Having just missed out on the play-off places last season, Nottingham Forest's start to the campaign has surprised many. They are picking up form under Chris Hughton though, with the former Norwich City manager losing just once in his first seven games as boss.
We spoke to Sarah Clapson, the Forest correspondent for the Nottingham Post, last week, about the changes she has seen under Hughton and whether he and Lewis Grabban could come back and haunt their former club this evening.
Canaries.co.uk: Considering Nottingham Forest only narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season, and have a squad full of talented players, it is a surprise to see them where they are in the table. What do you think were the reasons behind their slow start to the season?
SC: The start Forest have had has surprised a few people. With some of the signings they made and how close they came last season, people at the club and Forest fans definitely didn’t expect the side to be struggling at the wrong end of the table. I think you can put it down to a few factors. Although they brought in a lot of new players, there’s still been a hangover from last season. Missing out on the play-offs didn't just come down to the final game, Forest were struggling to get over the line for a few weeks. It definitely had an impact on the players, which has been hard to shake off.
You’d have thought bringing in a load of fresh faces would counter that, but arguably Forest made too many signings. Fourteen is a lot, especially for a team which was so close to a top six finish. And while this squad is stronger than last year, with a lot of quality brought in, getting the players to gel has been a different matter. They also lost some key players in the summer, in the likes of Ben Watson and Matty Cash, while others, like Joe Worrall and Michael Dawson, have been struggling with injury. The major issue at the minute is a lack of creativity and not scoring enough goals. For all the talent Forest have got, they’ve been struggling to create chances and find the back of the net. Confidence plays a big part in that.
Canaries.co.uk: No doubt Forest will still have ambitions of challenging for the top seven. Considering Chris Hughton has had a reasonably positive start to his tenure, how realistic do you think it is that Forest can turn their season around?
SC: It is going to be tough, but they have to try to stay positive. The table is still pretty tight and you wouldn’t bet against it being close right until the end, in this strangest of seasons. Hughton is well aware he's got a big job on his hands, though. For the time being, I'd say Forest need to forget about where they are in the table and ambitions of challenging, and simply focus on putting a run of results together. If they don't do that, they're in danger of getting stuck in a rut and then things can spiral. There is a long way to go and Forest have a group of players with enough about them to be at the other end of the table, but they’ve got a lot of work to do if they’re going to get there. There’s no saying they can’t do that; they just need to start showing they’re capable of it on the pitch.
Canaries.co.uk: What changes has Hughton made to the set up at Forest when you compare it to Lamouchi’s tactics?
SC: He hasn't made major changes and both managers have generally favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation. But Hughton has at least been willing to try different systems. He’s gone with a 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1 at times. Lamouchi favoured a counter-attacking style. We’ve seen signs that Hughton wants to be a bit more positive, but it’s proving difficult to put into practice.
Canaries.co.uk: Lewis Grabban is a player Norwich City fans know well. He was also the top scorer for Forest last season. Is he the danger man/one to look out for still in this Forest side?
SC: If he's fit, he can definitely be a danger man. Grabban’s been sidelined with injury for a few weeks, so there's still a question mark over whether he will be available for the trip to Carrow Road. If he is, I'm sure he'll be eager to get on the scoresheet, though. He hadn’t had the best of starts to the season before he got injured, missing some good chances – the kind you’d normally back him to score. When he is fit, I've no doubt he'll be looking to put that behind him. He can still be a big threat. Lyle Taylor has enjoyed his opportunity to be main striker in Grabban’s absence, so he’d be one to look out for as well. Forest have a few players who can cause problems on their day, with the likes of Joe Lolley, Anthony Knockaert, Luke Freeman and Sammy Ameobi.
Canaries.co.uk: It was a high scoring affair the last time the two sides met at Carrow Road, with Norwich coming back from three goals down to draw. Considering how good defensively Forest have been under Hughton are you expecting a tighter game this time around?
SC: Forest haven’t been scoring a lot of goals and while they have conceded a few at the other end, they’ve generally not done too bad defensively. So, I don't think there will be much in it. Most of the games under Hughton have been fairly close scorelines, so I would be surprised if there are as many goals as last time.
Canaries.co.uk: Injuries are a big talking point at the moment, with games coming thick and fast and many sides suffering with the workload being put on the players. How are Forest coping with this and are there any long-term injuries that will see any key players miss out on a trip to Carrow Road?
SC: Forest have had rotten luck with injuries in the first few weeks, with a number of key players sidelined. They're starting to get a few back, but this is a game which might come too early for some. Michael Dawson, Lewis Grabban, Tyler Blackett, Joe Worrall and Samba Sow have been back in training, but Forest will be treading carefully with them. They won’t want to rush their comebacks. Fouad Bachirou, Gaetan Bong and Luke Freeman have still been struggling, and Jack Colback was forced off in the game against Swansea City. Hughton has said he’s likely to have to keep rotating his players to cope with the tough schedule. He does have strength in depth and a few different options, but injuries have hampered that in recent weeks.