Ahead of this Saturday’s early kick off at Loftus Road, we spoke to blogger and Forest fan Christian Brown (@Chris78901) for his take on the clash…
Q. Under former R Dougie Freedman Forest achieved a 14th place finish last term. How did the fans respond to the team’s performance over the season?
A. It’s been a mixed response. Personally, I feel as if we would have gone down under Stuart Pearce, and a run of 3 wins in 21 games – with no home win for three months – suggests I might have been right, especially as we were seven points above the drop zone when he was sacked. While that points gap might not sound that bad, we had to play a lot of the teams below us in a short space of time and had just lost to Millwall – who would go on to be relegated – at home in what was one of the worst displays The City Ground has ever seen from the home side. However, it’s Stuart Pearce…club legend Stuart Pearce. Best left back in the club’s history Stuart Pearce. Most popular captain Stuart Pearce. Arguably England’s finest left back Stuart Pearce…you get the message. A lot of fans felt hard done by regarding the way he was axed and the way Freedman was hired so soon after, and some still see him as an imposter of sorts. That said, the football is a major improvement on the archaic displays we were forced to endure previously, and credit to Freedman, he gave us a faint play-off dream to chase while swiftly removing the threat of relegation. I said it at the time and I’ll say it again – seven clear of the drop zone and in free fall when he took over, 18 clear and completely safe when the season ended.
Q. What is your view on the Al-Hasawi tenure in charge of Forest? What do you make of their record of managerial appointments?
A. Ha, how long have you got? Objectively, it seems as if we’re a steep learning curve for the erratic behaviour of Fawaz Al-Hasawi and his first venture into English football. There have been pros, granted, and he hasn’t been afraid to dip into his pocket – no-one can deny that. He also seems genuinely keen to please everyone, but as we all know, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. This kindness has also been the club’s downfall, as we are now under a transfer embargo due to overspending. Not all of us can get away with a seven figure fine for breaking the rules…;) there have also been a fair share of embarrassing incidents, notably ‘Eyegate’ with George Boyd on deadline day, going through managers at a rate faster than light travels, and buying/selling players behind the manager’s back. A former player also recently implied that Fawaz was having a hand in team selections. Personally, while I am ever grateful for the funds he has plunged into the club and for buying us at a time where things looked bleak, I would love and would much rather have a chairman like Steve Parish or Huw Jenkins – someone who doesn’t act irrationally and has the ability to let the manager do his job.
Q. It seemed like a relatively quiet summer for Forest in the transfer market. Three players were brought in on permanent deals there were four loanees, including Kyle Ebecilio from FC Twente. How do you rate the activity?
A. It was an excellent window. Freedman went above and beyond to sign the players we have done, and many have claimed it’s our best window in years. While it was unfortunate to lose Michail Antonio, we picked up ¬£7m for him and kept stand-in skipper Henri Lansbury, who is easily one of the best central midfielders in the division. As well as this, we managed to sign a 14 cap Portuguese international striker in the shape of Nelson Oliveira on a temporary basis, a commanding defender in Matt Mills on a free transfer who has racked up nearly ¬£10m in transfer fees in his career, and an actual left back in Dani Pinillos. Considering we haven’t spent a penny in transfer fees, it has been a remarkable window, and full credit has to go to the management for that.
Q. Forest experienced heady days under Brian Clough as European Champions – what are reasonable expectations for the side now? Is Freedman the right person to deliver success to the City Ground?
A. Top half finish and to improve on last year is probably a fair wish for the season. Given the rebuilding job and the restrictions, a play-off chase is going to be unlikely – though not impossible given the players at our disposal – but being realistic, somewhere between 10th and 13th wouldn’t be disastrous. To finish any higher would require us to get Andy Reid, Chris Cohen and Britt Assombalonga back from injury and then keeping them fit – if that can happen, with no other catastrophes or injury viruses, then – whisper it so quietly not even a mouse can hear it – top 6 could be done. As for whether Freedman can deliver success, I don’t think it’s impossible – maybe be a bit more adventurous at home, even with one up front, and why not.
