Being forced to rein in spend or bust policy may give Dougie Freedman more time
24 September ~ If you were to invite suggestions for a Championship game for Sky to cover you’d ask a lot of people before someone came up with Huddersfield v Nottingham Forest. That’s not to say it won’t be a decent game. The teams look well matched, sitting side by side in the middle of the early season league table, with both showing some encouraging form of late. Of course, it may be that Sky are simply getting the unfancied teams out of the way early, before concentrating on the likely promotion candidates as the season develops.
Even then it’s hard to understand why this is already the fourth time Forest have featured on Sky this season. The fixture is even more low-key for being played on a Thursday, the rugby league derby between Huddersfield Giants and Leeds Rhinos taking precedence at the John Smith’s Stadium on Friday. That said, on Trentside at least, the game is actually being seen as an important one.
After a sluggish start to the season, Forest have found some form in recent weeks, with some shrewd loan acquisitions going some way to make up for Michail Antonio’s transfer to West Ham. No longer relying on the easy option of “give it to Antonio” and with decent cover in most positions now, Forest have been able to vary their line-up and tactics according to the opposition.
A run of fixtures against top-six opponents has brought away wins at QPR and Birmingham, followed by an honourable defeat against a good Middlesbrough side at the weekend. It says a lot that the home fans, all too used in recent months to seeing visiting teams leave the City Ground three points better off, warmly applauded the players for their efforts.
So the Huddersfield game is looking like something of a litmus test. Lose and the momentum of the two away wins is lost; win and talk will start to turn towards the possibility of an unexpectedly good season. The continuing transfer embargo and the absence, for the third season in a row, of several key players to long-term injuries, has meant the level of expectation on Trentside has been lower this season than for many a year.
As Forest’s recent policy of “spend or bust” has not led to promotion, supporters are now hoping that a different approach may prove more rewarding, with youngsters from the well-regarded academy featuring alongside ambitious loanees and experienced free agents and, all being well, Dougie Freedman being given considerably longer than his recent predecessors to build a successful team.
Freedman himself is hopeful that Forest can put themselves within touching distance of the play-offs by Christmas, after which the return to fitness of the likes of Britt Assombalonga, Chris Cohen and Matty Fryatt may give the team sufficient momentum to make an unexpected bid for promotion. If that happens, it’ll no longer be a surprise to see the Reds in the TV schedules. Richard Harrison