words: David Marples
After the goalless draw at Bramall Lane, Nottingham Forest - under Aitor Karanka - are now unbeaten in seven games, conceding a measly four goals while scoring eight along the way.
This is all very sound grounds for optimism after a largely horrible December and January, give or take the wins against Arsenal and Wolves which in the context of the general pattern of results in these two months, look increasingly downright weird. Yet it has not passed unnoticed that Forest have now chalked up three consecutive goalless draws and despite the goal blitz against QPR, are finding goals difficult to come by. On paper, recent scorelines resemble a one-sided game of noughts and crosses.
Cause for alarm? Not really. Not conceding goals isn’t very sexy but being resolute at the back is the rock upon which all good teams are based. Some might wonder about the difference between this current iteration of Forest and that of Dougie Freedman’s, under whom Forest went 13 games unbeaten while under a transfer embargo. For many, Freedman’s style of football and inclination towards defence over any form of attack was a stick to beat him with. Yet few are grumbling over Karanka’s current brand of football. In retrospect this all seems a little harsh on Freedman who lost his job in March 2016 after his Forest side lost five from six games yet never really looked in serious danger of relegation from the Championship. Isn’t Karanka getting an easy ride?
All usual, context is everything. Freedman had the rather unfortunate situation of being the man who walked in the door directly after Stuart Pearce. As David Moyes might testify, following in a legend’s footsteps is more difficult than juggling jelly. It probably didn’t help Freedman’s cause that he was appointed in the immediate aftermath of Pearce’s sacking, seemingly already lined up for the post. Of course, this is no fault of Freedman’s: he was just another football manager looking to climb back on the merry-go-round and rightly, took the opportunity when it presented itself.
Besides, Freedman was simply caught in the crossfire between fans and the club, then run by Fawaz Al-Hasawi. The 150th anniversary was botched on the part of the club and despite the haphazard nature of the day to day running of the club, expectations amongst fans was still relatively high. In this context, Freedman’s run of 13 games unbeaten was more ‘meh’ than ‘yeah!’ Essentially, the club was on a downward trajectory with rock bottom still to be hit.
Now though, things are different. After escaping relegation by goal difference last season, there is an acceptance and acknowledgement regarding the state of the club. The announcement of season ticket process for next season is tangible proof of the club valuing its supporters, rather than just paying rudimentary lip-service to their existence.
On top of that, Karanka has a promotion to the Premier League tucked safely inside his socks; something that Freedman lacked. Even without a transfer embargo, the feeling persisted that the best Forest could hope for under his stewardship was the top half of the table. Moreover, a whiff of transience lingered around Freedman after he walked away from Crystal Palace to take the reins at Bolton Wanderers where despite some early success, fans turned against him.
In direct contrast, Karanka finds the club being run in a wholly more professional manner, didn’t replace a living legend in his role and perhaps more importantly, has form when it comes to promotion. The goals will surely come.
Issue Seven of the award nominated Bandy and Shinty fanzine is on sale now. Featuring a lengthy and exclusive interview with Forest legend Frank Clark, it's a 90s special so take our hands and join us for a trip down memory lane to when football shirts were baggier than a Happy Mondays groove and more lurid than wasp vomit. Re-live that memorable European sojourn: Paul McGregor's goal, Steve Chettle scoring in Munich and all that. You can buy a copy from MSR newsagents on Radcliffe Road or order one here.