Nottingham Forest Season Preview: Grabban signs

With the 2018-19 Championship season coming up, The Football Lab spoke to Nottingham Forest fan Lee Clarke (@clarkey_no1).

There appears to be a lot of excitement on Trentside at present. Do you put that down to the ambitious nature of the summer recruitment?

Personally, I think that is only 50% of the reason. The club has worked incredibly hard off the pitch to build bridges and following the ill-fated era under the stewardship of Fawaz Al-Hasawi, Nottingham Forest are now becoming a proud football club once again.

Gone are the days of winding up orders being as frequent as home matches and there seems to be a real togetherness throughout the whole club just now.

Of course, the fact that Aitor Karanka has gone out and recruited nine new players is brilliant but the excitement is down to much more than that.

Club legend Michael Dawson returns to the City Ground while Tobias Figuierdo joins on a permanent deal after, reportedly, impressing on loan. Are you satisfied with your centre-back options?

Absolutely. Dawson and Figueiredo will make a quality partnership and for what it’s worth that would be my first-choice pairing.
Let’s not forget, however, that Danny Fox showed some solid form towards the end of last season, whilst Joe Worrall is very much one for the future. It is pretty safe to say that the club is well stocked at the heart of defence.

Costel Pantilimon made some good saves in the East Midlands clashes towards the end of last season. Pleased he’s signed a permanent deal?

In Costel Pantilimon, Forest now boast one of the best goalkeepers in the division. It was vital Karanka signed a goalkeeper with ample experience and he has done just that with this deal. He ticks all the boxes and it will only benefit Jordan Smith who will now be learning from him every day.

Ben Watson and Jack Colback strike me as central midfielders who will only protect the defence whereas Ben Osborn, arguably, offers more dynamism yet had been moved to left-back. How will this affect the tempo of your approach play?

Personally, I think with the way Karanka set his attacking quartet up in the final third, it is imperative that the two CM’s are holding players. Watson is excellent. I still can’t quite comprehend how we managed to secure such a player on a free transfer! Osborn is a handy squad player who can play in numerous positions but as far as the middle of the park goes we have Liam Bridcutt and Ryan Yates who can both do a job there. Yates will probably go out on loan, so that will leave the aforementioned Bridcutt and Watson to battle it out with Jack Colback, if he signs, for two places.

Jack Robinson signs to play at left-back; although the fact he was deployed at centre-back at QPR last season suggests he might not contribute much going forward. Could width on that side be an issue?

I don’t think so to be honest. Robinson will probably play left-back, with Osborn providing him competition. What will help the former QPR man out is that Joe Lolley will be playing in front of him and he is capable of working hard at both ends of the pitch.

Reports suggest Sam Byram could join from West Ham. After limited game time over the last 12 months, are you confident you can get him fully fit?

The beauty about this deal is that it will suit all parties. West Ham get a player off their books, Forest sign a proven Championship right-back and Byram gets the chance to play some football matches. The scouting process at Forest is very meticulous these days and Sporting Director Luke Dowling has worked tirelessly this summer. Put it this way, if there was any doubt at all that Byram was a lost cause then we wouldn’t be signing him.

Gil Dias and Diogo Goncalves arrive from Portugal; but Matty Cash and Joe Lolley showed flashes of promise last year. Are you excited by your wide options?

Definitely. Karanka’s style of play is highly dependant on getting the ball wide and Cash and Lolley both played well last season. I fear that Cash might drop out for Dias when the first game of the season comes around but it can only bode well for the club’s youngsters to be learning from players who have graces Serie A and other top European leagues in the past.

Attacking midfielder Joao Carvalho impressed at youth level with Portugal and in Benfica’s B Team but there’s Portuguese followers who are yet to be fully convinced by the 21-year-old in the senior game. Was it a risk to spend £13.2 million on him?

Spending £13.2 million on a player from a foreign country who doesn’t know the league is bound to be a risk so to speak, but let’s face it, we could have spent the same money on a player from the Championship and he might still have flopped. Carvalho seems like a talented boy and £13.2 million will be a drop in the ocean if he can link up well with Lewis Grabban and help fire us into the Premier League.

Lewis Grabban became a key man for Villa in the latter stages of last season while Hillal Soudani arrives from Dinamo Zagreb with Champions League experience. Are you encouraged by the goalscoring record both forwards possess?

Grabban is quite possibly the best piece of business we have done this summer given his goalscoring exploits of last season. Forest were desperately shy in front of goal during 2017/18 and it has pleased me that Karanka has identified the need for enforcements in that area. Soudani is strong as an ox and on that basis, I have no doubt he can live with the Championship. If I am being extremely greedy, I wouldn’t mind one more striker!

For the aforementioned attacking players to thrive, they will need to see plenty of the ball in good areas. Do you think they will get that under Karanka’s regime?

Yes, I think we will. Last season was a bit of a trial and error process for Karanka as he got used to the club and identified who he would keep around and who he would get rid of. Towards the end of the campaign it became pretty evident that he wanted his sides to press high up the pitch and when possible get the ball wide and into the box, so it comes as little surprise that the players he has signed are geared towards such a style.

Forest aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

It should be a real cracker of a campaign once again with several teams splashing the cash – Forest included! I think both West Brom and Stoke should go well, with the assistance of parachute payments whilst a few others will be in contention too.

Lots of people are backing Forest to be ‘dark horses’ but if I am pressed to pick someone else I will plump for Sheffield United. I am a big fan of Chris Wilder and with a couple of signings before the big kick-off, I reckon they can be right in the mix come May.

Where will you finish?

Tough to say given the competitive nature of the Championship. Our start, on paper, is extremely tough but I back Karanka and I back the players he has signed as good quality players. I reckon we will get into the play-offs – hopefully!

Thanks to Lee for his answers. The Football Lab’s verdict on Forest can be found on We Love Betting from late July.