Derby draw shows new Nottingham Forest boss is using talents at his disposal well
IN the past few weeks, two men have taken on sizable tasks in the world of football.
Pep Guardiola rejected the lure of the Premier League big bucks to instead accept the challenge of reviving Bayern Munich as a genuine force in European football.
And, Gordon Strachan grasped the poisoned chalice that is the job of managing Scotland.
While the fans at the Allianz Arena will be looking forward to seeing the Spaniard inject a little of the Barca magic, which became Guardiola's trademark at the Camp Nou, into their style of play, Strachan has taken a more pragmatic point of view.
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His ultimate goal, ironically, is to adopt the same brand of football as the German national side. But Strachan also knows he must walk before he can run.
"That is how I would like to play football eventually, somewhere along the line," he said. "But we need to win and you have to find the system that suits your players best and pick players for that system.
"It might not be beautiful football and passing the ball, but we want to win."
The underlying message is that Strachan knows full well he must work with what he has got; that he does not have the resources to play an expansive brand of football, when you look at the pool of Scottish talent he has available.
When Alex McLeish accepted the no less sizable task of satiating the veracious appetite for success of the Al Hasawi family at Nottingham Forest, his mentality was similar, in the sense he pledged to best utilise the tools at his disposal.
He was another Scotsman with a clear idea of what he had to work with.
And having inherited a squad full of players who were comfortable on the ball; who had a fluid, passing ethos engrained into them by Sean O'Driscoll, McLeish insisted little would change, that such qualities would continue to provide the foundations at the City Ground.
At the time, there were some who viewed this with scepticism. Not everyone believed a man who had gained a reputation for a slightly more direct approach would now favour flair over fortitude.
But, little more than three weeks after his appointment, McLeish must at least be starting to win over many of his doubters. Reputations, sometimes, count for little.
A win over fierce rivals Derby County at Pride Park on Saturday would have ensured him the adulation of everyone in the city of a red persuasion.
But, while their bounty from a trip to Pride Park may have been only a point, rather than all three, Forest still made the journey home down Brian Clough way with their pride entirely intact.
More than that, their confidence will also have been swelled a little, following a performance that, on another day, might well have secured Forest fans the bragging rights until next season.
When League One Oldham handed out a lesson in hard work and ruthless finishing in the FA Cup a few weeks ago, McLeish might have wondered what he had taken on.
When, last week, without his knowledge – and without prior warning to him – the club's owners took the decision to part company with three of the club's hierarchy, he certainly will have.
The departure of chief executive Mark Arthur, head of recruitment Keith Burt and Frank Clark, the former Forest player, manager and chairman, who had recently held an ambassadorial role, might have proved to be an unwanted distraction on an already huge weekend for Forest.
But that never proved to be the case. The poise and composure that McLeish had handled a difficult situation with prior to the game was reflected in his team's display.
Or, at least, it was after they had made a stuttering start to the opening ten minutes of a typically passionate encounter.
Derby, who have themselves established a reputation for playing good football, particularly at home, under Nigel Clough this season, began in exactly that fashion, carving out a few half chances.
But it was Forest who grew in stature as the game went on, with Simon Cox offering a warning of their intent when he lashed a fierce shot against the bar, following some incisive build-up play from strike partner Billy Sharp.
And, after Gonzalo Jara had spurned a fine opening with a wild shot, Sharp was the instigator when Forest finally took a deserved lead – following a spell of pressure – with his cross only half cleared by Richard Keogh, with the ball falling to Chris Cohen 12 yards out.
The midfielder admitted afterwards he had been embarrassed by his first attempt at a shot, which saw him fail to make more than a glancing contact with the ball. But it served to wrong-foot the entire Rams' defence, who could only look on, helpless, as Cohen slotted home at the second attempt.
At half time, McLeish chastised his players for being too eager to hit the ball long.
But Simon Gillett, normally a supremely reliable figure on the ball, was guilty of lingering in possession for too long, allowing Connor Sammon to snatch the ball off his toes and instigate a break that saw Jamie Ward fire Derby level, seven minutes after the break.
And Karl Darlow, who again looked confident and composed on his second league start for the Reds, made his one save of note shortly after, when he did well to tip over a fierce drive from Jeff Hendrick.
But it was Forest who resumed control in the final stages, with substitute Dexter Blackstock bouncing a powerful downward header over the bar from a corner.
And Sharp, whose blend of toil and guile personified Forest's overall display, almost snatched the win with a fine turn and shot that flashed narrowly wide of the foot of the post, with the keeper beaten.
Had the striker found the net, it might have been a slight injustice on the home side, following a closely contested encounter.
Off the pitch, much may change between now and Saturday, when Watford visit the City Ground, with the club believed to be working on appointing at least one person to bolster the hierarchy, although it is unclear precisely what their role will be.
In the meantime, it is the club's owners who will be responsible for landing the list of transfer targets the manager has identified.
McLeish believes he needs three or four additions to give Forest the best chance of achieving the Al Hasawi's dream of seeing Forest secure a place in the top flight.
Either way, while there is still plenty of room for improvement, if he can continue to manage the resources he has at his disposal at the City Ground, then the future of Forest on the pitch will be far less unpredictable than it is off it.