Nottingham Forest: The fans are loving Billy's second coming
AS the Reds faithful frequently sing with gusto, there is no mistaking it – Nottingham Forest have got their Billy back.
Short of actually going back in a time machine, the sense of familiarity could hardly have settled over the City Ground more comprehensively.
Forest are on their best run of form since, you've guessed it, a certain Scotsman was last at the helm and talk of promotion is being uttered with ever increasing volume.
At least, it is in most quarters. Because, while Davies' old habit of inspiring the best from his players has immediately been demonstrated, so has his unique – and valuable – ability to play down expectation levels off the pitch.
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Five wins on the bounce have lifted Forest into the play-off places for the first time since last September and carried them to within nine points of second-placed Watford.
And there is no other manager who could have injected the sense of hope and optimism than Davies. His return has galvanised both team and supporters.
But that is not the only recognisable trait that Davies is demonstrating. When the subject of promotion is brought up, Davies' is not the sort to stoke the fire, to fan the flames of optimism. Nor does he exactly chuck a bucket of water all over them.
Instead, he expertly diverts attention to something else – by insisting that his primary emotion is one of relief; happiness that Forest have avoided the threat of relegation, which is a threat that few others had given even a single moment of concern.
"I was concerned about staying up. With the tempo of the training in the first training session, with the way we trained, with the discipline – I was very concerned," he said.
"There is no doubt that we have very good players – on paper. There is no doubt that we have a great bunch – on paper. But there is also no doubt that we have a lot of work to do."
With nine games left, there is much work to do. Forest are a long way from securing a place in the Premier League. But, with Davies in charge, it already feels as though they are a lot closer than they were even a matter of weeks ago.
A team that had won three games in their previous 14 fixtures has now claimed 16 points from a possible 18. A team that had been nine points off the play-off places now find themselves nine points off the top two.
And a club that had found itself plunged into a mood of chaos following a string of knee jerk decisions suddenly feels united, probably for the first time since the decision was taken to sack Sean O'Driscoll.
Forest fans will also not need reminding that Davies has been here before, he has an intimate knowledge of the physical and psychological demands of a play-off push. He will also know about the pressure that builds as the season comes to a crescendo.
When he arrived, while his suggestion that the threat of relegation was a serious one feels a little exaggerated, it is also fair to say that many had also written off any hopes of promotion.
That is not the case any longer. But now, with hope comes expectation; with ambition, comes a pressure to succeed.
When asked what he had done to inspire such a reaction from his players, Davies said simply: "I have managed people, I have managed expectation. I have changed a lot here, an awful lot. From staff roles to both small and large details throughout the club."
His biggest achievement, without over complicating matters, has been to coax the best from a group of players that has just as much, if not more, quality than the one that twice secured a top-six finish in his previous tenure.
With Billy Sharp likely to return from illness next weekend and both Dexter Blackstock – who limped off in the first half with a hamstring problem – and Darius Henderson (knee) hoping to recover from injury, Forest will not be short of attacking options next weekend.
So, with the exception of a pacy winger, there are no obvious holes in the Forest side and, while Davies might talk about the pressure being off his strikers until they do add more width to their ranks, you would also question how much he would want to change their style of play right at this minute.
Because, while the front men may have only netted two goals between them this year, Forest are hardly short of goal threat.
The reason for that is the outstanding form of every one of their midfielders.
Henri Lansbury grabbed the headlines with as superb pair of goals against Wolves on Saturday, twice demonstrating an unerring accuracy from the edge of the box, to put Forest in control either side of a headed equaliser from Matt Doherty.
While Lewis McGugan, for the second game running, came off the bench to score, this time with a spectacular effort of his own – fired in off the underside of the bar – after Stephen Ward had been sent off for denying Greg Halford the chance to sprint clear.
It was enough to cap off a tight, but certainly deserved 3-1 win over a Wolves side that seemed lacking in confidence when it mattered most – an accusation that cannot be levelled at the Reds.
Since Davies returned, in six unbeaten matches, Forest's midfielders have scored 12 goals between them, with Radi Majewski hitting five, Lansbury notching four, McGugan two and Andy Reid one.
And it is not as if Forest's front men are playing poorly. Simon Cox has played a part in the creation of at least three recent goals, with his energy and work rate integral to Forest's success.
Davies has identified an approach – and a 4-1-3-2 formation – that gets the best from the players he has at his disposal, with the three more advanced midfielders given license to do what they do best.
A trip to Hull, one of the sides immediately above them in the table, will provide the biggest test yet since Davies return, on Saturday afternoon.
And, if Brighton win at Barnsley tomorrow, they will head into the game against the Tigers in seventh place, rather than sixth.
But, while Davies is likely to continue to try to keep a lid on expectation, there is no question that, once more, Forest are now daring to dream of a Premier League future.
The Reds have got their Billy back, but they have also witnessed the return of a little hope and optimism.