This season we will be gathering the views from our opponents’ local press on their team, progress and hopes for the season. As we take on Nottingham Forest tonight at the City Ground, we speak to Football Writer of the Nottingham Post, Baz Cooper.
What was your view on Forest last season?
It was troubling. What started to look like a bright start soon eroded and another campaign of struggle followed, as did another change in management which has become an all too familiar theme at the City Ground in recent years.
Mark Warburton was sacked after losing two home games over Christmas and Aitor Karanka arrived along with a host of new players.
Karanka’s remit was to get to the summer with Championship status intact and then turn a struggling, heavy squad into one which would be competitive and challenge at the right end of the table for once.
How would you assess the first two months of the season and the summer transfer business?
I think you’d have to say solid, if not spectacular. You’re always going to be under pressure to succeed at a club like Forest, especially so when you’ve spent in excess of £20m – though it is worth pointing out that the money the Reds have spent was much needed just to make them competitive in a division they haven’t been for so long.
Their home form has been good for the most part, unbeaten and at times, unplayable. The same old issues remain though when it comes to consistency and that’s the magic word we all love to use, and would love to see.
A good point at Swansea was backed up by home wins against Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham plus a win in the Carabao Cup against Stoke, while Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Blackburn will represent another excellent one should they win tonight ahead of what looks a tough assignment at Middlesbrough this weekend.
What has the general view been like towards Aitor Karanka since his arrival in January?
For the most part, generally positive. Fans were initially pleased to see him reshape the squad as he did, though the sheer number of new players has concerned others, as has the shift to older, experienced players in some areas, rather than tapping into the quality coming through the Academy.
As always, you’ll have those fans for and those against. Karanka isn’t daft, however, he knows what the target is and if that target isn’t achieved, the management of the club will do what they need to do.
The last month has seen an upturn in results, certainly compared with when they were well beaten at Brentford prior to the last international break, even if the 2-1 result might suggest it was closer than it was in reality.
He needs time, though, as we all call for. Will he get it? Only time and results will tell on that one but the recent couple of weeks have been undoubtedly positive.
What are the aspirations of the club this campaign?
To be competitive and mount a challenge for promotion. Realistically, they’re unlikely to challenge the top two at this stage, but a play-off push is the bare minimum the club and their transfer outlay would expect.
Given where Forest have been for the last six or seven years, I’d suggest a challenge for the Play-Offs would actually be a very good return.
This is the toughest division in the world and should be respected as such, getting out of it and into the Premier League isn’t meant to be easy and it’s what every club in it wants.
Do you feel there is a positive mood in the camp having only lost one match this season?
You’d have to say there’s a confidence, the mood is brighter than it has been for a while and with an average City Ground of more than 27,000 so far, things feel on an upward curve.
The players seem to be enjoying things and the longer that continues then that can only be a good thing, but with a squad the size of Forest’s, the challenge will be to keep them all happy and involved.
As we know, though, the entire feeling surrounding a football at this level is entirely governed by results. Keep the right ones coming and Forest moving up the table then the positivity will remain; start to go south and the jeers won’t be too far away.
Who would you describe as Forest’s key men?
There are a few, in fairness. Lewis Grabban is the obvious one, having scored four in his last three games, including a brace at Blackburn and a missed penalty.
He knows what it takes to score in this division and Forest are starting to work out how to get the best out of him.
Joe Lolley has had an excellent start to the campaign, as has Ben Osborn who is in line to make his 200th Reds appearance and £13m man Joao Carvalho is getting better with every game.
Your score prediction for tonight’s game?
Millwall always enjoy their trips to Forest, winning three of the last four and should really have thumped their hosts on the opening night in August last season – they were quite brilliant and did not deserve to lose to Barrie McKay’s strike to nil.
Given their poor form, though, I think Karanka’s men will just have a little too much and will win by the odd goal in three.
I’ll go for 2-1 with Grabban and Ben Osborn scoring on his milestone outing.