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The final whistle blows at the City Ground. Nottingham Forest’s players trudge off the field, dejected after another winless fixture which takes the tally up to six. Yet again they have dominated possession and goalscoring opportunities, but once more have come away without the three points.
In truth, it's a similar story for most Championship top-six sides in recent times. The majority of the promotion hunters have fallen down in recent weeks, leading to one obvious question: does anybody want second place this year?
Where Forest once looked excellent value for second spot in the division, they now sit in sixth nervously peering over their shoulders at the chasing pack. After all, just over a month ago this was a team sitting pretty in second with two games in hand.
Times change quickly in the Football League, Billy Davies needs no reminder of that. But for a side boasting one of the finest squads in the division, sixth spot simply isn’t good enough. Davies knows it, and Forest fans certainly know it.
Occasionally a winless streak may perhaps be accountable for – tough fixtures, injuries and the like. But Forest can have few excuses for not pulling out results against Scunthorpe, Preston, Middlesbrough, Sheffield United and Doncaster – all sides in the last month to take points off the Reds, and all stuttering towards the bottom of the pile.
While results continue to disappoint, nobody’s position in the play-offs is safe. The likes of Burnley, Hull and Leicester are waiting in the wings for any sniff of a stumble.
Of course, all is not lost. With the talent available at Billy Davies’ disposal, few would be shocked by a surge at just the right time back towards the top of the table to remind Forest fans that the last month was simply just a bad dream.
But, according to Davies, talent may only get you so far in the Championship. "Every single game can be won,” the feisty Scot declared. “But I can I say to you, what I feel now, over the next nine games, is that you are better being a lucky manager rather than a good manager.
"That's what it's going to take over the next nine games – luck. You need the refereeing decisions, the ricochets of the ball, the opportunities all to fall your way. Over the next nine games, it will not be about being a good manager, it will be about being a lucky manager,” he finished, presumably alongside the angry cries of Neil Warnock and Paul Lambert.
And with his ‘possible-end-of-season-excuse-that-probably-won’t-wash-but-I’ll-try-it-now-anyway’ well and truly heard, off he went to ensure the mirrors in his house were safely attached to the wall (probably).
So what exactly has gone wrong with the Reds in the space of just a few weeks? Well, simply put, finding the back of the net. Apparently goals win matches, and Forest aren’t getting them. Last year’s top goal-scorer Robert Earnshaw has failed to recapture the same form this time around, netting just six times so far this campaign. And with wingman Dexter Blackstock having been sidelined since November, finding a true goal-getter has proved elusive for Davies. Dele Adebola and David McGoldrick are simply not your 20-goal men.
Indeed, the Scot has even looked for inspiration to his compatriot Kris Boyd, despite the striker's hugely disappointing season for division strugglers Middlesbrough. The man who was tipped by many to top the goal charts has so far managed to weigh in with just six. Completely devoid of confidence, the former Rangers man will be hoping it’s second time lucky with Forest.
Of course, strikers can only convert if they are getting the opportunities. Forest fans have questioned Davies’ perceived negativity for the majority of the campaign, perhaps understandably so given the modest goal tally for a side in their position. And with one of the lowest totals of efforts registered in the entire division, it is not difficult to see why the boys in red up top have struggled.
“But the goals must have been coming from somewhere?!,” you cry. And, of course, they have. Indeed, a lot of Forest fans and they might admit that they have been somewhat carried by the wonder strikes of Lewis McGugan this year, who, if you somehow haven’t already seen, could hold his very own goal of the season competition.
Despite being benched for the goalless draw against Doncaster, McGugan has been vital in Forest’s bid for promotion and has understandably caught the attention of the bigger fish. But the 22-year-old academy graduate hasn't found the net since early February, and Forest have continued to struggle in front of goal. On top of that, last season’s midfield hotshot Radoslaw Majewski has found the net just twice.
But all is not lost by any means. For anybody to doubt the capabilities of Nottingham Forest this season would be completely foolish – after all, second spot is by no means out of reach. The play-off race is well and truly on.
Home form, as ever, will be key to any success. Forest may have lost their outstanding 36-match unbeaten home streak with a 1-0 defeat to Hull, but the City Ground remains a difficult place for sides to visit.
Davies knows his side has what it takes to hang onto their promotion dream, but will almost certainly be wincing when he takes a look at the remaining fixtures for his side. A trip to Swansea is the weekend order for the Reds, followed by matches against Leeds, Reading, Burnley, Norwich and Leicester, all top-10 sides.
On the surface it appears a long and daunting road ahead, with the remaining fixtures ready to test Forest’s mettle. And if they do happen to fall short after this month’s dismal run, they can only have themselves to blame.
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