Paul Taylor: Billy Davies' key to success at Nottingham Forest has a familiar feel to it
WHEN England bowed out of Euro 2000 in dismal fashion, following defeats at the hands of Portugal and Romania in the group stages, much was made of Kevin Keegan's approach to the game.
After going 2-0 up within 20 minutes against Portugal in particular, the England manager was accused of being too cavalier, when they pushed for a third goal – and ultimately lost 3-2.
Within a few months of a disappointing tournament, Keegan's reign was over and the post mortem was in full flow. Precisely where things had gone wrong was picked apart for weeks on end.
But one man was not going to be drawn into the minute deconstruction of England's failures.
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"Players lose you games, not tactics. There's so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes," he said.
That man, in the unlikely event that you had not guessed already, was Brian Clough.
Talk to any of the players who formed his famous sides of the late 70s and early 80s and they will all tell you the same thing.
Tactics, to Clough, were largely a one-way street.
Old Big 'Ead would send Forest out with a clear idea of how they should play – normally based around giving the ball to John Robertson as quickly as possible – without paying much attention to the opposition.
Let them worry about us, was his attitude.
And, as a result, Forest's players always went out onto the pitch full of confidence, with the simple belief that they were the superior side, whether they were facing Liverpool or Lincoln.
Their minds were clear. Play to the best of their ability and they would win. It was not a complex formula. But it was certainly a successful one.
Three decades later, football has evolved. Even Sir Alex Ferguson would not send out his Manchester United side without even a handful of instructions about the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition.
But the impact of a man born just down the road from Sir Alex, in Glasgow, can be at least partly attributed to a similar frame of mind from the one Clough adopted throughout the club's halcyon days.
In three matches so far, since returning to Nottingham Forest, Billy Davies has done one simple thing.
He has picked what he believes is the Reds best starting XI, amid a formation he believes is the best way of utilising their talents – and he has sent them out with a clear idea of how he wants them to play.
The end result has been three dominant, destructive performances that could all have resulted in emphatic victories. Only the heroics of keeper Adam Bogdan denied them the win they deserved against Bolton, as Davies took charge of his first game back at the City Ground.
Huddersfield were destroyed by Forest's firepower and, had Radi Majewski showed the same cutting edge in front of goal at The Valley as he had when netting his hat-trick against the Terriers, Charlton would also have found themselves more humbled than they were.
In three games, Forest have probably carved out more goal scoring opportunities than they did during Alex McLeish's entire tenure. Davies' reign has so far included 34 shots on target and 18 off, along with nine goals scored.
Only one of those, in the form of Darius Henderson's late strike against Huddersfield, has come from a striker.
And, after the game on Saturday, Simon Cox admitted his frustration at failing to find the net for a 16th game in a row... but, while he may have set high standards for himself, it is impossible to be critical of him.
Cox has started all of the last three games, each alongside a different front man. But the work-rate demonstrated by he and Billy Sharp, Dexter Blackstock and Henderson has been integral to Forest's success.
Whether they are scoring goals or not, they deserve huge credit for the part they have played.
And the tireless shift they put in puts pressure on the opposition defence – and, in the games so far at least, has helped ensure that Forest dominate possession emphatically.
And, when they have the ball, there are few more dangerous midfield quartets than Forest's.
It may not quite be the traditional 4-4-2 that Forest favoured in Clough's day.
But, with Adlene Guedioura sweeping up in front of the back four, the trio of Majewski, Andy Reid and Henri Lansbury are free to impose their creative influence.
It is no coincidence that all three men have got on the scoresheet, given the freedom they have to provide support in and around the box.
McLeish left Forest in January largely because of the failure to add the targets and particularly because of the farce surrounding the collapse of a deal to take George Boyd on loan.
But if there were holes to fill in the side, they are hard to spot now.
Given that Lewis McGugan, one of the most naturally talented players at the club, cannot currently break into the starting line-up, it is hard to see where Boyd would fit in.
With Chris Cohen having slotted into the left-back position with impressive ease, initially because of an injury to Dan Harding, Forest's back four has also looked remarkably solid.
They have a host of options up front, as well as an embarrassment of riches in midfield, where Guy Moussi, Jonathan Greening and Simon Gillett are all waiting in the wings.
And, with Daniel Ayala and Sam Hutchinson both coming back from injury – and skipper Danny Collins finding himself among the substitutes recently – Forest possess plenty of cover in the back four, even at a time when Greg Halford will be suspended for two games after collecting too many yellow cards.
Yes, Forest are short of wingers. But, unless Davies wants to change his approach, that is not an issue.
It says much that even he seems uncertain over whether new additions are required.
And, given the manner in which that formula has worked so far, it is never likely to be.
Since the start of the season, many have said Forest possess a squad that is capable of challenging for the top six.
The secret Davies has unearthed is perhaps no more complex than the simple act of telling them that – and then letting them get on with proving it.