Q. When you think of QPR these days, what springs to mind? Any views on the Ramsey / Ferdinand management team?
A. OHHHH, BOBBY ZA-MORA!! How we celebrated when that fine man picked up that superb ball from Richard Keogh deep into injury time in the play-off final against our woolly friends, before proceeding to fire it top corner past a flailing Lee Grant. With 10 men, might I add. I think after that, your club made several friends for life in the red half of Nottingham! Also, you have a very unique record of not ever winning at The City Ground, which is kind of you. Watch your boys put 4 past us later on in the season to make up for lost time now I’ve said that…Without wanting to sit on the fence, it could go one way or the other with those two – and keeping Charlie Austin and Matt Phillips may be strong enough to gloss over any tactical inexperience or naivety they have. I can see you doing similar to Norwich last season under Neil Adams should it all go wrong however, so under-performing then getting someone in who will steer the ship towards promotion. It was a bold call from your owner, especially after he claimed he had his ‘dream manager’ signed and sealed, but I can’t see you having a bad season by any means.
Q. How do you think Freedman will set up your team to face QPR?
A. 4-1-4-1 and a standard away performance to boot. We’ll look to close gaps, force you out wide and use the superior height of Mills and Jack Hobbs to clear any crosses that our full backs don’t block, while looking to spring a counter whenever possible. Now Antonio’s gone, the use of the counter can come from literally anywhere, whereas before it was get it to the left wing and act accordingly. Rather annoyingly however, despite having several midfield options to choose from, Michael Mancienne will most likely be the one in front of the back four to act as a shield – which almost certainly won’t work against QPR as it has barely worked against anyone. It seems a case of wedging a square peg into a round hole to quote one of our former managers, playing him for the sake of doing so as he’s such a good defender. He will be the one you target if this is the case.
Q. Who are the Forest players to watch out for at Loftus Road?
A. Henri Lansbury is one of the most accomplished midfielders in the division, and recently him and Welsh international David Vaughan have formed a brilliant partnership as a midfield duo – which provides solidity, a fearsome tackle, and a superb range of passing. Then there’s Chris Burke, who has a delightful cross on him and is more than capable of a trick or two to bamboozle the full back, while he also has an uncanny ability to simply glide past said full back with ease and grace. Oliveria is a bit of an unknown package despite his pedigree, while Ryan Mendes – another loanee we signed on deadline day – fits into the same category, though he’s allegedly a very direct runner with lots of pace.
Q. Which current QPR player/s do you rate or admire, if any? What about QPR players of the past?
A. I personally love Charlie Austin, almost on man crush levels. The way he acted having scored 18 Premier League goals was highly commendable, as it would have been so easy to throw his toys out the pram and demand to leave – he should be in the England squad for me, as a finisher there’s only Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney and maybe Harry Kane ahead of him. There’s also Jamie Mackie, who should get a warm reception when his name is read out. He ran himself into the ground whenever he pulled on that Forest shirt, but what separates Mackie from others who cover every blade of grass is that he had genuine ability, though I feel as if we only saw glimpses of that quality during his stay on Trentside. As for past players, well, Zamora! Also once upon a time I seem to recall you having a beanpole striker by the name of Peter Crouch, who is just about everyone’s hero.
Q. Which three teams do you tip for promotion this season and why? What about the drop?
A. The first two names I said were Hull City and Middlesbrough, and I stand by that. My reasoning was that Hull still have an immense squad for this level on paper, and have a highly experienced manager who knows what it takes to go up. As for Boro, they’ve replaced their loanees and departed players well, namely with Stewart Downing and David Nugent, and with Aitor Karanka in charge you’d expect a challenge. As for a third team, well…hopefully not Derby! Leeds, Brighton and Charlton are my dark horses for the play-offs, while I reckon Wolves, your boys and realistically having spent ¬£20m, Derby should make up 3rd, 4th and 5th – in no particular order. Can’t call a third team to go up though! Going down is slightly easier – Bolton because they’re awful, our 1-1 draw there felt like a loss due to the manner of the result, Brentford as sacking Mark Warburton was stupidity beyond all logical explanation and the team really isn’t that great, and probably Rotherham as they just don’t seem to have enough. MK Dons have made a flying start, but it’ll be interesting to see whether it lasts or not as I think they’ll also struggle, while Bristol City and the clown that is Steve Cotterill missed out on that all important striker they chased so willingly so they could be sucked into the mix too.
Q. Score and prediction for Saturday lunchtime?
A. I’d snap your hand off for a draw, however I feel you’ll edge it 2-1.
Thanks to Christian for answering our questions!