Forest are 17th in the Championship table at the time of speaking, nine points above the relegation zone. How would you summarise their progress in the first months of 2021?
Frustrating. Back in the summer, if you’d said they’d be in this position, nobody would have expected it and I don’t think many would believe it could happen as they brought so many players in in the summer and the ambition was to build on last season and challenge for the top six again. That hasn’t happened - it has been up and down and they’ve struggled for consistency. They have got better and made progress under Chris Hughton after a poor start but they aren’t where they want to be and there’s still a long way to go. They aren’t quite safe yet, so they can’t quite stop looking over their shoulders, but they are near enough there. It has just been disappointing because nobody wants to be fighting at the wrong end of the table.
Lewis Grabban has missed large parts of the season through injury. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, of course, but do you think the season might have looked somewhat different had he been fighting fit?
It’s difficult to say because he has been struggling in front of goal as much as anybody has. Even when he has played, he hasn’t looked anything like last season when he looked sharp and was scoring on a consistent basis. For him, it has also been frustrating because he hasn’t had that consistent run of games, which probably hasn’t helped him but Forest in general have struggled for goals throughout the whole team. They tried to correct that in January by bringing in Glenn Murray and adding creativity with the loan signings of James Garner and Filip Krovinovic, but it is still a big issue. Grabban did make his comeback last week and having him back is a boost, but he’s probably not going to be able to score as many goals in the last few games as he would like. Forest do create chances, just perhaps not of the quality they need to and that’s a big area they need to improve on.
In the 18 games up to and including last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Reading, they conceded just 11 goals, which has been crucial to moving away from the relegation zone. What’s their improvement at the back down to?
When Hughton came in, he did prioritise trying to make them defensively solid and he is, by nature, quite a cautious manager who does place a lot of emphasis on defence. They were making individual errors and conceding sloppy goals and you aren’t going to win games if you are doing that. He worked on that and they have looked difficult to break down and don’t concede anywhere near as often as they did because they don’t give away many chances whatsoever. What helped massively was having Joe Worrall back, though he’s injured again now, unfortunately. He has probably been their most consistent player this season and has barely put a foot wrong, while he’s also a leader who is very vocal on the pitch. It’s a big blow that he’s injured but they have got Scott McKenna back and in the games he has played, he’s looked pretty good. Everybody had been waiting to see the Worrall-McKenna partnership and there hasn’t been much of a chance to see that yet. In general, they do look pretty tight and the midfielders in front of the backline play an important part too.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this weekend?
As I mentioned, James Garner (above) arrived on loan from Manchester United in January and has looked very good since. He’s just turned 20 so is still learning and developing but looks as though he has a lot of quality. He plays in one of the two defensive midfield roles and can pick a pass, get Forest moving forward and really get them going. It looks as though he’s got a very bright future ahead of him. Also, if Forest are going to create anything, it generally comes from Anthony Knockaert. He’s usually quite a dangerous player and is starting to find his feet after a quiet start. He’s come into his own and is starting to show the quality we all thought he had.
How is Chris Hughton likely to set up at the Brentford Community Stadium?
More often than not, he has favoured a 4-2-3-1 and he doesn’t change that very often. He doesn’t tend to change his team too much, either. I would think it would be similar to the team that played Norwich in midweek as he doesn’t tend to give too much away beforehand.
The two teams have four wins each in the last eight meetings, the last of which came in mid-December, when Brentford were 3-1 winners at the City Ground. What’s your score prediction for this one?
I’d like to think Forest will be give a better account of themselves and it will be a closer game as they were on a really bad run at that point and things have improved since. The big thing at the moment is that they’ve beaten teams and taken points from the teams around them, it’s just against the top six teams where they haven’t managed to get as many positive results. I’ll be optimistic and go for a 1-1 draw.
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