8 December ~ Nine games in and Steve Cotterill’s time as Forest manager has featured few shades of grey. Four wins and five defeats paints a picture of a side so wildly inconsistent that only a fool would gamble on them. Their last home game was a 4-0 shellacking by Leeds, during which every Forest player was embarrassing – not merely bad or awful, but genuinely embarrassing. But after almost all of those losses Cotterill has emerged from the dressing room to shake his head in bewilderment and wonder exactly how his team had lost. If you listened to him and him only, one might think Forest were top of the league, rather than 22nd.
This is part of Cotterill’s make-up though. He is relentlessly positive. From the moment he arrived, he has talked up the prospects of the side and the quality of the players at his disposal. This attitude is what the team needed after two managers – Billy Davies and Steve McClaren – who seemed to spend their entire tenure telling everyone that the squad was sub-standard and needed severe improvement. Cotterill's approach was always likely to have a positive impact in the short term, but we are now reaching the end of that stage. Is there anything more to him than straightforward instructions and tactics, a smile and a gee-up?
We could learn more on Saturday against a Crystal Palace side who seem to operate in bursts. Their impressive start to the season, which featured three wins from their first four games, was followed by a run of three defeats, then another three wins, and now a troubling run that has seen them go without a victory since mid-October.
Perhaps the most worrying thing for Palace manager Dougie Freedman is that his team have only scored two goals in those seven games. The Carling Cup win at Old Trafford may have given the impression of a side in fine fettle, but a look at the league table will tell you that night was a glorious exception. Has the cup run impacted on their Championship form? Birmingham showed last season what can happen when a limited squad has to deal with too many games and too much excitement.
Plotted on a graph, Palace’s season would have long downward and upward curves, while Forest’s would be all over the place, jagging up and down. All this makes predicting the outcome of Saturday’s encounter an almost impossible task. Expect the unexpected, but don’t bank on a great deal of quality. Nick Miller