5 October ~ This season more books have been published about Brian Clough than Nottingham Forest have league wins. It's not that we live in the past, as is sometimes claimed, though we do celebrate it enthusiastically – the more so because the present isn't usually very good for our nerves. We know our history doesn't give us any right to a place in the top flight, but we want to feel everyone at the club is pulling together to give us the best chance of getting there. Too much about the club seems contradictory, if not downright unprofessional. Does any other professional club fail to employ a first-team left-back for two years yet say finding one isn't a priority?
Or appoint a manager who freely admits his ignorance of the league they're in? Do Forest have money to spend or are we skint? Are loans our preferred method of reinforcing the team or a last resort? The club's reluctance to communicate meaningfully with supporters on these and other issues leaves us feeding off scraps of information and filing in the gaps for ourselves.
On the pitch, a once-solid back four (despite said lack of a regular number three) seem to have forgotten how to defend. Along with numerous examples of Forest's traditional conceded goal – a free header from six yards – we're now seeing opponents stroll through unchallenged, as if it's the last minute of a testimonial and the beneficiary hasn't scored yet. Cricketers say that one wicket brings two – in Forest's case, one goal conceded brings two, and often more. There was something sadly inevitable about Birmingham's second and third goals in their 3-1 win on Sunday – the fifth time in seven matches that the Reds have shipped three or more goals.
At the other end, promising signings in Ishmael Miller and Matt Derbyshire haven't had sufficient support from a midfield made more defensive and one-paced by the addition of three experienced (some would say "slow") ex-Premier League midfielders where one might have sufficed. We usually score, but seldom enough to make up for the failure to strengthen the defence in the summer. Something had to give. In the face of increasing supporter unrest and falling attendances, the last week has seen football consultant David Pleat, performance coach Bill Beswick and manager Steve McClaren depart, with owner Nigel Doughty deciding to step down as chairman at the end of the season, having candidly admitted that the decision to appoint McClaren was his alone and a "very poor" one.
McClaren deserves some sympathy, as the Forest job doesn't seem to have matched what he was given to expect. His leaving without compensation shows dignity and consideration for the club and their supporters. The fans wanted him to succeed, but his selections and tactics gave little cause for optimism. There seemed to be no Plan B when things went wrong – and sometimes precious little sign of a Plan A. The formation (sometimes unnecessarily negative) varied from game to game as McClaren struggled to find one that worked. The players looked uncomfortable with McClaren's zonal marking, perhaps reasoning, like the supporters, that they had never seen an unmarked zone score but had seen plenty of unmarked players do so. The manager won't always know all the answers, but it increasingly appeared as though he didn't even know all the questions.
So what, or rather who, is next for Forest? The many names bandied around already fall into three main categories – those with connections to a happier past (Martin O'Neill, Stuart Pearce, Roy Keane), a possible short-term fix to rescue this season before we all take stock in the summer (Paul Hart) or up-and-coming managers for whom the Forest job represents an upward move (Sean O'Driscoll, Karl Robinson). Doughty's mindfulness of the prudence required when the Financial Fair Play rules are eventually adopted suggests it won't be one of the big names.
For all that is currently wrong with Forest, though, it is still a prestigious job at a club with great potential. Whoever gets it, if everyone involved with the club – board, management, players, fans and, as Clough once said, the tea lady – could communicate better and all pull in the same direction it would be a start. Richard Harrison