On my way to the City Ground for the midweek game against Middlesbrough, the sound of a slow death march was relentlessly ringing in my ears. It wasn’t because I had the new Coldplay album on in my car, rather because I had been constantly replaying the last fifteen minutes of the Birmingham game in my head.
The image of our dejected players, looking on motionless as Chris Wood jogged through to score Birmingham’s third, was still haunting me and I must confess I was apprehensive about the prospect of facing an undefeated Middlesbrough side. I’ve always maintained my belief that the squad is good enough to get us into the Premier League but of recent times our beloved club has been buried deep in a quagmire of negativity. Cue the arrival of Steve Cotterill.
As the second goal went in, elated relief boomed around what had been a subdued City Ground. Nottingham Forest were back. It wasn’t just about us beating Middlesbrough and getting our first home win of the season; it was about the players giving a performance we could all be proud of. It was a special night to be a Forest supporter because, for the first time this season, there was a reminder of why we all love this beautiful game so much.
Steve Cotterill refused to accept praise for the victory; giving all credit to the players. In fact, when faced with adulation our new manager looked about as comfortable as Kris Commons at a salad bar. While it’s true that each player gave a thunderously committed performance, we should not mistake Steve’s refreshing modesty for a lack of influence on the game. He knew exactly what he was doing.
The decision to revert back to 4-4-2, addressing our lack of width in midfield by pushing Chris Gunter forward, was inspired. Subsequently the team had more natural balance and were better organised as a unit. Furthermore, we moved the ball quickly when in possession, forsaking the slow passing style, which Steve McClaren favoured, for a style that befits the players we have and the league we are in. Finally, and most importantly, we pressed the opposition, giving them no time on the ball and ensuring we remained on the front foot until the game was won.
Cotterill’s strategy was, in part, based on observations made during the Coventry game. However, by far his most crucial observation was that the players appeared to have “fallen out of love with football,” a problem that he has addressed emphatically since his arrival.
In both the Middlesbrough and Blackpool games, Forest played with zest and passion, purposefully running around like irrepressible gazelles, with an unquenchable appetite for the ball. Win, lose or draw, if we can play with the same conviction every week I’ll happily pay to see us, home and away.
It was great to take all three points at Bloomfield Road and our industrious approach to the challenging circumstances (in terms of the playing surface and the match officials) was particularly pleasing. We are not going to win every game between now and the end of the season and we’re not always going to be able to play vintage football, but Steve Cotterill seems to have injected spirit and belief back into our players and that’s something well worth celebrating.
In a recent interview, he was asked about the relationship he builds with his players: “You need to be their manager, psychologist, father … probably even mother at some stage.”
He’ll probably stop shy of tucking Wes and Chambo in at night, nevertheless I think his all-encompassing approach is exactly what our players need. They need someone to motivate and guide them, someone who sees their form and confidence as his responsibility. The managers who excel at Championship level are those who can get the best out of their players.
When a manager categorically fails at a club, in the way that Steve McClaren did, it’s only natural that the chosen successor comes from the opposite end of the managerial spectrum. Clubs tend to place emphasis on the deficiencies of the previous incumbent and look to address them with their next selection.
So it came as no surprise to me when the board appointed a manager who has a wealth of experience in the Championship, is accustomed to working on a tight budget and is renowned for building a formidable team spirit. Steve Cotterill is a very different type of manager to Steve McClaren and, in my opinion, much better suited to the task at hand. The signs are certainly good so far.
It’s important not to get too carried away, because there will be many high points and low points before this season is over, but I think we should all embrace the core principles of honesty and hard work that Steve Cotterill is trying to implement. The players are already on board and with our unyielding support the possibilities are endless.