New owners and three managers meant a season of inconsistency at the City Ground but there are encouraging signs for next year
After the various disasters of 2011-12, many Nottingham Forest supporters would have cheerfully settled for mid-table obscurity this season. Particularly if it was accompanied by some half-decent football and a few signs of long-term planning and stability. The latter seemed unlikely when, with the new season weeks away, the club was ownerless and had a threadbare squad with only one first-team defender.
There was much relief at the takeover by the Kuwaiti Al Hasawi family last July, accompanied by wild speculation about their wealth.
Optimists pictured the Arab-financed transformation of Manchester City while pessimists focused on the recent Munto Finance debacle across the river at Meadow Lane. After some hasty transfers and loans, Forest made a good start and were the last Championship team to lose a league game. Yet the season ended up a story of inconsistency. The highs included wins against Cardiff and Hull, the emergence of goalkeeper Karl Darlow, the galvanising return of Billy Davies as manager and goal blitzes against Leeds and Huddersfield that briefly had fans wondering if automatic promotion might be possible.
The lows involved home thrashings by Millwall and Watford, our "strikers" managing just five goals between them in 2013 and Alex McLeish's dismal 40-day reign that ended in February with one win in seven matches, including losing at Blackburn when that was quite hard to do and an FA Cup capitulation at home to Oldham. There was also the fiasco involving George Boyd, when the last-minute collapse of his transfer from Peterborough at the end of January was implausibly blamed on an "inconclusive" eye test amid suggestions of a fall-out between manager and owners. Yet for all the inconsistency we were just one goal away from the play-offs going into added time in the last match.
The new owners seem to have brought financial stability. Chairman Fawaz Al Hasawi says he's in it for the long haul and seems genuinely proud of the club's history and actively solicits supporters' opinions. The academy has been renamed in memory of late chairman Nigel Doughty and funding has been provided to ensure the survival of Nottingham Forest Ladies. Of more concern is the ruthlessness that saw decent men such as Sean O'Driscoll and club ambassador Frank Clark treated harshly (and threatened to give "manager of the month" a whole new meaning on Trentside), along with an apparent fondness for Twitter as a primary means of official communication.
Finishing 8th feels about right – over the season we were one of the better teams in the Championship but too unreliable at both ends to look like we could survive in the top flight. Given the pre- and mid-season turmoil, it's encouraging that those fans who in August would have taken a mid-table finish ended up disappointed that we didn't quite get the chance to improve on our dismal play-off record. In the summer we'll find out more about the ratio of revolution to evolution in the owners' plans for our future but three or four astute signings could give us a squad that could compete at the top end of the table. Richard Harrison