Queuing is traditionally one of my least favourite pastimes but, minutes before our last home game, the unusual experience of being part of a queue outside the turnstiles at the City Ground on a bitterly cold February night felt a little bit magical. It was soul-warming to see 27,000 people turn out to see us play Huddersfield Town, in what should have been an inconspicuous midweek fixture.
It’s been a long time since the City Ground has been so buoyant in preparation for an evening game and if the same atmosphere can be generated tonight, then I don’t mind queuing all over again.
Despite dwindling attendances and grumbles of inconvenience, there has always been something special about playing football under the glare of the floodlights, long after the sun has gone down. Thrashing the Terriers 6-1 in scintillating style has reignited my love affair with Tuesday nights alongside the River Trent and I can’t wait for tonight’s game to get underway.
It does help that we have had a dramatic upturn in fortunes since the return of Billy Davies. So, I thought I would use tonight’s Red Revolution to take a look at a few factors that have helped Billy bring back that lovin’ feelin’ to those who bleed red blood:
Setting up positively:
During the 2012/13 season so far, one of the predominant groans from the terraces has been that there is a distinct lack of pace throughout our current squad. We have plenty of players with craft and guile, but none with blistering pace.
Prior to Billy Davies’ arrival I believe we were trying to compensate for this by defending deeply, with a sitting midfielder who was unlikely to cross the halfway line. By pushing the line further forward and employing the adventurous Adlene Guedioura as the holding player, in a very positive quartet of gifted midfielders, Forest have dominated games and pulverised defences.
We had previously been fearful of allowing the opposition to get in behind us, but Billy has adopted a much braver approach, placing a lot of faith in the ability of our attacking players and accepting the fact that we will occasionally get caught out.
Huddersfield Town got in behind us a few times during our last home game, creating some clear-cut chances, but when you have already scored six goals against them it doesn’t seem to matter so much!
Style of football:
Davies has reverted to the passing style of football that we saw under the stewardship of Sean O’Driscoll earlier in the season. More often than not, under Alex McLeish, the ball would be played directly to the strikers from the back four.
McLeish’s style not only made him unpopular amongst the fans (which in itself can have a detrimental effect on the team’s performance) but it also rendered some of our most able players obsolete. Creative and technically-able players like Radi Majewski, who is now excelling since the return of Billy Davies, were wasted during the McLeish regime.
I am not claiming that there was a particular problem with the tempo at which Forest played under either O’Driscoll or Alex McLeish, but since Billy has returned there seems to have been a gear change. His style of play is all about intensity and urgency; two key features of our performances since his return that were not particularly evident before.
Championship management is all about getting the best out of what you have available to you. Every squad will have its strengths and its weaknesses and the manager’s job is to accentuate the positives, and subsequently get the best out of the players at his disposal. As I have already stated, one of the problems Forest have faced this season is a lack of ‘genuine pace’. By making the conscious decision to move the ball more quickly, Billy has made this less of an issue. Forest are stretching teams through quick passing and excellent movement off the ball.
Our players are not only passing the ball with pace and purpose, they are also winning more of the ball in opposition territory by pressing high up the pitch. By focussing on getting our players fit and playing at a high-tempo, Billy has made us a very dangerous prospect for any Championship opposition.
Midfielders getting in the box:
Football is a simple game, for the most part; the more players you get in the box, the more chance you have of scoring. All season I have been cursing the fact that when a full-back or midfielder gets the ball out wide, there are, at the very most, two strikers in the box. In the last few games, we have started to get players in and around the box at key moments. Reid, Lansbury and, in particular, Majewski have reaped the rewards already.
The Galvanising Effect:
Billy’s return has galvanised both the crowd and players, restoring belief that Nottingham Forest can be great again. The impact of the crowd being so positively charged, especially at home, cannot be underestimated.
Rightly or wrongly, the Forest faithful never really got behind Alex McLeish, and the City Ground was far from a fortress whilst he was in charge.
Partly because of what he achieved before and partly because we like what we are seeing on the pitch now, the crowd are fully behind Billy! In turn, the players are enjoying their football and growing in confidence before our very eyes.
In the best possible sense, what Billy has done is quite simple. He’s taken a group of talented footballers and played to their strengths. He’s put faith in their abilities, rather than trying to compensate for their flaws. In doing so, he’s managed to produce some highly entertaining football. If these performances continue, soon they will be queuing up to Trent Bridge to get in for the next Tuesday night fixture!
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