a free from Watford
Initially, Watson made a reasonable impact coming in under Aitor Karanka in February 2018 as much needed quality and appetite to win a football match. He certainly played his part in steadying the ship as Forest comfortably avoided any threat of relegation that season. I’m not sure his performances were anything better than steady; but steady was exactly needed at that time. If we sold him that very same summer; he’d have still been a good investment in my book.
He even got himself a chant from the Forest stands. I’m not sure how much that was to do with his performances or the catchy tune to Earth, Wind and Fire’s September that echoes around most grounds for players that have names 4 syllables long. Either way, to achieve a chant at Forest is something in itself.
He never gives the ball away
Not entirely true in his second season at the club was it? Things didn’t really go to plan as Aitor Karanka tried to find his best midfield blend behind Joao Carvalho. Making only 21 appearances, the combination alongside Jack Colback just didn’t suit; particularly if Carvalho was having minimal impact further up the pitch. I’m still bearing the mental scars of a terrible away showing from Forest in a 2-1 defeat at Brentford at the start of September 2019.
There were some notable performances though – he more than played his part in a 2-0 away win at Middlesbrough and was great in the 1-0 victory over Derby (alongside Ryan Yates). In both games, Watson produced typical workman like performances that were pivotal in the teams better displays of the season.
— BBC Nottingham Sport (@BBCRNS) February 25, 2019
The general time under Martin O’Neill was completely forgettable but it gave Watson another chance to impress; having been missing for a few months amidst the managerial chaos that destroyed our season. If anything, those run of games showed that we perhaps needed better and to me, it looked like we’d seen the end of Watson at The City Ground. Allegedly, Martin O’Neill had told him that his time was up that summer.
Super Benny Watson
Enter Sabril Lamouchi. The Frenchman didn’t waste much time in getting stuck in at Forest, arriving to meet his new squad at Alfreton a day after being appointed in June 2019. I’ve no inside information but I’ll hazard a guess at both Watson and Michael Dawson being an invaluable source of information for Sabri during his initial bedding in period.
On the pitch, Watson was earmarked early for the midfield anchor role and whilst there wasn’t much to get excited about from the preseason friendlies at The City Ground; Watson’s experience was going to be crucial in laying foundations to how the new manager wanted his team to play. Others could watch and learn from the sidelines at how our midfield was going to work. His greatest attributes are liking a tackle, blocking the ball and intercepting danger. His ability to pass the ball is strong and consistent too. He was the best fit for that role in the squad.
Discipline in the side was needed and without millions to spend on getting that decisive player – Watson had a lot of key components to hand that have suited Sabri’s style. He offers more tenacity than John Bostock (who I imagine was brought in to be a first team player this season). You can’t buy experience as they say and whilst Ben maybe coming towards the end of his playing career; his know-how to read the game can more than compensate for that inevitable loss of legs. That said, physically, Watson has been in pretty good shape all season and looks a top professional in terms of looking after himself.
With their inexperience of English football, both Tiago Silva and Alfa Semedo certainly benefitted from Watson’s inclusion in the early part of the season. In the very first game, it was evident that if Forest were going to play a more dynamic game (which they did against West Brom), Watson was going to be instrumental in holding things together from a defensive perspective. He was impressive in a period where Forest were threatened to be over run by West Brom in the first half of that game. Watson’s performance against The Baggies – although ending in defeat – set the bar for his season. In a new look team, under a new manager; Ben would have a major part to play in Forest’s campaign and that’s proven to be the case.
From the moment Samba Sow changed the complexion of the game against Leeds at Elland Road; Watson was given some much needed help in a very inexperienced midfield. From that point on; Forest’s season started to take off. During the 2-0 away win at Fulham,Forest’s midfield bullied the Cottagers into submission with Watson’s ‘doubling’ up on Aleksander Milosevic. If Michael Dawson or Joe Worrall couldn’t get to the big Serb from the back – Watson was there to mug him of the ball when he was trying to shield and bring his team mates into play. It really was top drawer to watch from a defensive perspective and thoroughly frustrated Fulham in finding their passing rhythm. Alongside Samba Sow, the statistics don’t lie; as a pairing they are pretty formidable in The Championship and we don’t lose many games with them both present in the side. Ben has been found wanting at times without Sow alongside him but he can’t be expected to do it all by himself. That said, Samba Sow has missed an awful lot of games and wasn’t present in our biggest performance of the season; beating Leeds 2-0 in early February. Forest and Watson particularly have done well to battle on through in keeping us in the top 6.
Ok – so he hasn’t scored 4 goals yet this season but 3 isn’t a bad contribution from Ben in the anchor man midfield role. Given that 2 out of his 3 goals have brought Forest 6 points – it’s an even better contribution. His winning goals against Barnsley and Brentford were decent finishes also and that’s not too mention his 3rd goal, a 96th minute volley at Reading (which really should have been another winning goal to add to those statistics).
🙌 It's been a long time coming for Ben Watson – but his first goal in over three years was saw @NFFC beat Barnsley
— Sporting Life Football (@SportingLifeFC) September 22, 2019
I can’t think of many Forest centre midfielders that have gotten us winning goals in more recent years; Henri Lansbury the last one most probably.
I think it was Matty Cash that described him as ‘the quarterback’ of Nottingham Forest when the team were flexing their promotion credentials back in October time. Watson had also taken over the captaincy from the injured Michael Dawson and his revival under Sabri has been one of the major plus points of our season.
Credit has to go to the manager of course. It seemed like Watson already had a foot out of the door when the Frenchman came in and had clearly spotted the importance of having good experienced professionals around – who can play a bit too. Watching the Harry Heroes programme the other week on ITV, it was interesting how Harry Redknapp liked to have that blend of characters in the dressing room and those that can do the finer things in a game of football. To draw comparisons with other Forest players over the years, you’ve got Paul McKenna under Billy Davies and even John McGovern under Brian Clough. Both were no frills midfielders whose contributions almost go unnoticed – masters at the less attractive side of things.
I appreciate Ben has his critics and that he’s not everybody’s cup of tea. I know that fans sometimes demand more of him from an offensive aspect but Watson has gotten the most out of his attributes during his career. Whilst I’ve defended him stoutly this season and well aware of his limitations, my over riding thoughts are that; Forest without Ben Watson are a weakened side. His importance to the team is huge. The glue if you like – and every good team needs that vital ingredient. He’s more than played his part in our defensive record too so far this season.
The icing on the cake for this season would of course be promotion but whether we go up or not, I still think there’s a role for Ben in the squad (as I alluded to earlier); even more so if we remain in The Championship. Whilst he might not have the legs for a full Premier League campaign if we were to go up; it’s important that any new player coming in to replace him transitions over well – we don’t have a like for like replacement within the current squad. I can’t state enough how important Watson is to the discipline of Sabri’s set up.
Rumours are abound that Ben might fancy a move back to London and I guess one of the knock on effects of the lockdown is time to re-evaluate life and prioritise what’s most important. I wouldn’t begrudge any player a move for family reasons but fingers crossed Ben can be tempted to stay a little longer. In this day and age where big money is thrown about on long term deals; Ben Watson has certainly earned himself another year at The City Ground.
Here’s hoping he can trump Paul McKenna’s nearly man of a few years back now and emerge as one of the clubs most successful captains in recent times.
Super Benny Watson…