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Forget all the false dawns, this Nottingham Forest season feels different

Nottingham may be the birthplace of ibuprofen, but after 22 long years of pain, Forest may finally be on the road to redemption.

For many football fans, Leeds United are the ultimate example of a sleeping giant since dropping out of the Premier League in 2004.

Try adding a further seven years to that, then you’ll begin to understand Forest’s agony.

Sticker time

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Sticker time

“We’re Nottingham Forest for God’s sake, we need to be up there,” centre-back and academy graduate Joe Worrall said in an interview with BBC Nottingham last week.

Most fans know the story – a team steeped in history, the club of Brian Clough, back-to-back European Cups, 13 major trophies… Forest are undoubtedly massive.

But after 11 different permanent managers in a rollercoaster last decade, there is a growing sense that they are finally getting it right under new boss Sabri Lamouchi.

History lessons

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History lessons

“We haven’t really had a manager like him for a long time, maybe even since Brian Clough,” Max Hayes tells Dream Team during our visit to the City Ground on Saturday.

“Sabri has got a personality about him, he very much listens to the fans.

“The football and the team spirit is sensational on and off the pitch. It’s a great time to be a Forest fan at the moment.”

Matchday with Max

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Matchday with Max

Lamouchi’s appointment came out of the blue, replacing club legend Martin O’Neill the very same day the Irishman was dismissed.

O’Neill and Roy Keane’s management double act was meant to restore the good times, a duo firmly enshrined in Forest folklore.

But it failed to have the desired effect, presiding over a miserable atmosphere that eventually came to a head after just five months.

Not so dynamic duo

Reuters
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Not so dynamic duo

“O’Neill and Keane are legends at this club, Keane is probably the best player I’ve ever seen here,” says Andy Caddell of the Nottingham Forest Supporters’ Trust.

“It’s a great shame but ultimately football is about winning games and that wasn’t happening.

“This year they [the players] seem to be enjoying what they’re doing and that wasn’t always the case last season.”

Andy Caddell, Supporters Trust

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Andy Caddell, Supporters Trust

Promotion remains the holy grail but the sobering reality last term was an eighth successive season finishing outside the Championship play-offs.

Every year felt like Groundhog Day; false dawns and flattering to deceive, rinse and repeat.

But a narrow 1-0 win over Brentford on Saturday extended the Reds’ unbeaten run to 10 games and lifted them into the automatic promotion places.

So what has Lamouchi – highly rated in France but an unknown entity in England – changed in such a short space of time?

Ohhhh Sabri Lamouchi

PA:Press Association
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Ohhhh Sabri Lamouchi

“Nobody really knew what to expect when Sabri replaced O’Neill at such a late stage, but frankly at the moment it feels really positive,” Andy adds.

“Positivity is the key word. My view is that football is not that different to most work places; if you get the environment right then it translates to what happens in the work place.

“In this case, it’s what happens on the pitch.”

Here’s hoping for no Greek tragedies

AFP or licensors
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Here’s hoping for no Greek tragedies

There’s good news stories throughout the club, filtering right down from the very top.

Greek owner Evangelos Marinakis is eccentric but he’s a far cry from the dark days of previous incumbent Fawaz Al-Hasawi.

While Al-Hasawi is suing the club over alleged unpaid loans, their new owner has pledged a £50m redevelopment of the City Ground which would increase their capacity to 38,000.

On the field the results reflect the current mood, with Forest only denied top spot going into the international break by an inferior goal difference.

Without setting the world alight, they’ve quietly gone about their business based on solid defensive foundations.

Only Leeds have conceded fewer goals so far despite a daunting run of fixtures that has included trips to Elland Road, Fulham, Swansea and Charlton.

Worrall and Michael Dawson have forged a stoic central defensive partnership, while new boy Samba Sow has been another revelation.

Many supporters vented their anger after the Malian’s summer acquisition, as on the surface he looked like yet another ‘nobody’ in the ranks.

But Sow has swiftly silenced any doubters and, alongside Saturday’s match winner Ben Watson, is dominating crucial midfield battles.

“We’re far better organised and defensively sound than we were,” Andy explains.

“Most successful teams start from the back and we can really build on that foundation.

“We seem to have a Plan B and we’re resilient too. If things aren’t going right then Lamouchi will change it, if we go behind in games we now come back.”

Forest’s squad is an intriguing blend of Premier League experience, exciting youngsters and a sprinkle of Portuguese flair.

Dawson and Watson have over 350 top flight appearances between them to complement the bristling talents of Worrall, Matt Cash and Yuri Ribeiro.

Crucially in Lewis Grabban, who has 21 goals in 40 league starts for the club, they also boast a striker with proven promotion pedigree at this level.

All but one of their six Championship victories have been earned by a single-goal margin, which highlights their battling spirit.

And for all the stattos, they are also far outperforming their xG for the season.

“One thing we are now is clinical,” Lee Clarke from Forest fanzine SeatPitch explains.

“Heaven forgive if anything were to happen to Lewis Grabban though. We literally don’t have another proven scorer, I might have to play up front!

“It might sound like a throwaway comment, but the players look like they want to run through brick walls for Sabri.”

Lee Clarke, Seat Pitch

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Lee Clarke, Seat Pitch

Fans are reluctant to get too carried away though and are simply grateful their season hasn’t already crashed and burned.

From Alex McLeish’s sorry seven-game spell to the doom and gloom of O’Neill, it’s encouraging just to have some genuine hope to cling onto.

“It’s nice for our season not to be over before Halloween is here, which is usually the case,” Lee adds.

“[Aitor] Karanka was meant to be the man to take us forward for the next four years but as it happens with Forest, it doesn’t always work out like that.

“But there is a very real sense that this season could be the one.

“I think we can certainly say we’ll be a team vying for the play-offs.”

Pride of the Midlands

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Pride of the Midlands

This chaotic Championship season poses an opportunity for arguably the biggest club outside of the Premier League to finally return to the big time.

The early signs are good and, most importantly, there’s now a structure in place from top to bottom to sustain it.

They’ve been here before, but whisper it quietly; this time, thanks to Lamouchi, feels different.

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