Nottingham Forest remain a work in progress
THE more things change, the more they remain the same.
The past week has provided plenty of evidence to suggest that Nottingham Forest are still very much a work in progress.
But, on Saturday afternoon, as Sean O'Driscoll continued his search for a successful formula, as he rebuilds and refreshes his Reds squad with a new outlook, he also got his first real experience of the fierce weight of expectation at the City Ground.
New owners, a new manager and more than a team full of new players have created a positive atmosphere at the club; a mood of hope and optimism.
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But, for the first time, O'Driscoll's carefully considered, logical approach to the game did not marry with the demands of large sections of Forest supporters.
Back in August and September, the early stages of his tenure were marked with chants of 'Nottingham Forest, we play on the floor', which were an appreciative nod to the Black Country man's preferred style of play.
On Saturday, those cheers occasionally turned to jeers as large sections of the crowd voiced their frustration at seeing their side playing with only one striker.
A 4-1-4-1 formation – which became a 4-3-3 when Forest were in possession, with Andy Reid and James Coppinger supporting lone striker Billy Sharp down the flanks – achieved exactly what it set out to.
A Hull side packed full of attacking menace had their cutting edge blunted almost completely to a point where the Tigers required two hotly-contested goals to secure three points.
If not for a debatable penalty and goal bundled over the line with the suspicion of handball, O'Driscoll's tactics, negative or not, might have been lauded, rather than lamented.
The manager described the game as being a game of chess and, in many ways it was, not least in the sense that there was little in the way of action, as both sides took it in turns to shuffle their pawns around the board without really daring to take the risk of committing their more valuable pieces into the fray.
Entertaining, it was not. But there was an effectiveness to Forest's play. There was, however, also a nervousness, as the atmosphere in the stadium became increasingly negative at times.
More absorbing than exciting, Forest still achieved their objective of stopping the Tigers from getting into their stride even if, for much of the game, it came at the expense of their own attacking threat, with David Stockdale having even less to do than Forest keeper Lee Camp.
Still, the Forest manager is now left with an interesting dichotomy, as he finds himself caught between a desire to appease supporters and the need to do what he feels is best for the good of the team.
A traditional, attacking 4-4-2 is what many fans want to see. But, he knows from experience how easily that approach can be picked apart, having done so repeatedly when masterminding victories at the City Ground when boss of Doncaster.
And, having watched Hull play more than once in the past few months, O'Driscoll was wary of the damage they might cause with their 3-5-1-1 approach, if Forest did not also flood the midfield with bodies.
In the summer, O'Driscoll's appointment was heralded by many, because of the style of football he preached and practiced during successful spells with Bournemouth and Doncaster.
And he deserves credit for the job he has done so far, after taking on the job at the 11th hour and still managing, largely, to entice encouraging, entertaining football out of his new squad in the majority of games.
The past week may have provided the first real blot on the landscape. It has also provided a timely reminder that there is still much work to do.
But, to be fair to O'Driscoll, he was warning exactly that even in the aftermath of the win at Wolves a few weeks ago that sent the optimism levels to boiling point.
Forest, because of the injury to Simon Cox, but also because they have so many players out on loan, do find themselves short of options up front. A striker is likely to be on O'Driscoll's January shopping list.
Equally, he might also look to add a left-sided midfielder, a left-back and another central defender – which may come in the form of the permanent signing of Elliott Ward.
But any January additions will be the icing on the cake, the final piece in the jigsaw. Prior to this week, Forest had begun to look perilously close to finding the formula to success. You sensed that things were coming together.
Two defeats in the space of a week have served to highlight the fact there is still work to be done, before Forest are the finished article – but it is minor tinkering, rather than major surgery, that is required.
Considering the summer of upheaval and unrest, Forest are still handily placed in the table. They are far from out of things, when it comes to the promotion race.
And, while there is no escaping the fact Forest lost twice in the space of a few days, the two matches were also very different.
At Ipswich, Forest failed to perform. It was, in fact, one of their worst displays of the season. There was little to look back on in a positive light as they made the long journey back from Portman Road.
On Saturday, Forest can, in contrast, claim a sense of injustice. With a little more fortune, O'Driscoll's plans could easily have come to fruition.
When Simon Gillett came together with David Meyler, referee Gavin Ward did not look likely to point to the spot, following what was little more than a tangle of legs. But the assistant referee flagged to indicate he had seen an infringement and Ward was convinced – and Robert Koren converted confidently.
In truth, referee Ward may have been evening things out a little when he pointed to the spot at the other end, after Robbie Brady had clipped the heels of Billy Sharp. But Sharp was in no mood to reject the chance and fired in emphatically.
But Forest's biggest gripe was to come, as McShane seemed to steer the ball over the line with his hand, after a Koren corner, with the officials this time unable to spot the infringement in the 69th minute.
From that point on, it was Hull's turn to shut up shop – and they did so effectively, even if three of their players were booked for unsporting conduct or time-wasting.
The final whistle was greeted with frustration by boss and fans alike, albeit perhaps for different reasons.
But O'Driscoll has done enough to deserve a little faith, to have earned a little trust and, also, a little patience, even if his way is not always the 'Forest way'.