Despite Arsenal victory, Nottingham Forest still lost in the trees
Few clubs can boast back to back European titles. Nottingham Forest is one. Forest’s accolades date back to the late 70s and early 80s when Brian Clough managed the side to best Europe’s elite. These days, however, the Tricky Trees compete in England's second tier. They’ve been there for seemingly an eternity. Seldom have they challenged for promotion to the Premier League.
It’s been that way since they were sent down from the Premiership (as it was known back then) in 1999. The club hasn’t played top-flight football this millennium.
With top quality opposition no longer frequenting the City Ground, Forest supporters, and the team itself, become gripped with the proposal of a big cup tie. Enter the most diabolical football side in the country: Arsenal. Forest has more reason than most to dislike the Gunners. The London club borrowed their kit and didn't give it back.
It wasn't a David vs. Goliath story on the Lincoln City level. To Forest faithful, though, it was the game of the season. The opportunity to see their team playing a side which has been consistently participating in European competition for two decades was too much of an opportunity to miss. With the club struggling, games played just a month prior tended to have empty seats in the thousands. Yet, even without a manager, this tilt nearly sold out the 27,500-seat venue.
What a treat the crowd witnessed. A fluid attacking game ensued, one in which neither side displayed any intention to check their pace and perhaps do a bit of defending. Out of nowhere, Forest triumphed over the mighty Arsenal 4-2. It was a real red letter day for Nottingham Forest. The squad hadn’t won in its previous five matches.
More concerned with digging his side out of its own league troubles, Arsene Wenger hadn't fielded a full-strength XI. Nevertheless, Forest was surfing the wave's crest. The win against Arsenal’s B team had propelled them back into English football's limelight. Whereas the season had appeared unsalvageable, there was suddenly hope they could string some results together, especially if they could interest a credible manager. Gary Brazil had overseen the Arsenal upset.
The next game was a 1-0 loss to promotion hopefuls Aston Villa. But good news had arrived in the form of Aitor Karanka, who wasn't too far removed from having directed Middlesbrough to Premier League promotion.
No better soliloquy exists than Karanka’s musings after the game with Preston North End, which his side lost 3-0 at home.
I am embarrassed as I can understand the fans who left early. I had to thank the fans who stayed until the end as it was a poor game and a performance. If we play like that it is impossible to win games in any league, especially in the Championship.
The first half and second half we looked like a team without soul and without spirit. It is unbelievable as to think 10 days ago we played against Wolves in that way. I am not used to having games like this. It is not about attitude or characters on the pitch; you can lose and you can win but you have to at least leave the pitch thinking you have done everything. I don't think all the players can go home thinking they have done their best.
The fans had seemingly lost some love for the club too. Five-thousand-odd were missing just a few weeks after the historic win over Arsenal.
That game might have been the squad's lowest point since the upset, but is part of a larger downfall. They’ve since lost to Hull City twice, once in the FA Cup, and Fulham, scoring just once in the collective 270 minutes. Not quite the side that put four past Arsenal on the day.
While others continuing their FA Cup quests, Forest fought to a goalless draw against Burton Albion. That his new team fought may give the manager some hope. The two-goal hero from the Arsenal match, Eric Lichaj, was sent off just before the half-hour. Yet, Forest held on for a point.
All of which leaves the club in 17th place. It is Manchester City:United distance from the playoff places, 16 points adrift, and also one place above the group staving off relegation, albeit four points clear Reading and eight from danger. Concentrating on the cup is no longer an option, having been dispatched by Hull. All that is left for Karanka is to assess. For the players, it's now about having a job next season.
Karanka will wish to see more performances like the defiant stand against Burton and the one shining match in the post-Arsenal morass. In the Basque manager's second foray, the side visited rampant league leaders Wolves and took all three points from the Molineaux.
Nottingham Forest's season has been something like a long, drawn-out divorce for fans. When it is finalised in May, they'll look back, perplexed that it came to such a conclusion, and someone will remark, " It was never meant to be, but we did have some good times. Didn't we?"