Platform Magazine

Forest living the Premier League nightmare

Nottingham Forest’s long-awaited Premier League adventure hasn’t been what most had planned it to be.

*NOTE* This was written prior to the end of the Premier League campaign

The 22/23 season saw the Reds survive the drop by four points with Steve Cooper’s men dragging themselves over the line to a respectable 16th place finish following inspired transfers of the likes of Champions League winning goalkeeper Keylor Navas and gutsy performances against title challengers Arsenal.

That 1-0 win against the Gunners in the penultimate gameweek of last season should have signified what Forest would be about under Steve Cooper going into the 23/24 season and after a run of six games with three wins and just one defeat, there should have been no reason not to progress.

However, at the time of writing on April 26th 2024, Nottingham Forest lie in 17th with four games to play and on a measly 26 points.

Now that isn’t as bad as Sheffield United’s 16, however it is a far cry from the 38 they had achieved last campaign.

Forest must win all four games they have left just to show that they haven’t regressed from this time one year ago but to all football fans it is clear to see they have.

There have been bright sparks, with a 2-0 victory against Aston Villa a standout, with glimpses of what could have been a strong defensive partnership between Murillo and Niakhate on display that day – but that wasn’t to be.

Burnley have pulled themselves back into the survival race, racking up 10 points from their last seven games and are now hot on the tails of Nottingham Forest and Luton Town who sit on 26 and 25 points respectively.

By comparison, Forest have only picked up six from their last seven, dropping points against relegation rivals Luton and most crucially Everton, with a controversial 2-0 defeat against the Toffees leaving them looking downwards rather than up.

Let’s go back to August 2023 to see where Forest went wrong…

The first task ahead of the season was to trim down a squad that had been bloated with big name stars on mega wages such as Jesse Lingard, putting an end to experimental transfers that just didn’t work out.

Out went Renan Lodi, Josh Bowler, Jonjo Shelvey, Emmanuel Dennis, Remo Freuler, Steve Cook, Cafu, Serge Aurier and talisman Brennan Johnson followed by the outlawing of captain and fan’s favourite Joe Worrall just six games into the season.

However, Forest, who had financial punishments looming large over them even back in August after their spending spree, decided to do it all over again.

This time bringing in the likes of Ibrahim Sangare, Anthony Elanga, Chris Wood on a permanent deal, Andrew Omabamidele, Murillo, Matt Turner, Odysseas Vlachodimos, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Divock Origi and seven – yes seven – more!

Things started promisingly as Forest picked up 13 points from their first 11 matches, including victories over Chelsea, Villa and Sheffield United – a run of form that, if they had carried on, would have seen them looking to finish on 45 points, a tally that would have shown great signs of improvement and sit them comfortably in mid table.

It wasn’t to be. Seven games without victory including a 5-0 hammering away at Fulham in the run up to Christmas saw Forest plummet into familiar territory and Steve Cooper lost his job on December 19th to then be replaced by Nuno Espirito Santo.

Results began strong with back-to-back victories over Newcastle and Manchester United, but they were just in the middle of a run of 17 games where Forest gained just 11 points.

A dismal run of form was compounded by the docking of four points on March 26 for a breach of the Premier League’s Profitability and Sustainability Rules.

Those points, though not mathematically, would have seen Forest safe and effectively out of reach.

Historically, points deductions have hit teams like a ton of lead, derailing seasons with uncertainty swirling around clubs which affects players, club staff and fans alike, with the whole atmosphere around a club changing, fearing the severity of the impending punishment.

I recall my own team, Birmingham City, back in 2018/19 when, during a season which has the Championship Play-Offs on the horizon, amidst the uncertainty of FFP breaches and points deductions, the club went on to lose five games in a row. Add to that a nine-point deduction and the Blues went from Play-Off challengers in eighth place to being embroiled in an unforeseen relegation battle.

The fortunes of a football club can change in a split second, but Nottingham Forest aren’t the only team to have had their seasons blighted with uncertainty.

Everton have fared far worse, originally having ten points deducted for breaking Premier League financial rules on November 17, which was then reduced to six following a successful appeal.

However, a further two were deducted, leaving Everton – up until last weekend – only looking downwards, fearing the worst with their season tarnished from the off.

However, Sean Dyche’s side accumulated 41 points without considering the eight points removed, with three wins in their last four allowing for some breathing space.

Many thought things were only going one way after a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Chelsea just two weeks ago, but they fought back and a 2-0 derby-day win – the first at Goodison Park since 2010 – showed the fight of which Nottingham Forest lack.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s first 11 has never been of certainty, with injuries constantly hampering any form of cohesion amongst the squad. The likes of Ola Aina, Willy Boly, Ibrahim Sangare amongst others have all spent time on the treatment table but none more damning than the persistent groin injury suffered by pivotal forward Taiwo Awoniyi.

The forward has had three separate spells out, missing 17 games in total and only scoring one goal since December 11. He bagged in three consecutive games back in August as he set himself to lead the line for the Reds for the season but without him, they haven’t looked quite the same.

Chris Wood has stepped in to notch 13 goals and counting but Awoniyi unbelievably sits at second place on Forest’s top scorers for the season.

Morgan Gibbs-White, despite his undoubted ability, has flattered to deceive as well as summer signings Anthony Elanga and Callum Hudson-Odoi, both signed to take the reigns of Brennan Johnson but ultimately not living up to the hype and ‘bargain’ sensations around their transfers.

This all brings us to Everton vs Nottingham Forest, a game where Forest were denied three penalties, two of which were, in the eyes of many, clear and obvious.

The club felt aggrieved and rightly so, also not for the first time this campaign.

The Reds faced social media backlash after calling out officials Anthony Taylor and Stuart Atwell ( a Luton fan ) on their humiliating performance, one that not only leaves salt in the wounds of the Forest faithful but also paints a picture of the standard of refereeing in England.

Whether it’s injuries, refereeing decisions, reckless transfer spending sprees, managerial sackings, a lack of goals or points deductions, it has all culminated into one gigantic mess of a season and one that if Forest do stay up, fans will be keen to wipe from memory.

It’s all gone wrong for Nottingham Forest and the promised Premier League dream has swiftly become a living nightmare. Things don’t get any easier either with title chasing Manchester City on the horizon and an ultimate showdown clash against Burnley on the final day – a fixture which could either see one survive or both fall.

One thing certain is that any more slip ups will be catastrophic for Forest, a team already riddled with financial problems and things could look a whole lot worse with relegation looming.

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