Nottingham Forest Season Preview: New Era?

Last season, Nottingham Forest shipped 72  Championship goals and required a final day win to survive on goal difference. They also however, put an end to Fawaz Al-Hasawi’s ill-fated ownership regime and appointed one of Britain’s most respected managers outside the Premier League. Is it fair to say therefore, that 16/17  was a better season off the pitch at the City Ground than it was on it? The Football Lab spoke to supporter Lee Clarke ahead of the new season.

The arrival of the proven Mark Warburton was, in my opinion, one of the best aspects of last season. The arrival of the new owner sparked a major overhaul of the boardroom and some of the things which the club has done over the summer months have been done for the better of the football club moving forward. For the five years under Fawaz Al Hasawi there was never any indication that he was willing to seek help from people who knew English football and the club regressed. Thankfully those days look to be firmly consigned to the dark chapters of the history books.

Incoming chairman Nicholas Randall, appointed by Evangelos Marinakis, said: “It is clear the club has not been run as it should have.” Will this openness endear supporters to the new regime?

Absolutely. Nottingham Forest supporters are pretty hard to please anyway but one thing that we are desperately craving is for the club to stop becoming a complete laughing stock. Several winding-up orders, comical signings and bizarre off-field misdemeanors have dragged the club through the mud in recent years in an embarrassing period in the club’s history.

Player of the Year Eric Lichaj is the only defender who started more than 24 games last year – and he’s attack-minded. Was the lack of stability at the back a problem?

You would have to say yes. I said just this week to a mate of mine that had Jack Hobbs or Matt Mills been fit during the run-in we would have been safe pretty comfortably in the end, but as they weren’t we struggled. If you look at the Billy Davies era his success was built on solid foundations at the back and the defence in his team picked itself. Hopefully Warburton can assess this ahead of next season.

You improved defensively under Mark Warburton, with 10 goals conceded in his nine games in charge. Is tightening up at set pieces the next step?

Although we did improve – slightly – we didn’t keep enough clean sheets during the campaign at all. Some of the goals we conceded last season wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Comedy Channel but thankfully Warburton has highlighted that the defensive frailties have to become a thing of the past. After all if you don’t concede a goal you cannot lost a game of football.

Many felt Ben Osborn had a good season last year. After his shoulder injury against Ipswich, should he be ok to start the season?

He should be yes. He went over to America with the rest of the squad so he should be fine to get involved from the off.

Along with Osborn’s continued development, four new academy graduates enjoyed breakthrough campaigns. Do Gary Brazil, Jack Lester and others deserve credit for their work with the youth over the last few years?

You could actually argue that five or six broke through – Oliver Burke earned himself a massive move to the Bundesliga, whilst Jorge Grant featuring in the starting line-up early doors suggested he might get a regular place in the side. The work that Gary Brazil and Jack Lester have done with the Forest academy has been the one area that hasn’t faltered during a difficult period for the club. Brazil is one of the best at what he does in the country and long may he continue to produce such talented footballers for the football club.

One of those graduates was Jordan Smith. Given that Stephen Henderson and Vladimir Stojkovic struggled last year, do you expect Smith to be first choice?

Stojkovic had hands like poppadoms whilst the jury remains firmly out on Stephen Henderson. For me Jordan Smith was superb when thrust into action last season and he let nobody down whatsoever. His save at 0-0 in Forest’s final game against Ipswich arguably kept the Reds in the division and for me he should be handed the gloves for the first game against Millwall.

David Vaughan has signed a new deal as Chris Cohen enters his 10th season at the City Ground. In an otherwise young side, will it help to have a couple of experienced stalwarts around?

Definitely. If you look at all the successful sides who have done well in the second tier they always have players who have been there and got the t-shirt. I do think Forest need another CM as it would be very naive to expect Vaughan and Cohen to each make in excess of 35 appearances next season.

There’s some uncertainty about Britt Assombalonga’s future. If he leaves, would there be more pressure on Ben Brereton and new signing Jason Cummings?

I don’t think so to be honest. Ben Brereton is young and raw and his performances don’t suggest that he feels a great deal of pressure. Cummings is an exciting addition to the squad and if Britt does leave a confident character such as the young Scot could be just the man to fill his boots.

A lot of your young, attacking players including Zach Clough are tied down to long-term deals. Will that give you the power to demand an inflated fee if one of them has a good season?

I would say so. I think one of the positive aspects of Warburton is that he doesn’t want players to come to the club on a big wage as their career dwindles to a close. Instead he seems happy to scour the market for young, hungry players who want to put 110% into the club every single day and that can only be a good thing.

What are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I think it looks set to be an exciting division once again and I can’t wait for it to get started. I actually think Sheffield Wednesday will finally realise their potential this season and would back them for the title. As for a dark horse, I will go for Preston North End –  I think Alex Neil is a really shrewd appointment as manager.

Where will you finish?

Tough question. Somewhere between 7th and 15th – ask me again on September 1st!

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Brereton and Clough have the potential to tear up the league for Forest, who have a young squad tailor made for Warburton. If they can tighten up and add consistency to the flashes of potential shown under him so far, they could be one to watch. 9th