Nottingham Forest have cause for optimism after Billy's first game back
IT was an afternoon that began with a pre-recorded video message for the entire stadium and ended with a more personal face to face with a hundred or so supporters in a car park.
But what came in between for Billy Davies may have given him the belief that, this season, anything could still happen at Nottingham Forest.
The Scotsman marked his return with a short recording, broadcast over the giant screens at the City Ground, in which he explained the "unfinished business" he feels he has at the club, before striding out of the tunnel to rapturous applause.
And, some time after the final whistle, after stopping his car to talk to fans on his way out of the stadium, Davies ended up spending a few minutes giving a more intimate appraisal of his hopes, having returned for a second spell in charge.
His mood, at that point, may have been tinged slightly with frustration, after failing to see his side mark his return with the win their performance richly deserved.
But, if the evidence of an improved, lively display was anything to go by, just six days into his tenure, then Davies should also have cause for optimism.
The fly in the ointment was a familiar one, in the form of an issue that has long dogged Forest under two previous managers this season, as a rare but costly moment of defensive fragility allowed Bolton to snatch a point and provide an unwanted twist in the plot.
But while Henri Lansbury was guilty of lingering in possession – and ultimately losing it – before David N'Gog squared the ball for fellow substitute Craig Davies to slot home an equalising goal for the visitors, his performance also typified that of the team in general.
Because, otherwise, asides from one error of judgement, Lansbury and the rest of the Forest side played as well as they have done in some time. They were, at times, close to imperious.
And they were certainly constantly incisive, as they carved out a barrage of opportunities. Indeed, the main protagonist in Forest's failure to collect all three points was not Lansbury, but Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan, who produced the performance of his life.
Bogdan could do little when, as he latched onto a clever knock-down from Lansbury, Andy Reid rifled an unstoppable shot across him and into the far corner of the net in the 59th minute.
But this was otherwise an afternoon when he had threatened to steal the limelight from Forest's returning manager. Time and again Bogdan intervened to thwart Forest, as their urgent, slick football helped them to carve out openings in the visiting defence.
Lansbury, flashing a shot on the turn after good work from Gonzalo Jara, saw the keeper push the ball away acrobatically before regaining his feet to save again, at the near post, when Radi Majewski lashed the loose ball towards goal.
Simon Cox, after cutting a swathe through the Bolton rear-guard, could not find a way past Bogdan, who plunged low to his right to block when a goal seemed the certain outcome.
And Majewski, Reid, Lansbury again, Adlene Guedioura and Billy Sharp all found their route to goal blocked off by the distinctive, flame-haired Hungarian, who had clearly not read Davies' script.
In all, there were not vast changes to the personnel, from the team that faced Bristol City – but there were a few significant ones, amid three changes to the starting line-up.
Davies relegated regular skipper Danny Collins to the bench, with Elliott Ward drafted in, he replaced Dexter Blackstock with Cox up front and drafted Lansbury into midfield, and slotted Cohen into the left-back position in place of Dan Harding.
Never mind unfinished business, the fact Davies was willing to drop Collins in his first game demonstrated he means business.
While Cohen and Lansbury, in particular, played starring roles. In Cohen's case, it may not be the role he craves, as he found himself again slotting into the back four, as he often had done under Davies' previous reign.
Being handed the skipper's armband may have sweetened the pill a little for the versatile, long-serving former Yeovil man, who largely looked more than comfortable – and helped to ensure that, for once, Forest had plenty of width going forward.
Indeed his combination with Reid down the left and that of Gonzalo Jara and Lansbury down the opposite side was frequently one of Forest's strengths, with Guedioura and Majewski combining to supply work-rate and guile in the centre.
In the past, Davies' post-match press conferences were often peppered with appeals for new signings; for support from above when it came to bolstering his squad.
This time around, the message has been very different. Davies, he says, wants to wait and see. He wants to assess his current squad, before rushing into making additions in the loan market.
And, when you look at the bench Forest fielded on Saturday, there is a logic to that. Because this has never been a squad that lacks quality.
Along with Collins, Guy Moussi and Jonathan Greening did not get onto the pitch, while Lewis McGugan, Darius Henderson and Blackstock all had to be satisfied with cameo roles.
And, having gone through much of his last spell at the club without a permanent, recognised left-back, Davies now even has one of those at his disposal, if he chooses, with Harding likely to be fit enough for selection when Huddersfield visit tomorrow.
Instead of quality, the shortfall this season has generally been found when it comes to simple consistency. Under Sean O'Driscoll in particular, Forest played well, but they did not do it regularly enough.
In the past, Davies may well have built a reputation for being confrontational, but there was another c-word that could be equally well applied – and that is consistent.
The club, after all, went on two lengthy unbeaten runs during his previous reign; runs that culminated in top-six finishes for the club.
It will take something special for a play-off place to be secured this time around, with eight points now the gap between Forest and sixth-placed Middlesbrough, with 14 games left to play.
Davies insisted afterwards he does not possess a magic wand. But, if he can conjure up the same performance levels between now and the end of the campaign, there could still be a rabbit for him to pull out of the hat. His unfinished business could yet be addressed sooner than you might think.