After another defeat for Nottingham Forest, it's now all about the Billy Davies era – take two
THERE was a certain irony to the moment as, from within the confines of a seat in the dugout at Ashton Gate, Fawaz Al Hasawi repeatedly insisted he has no desire to interfere with the management of Nottingham Forest.
But while the club's owner and chairman presented a compelling and forthright argument as he completed a passionate pre-match interview, no single part of it was more convincing than the simple identity of the man who will occupy the seat in the home dug out at the City Ground on Saturday.
Because, while the game in the South-west might have held more intrigue because of the man who later occupied the home dugout from 3pm onwards, from this point on, at Nottingham Forest, it is all about the start of the Billy Davies era. Or, perhaps, more accurately, where many fans are concerned, the second coming.
The travelling fans may have given a warm reception to Sean O'Driscoll, who was harshly sacked on Boxing Day with Forest just a point off the play-off places.
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But that is unlikely to compare to the welcome Davies will be given at the City Ground, in five days time, when he emerges from the tunnel.
The Scotsman was not at Ashton Gate to see O'Driscoll gain just a little revenge, in the form of a 2-0 defeat that, ultimately, proved to be fairly comfortable.
Instead, Davies was at Bolton, watching the side who will provide the opposition when he starts his second spell as manager of the club.
But, when he watches a video of Forest's performance, he will find himself presented with clear evidence of the issues that have dogged the side, increasingly, since O'Driscoll's departure.
Bristol, a team ingrained with the organisation and tactical intricacy that had become their manager's trademark at the City Ground, ultimately triumphed thanks to two goals in 12 second-half minutes from Steven Davies and Marvin Elliott.
But equally, this was a match that was decided just as much by Forest's own short-comings, as it was any superiority in the quality of the home side. A lack of cutting edge at one end, combined with a familiar, costly frailty at the other, were the only difference between two teams who were otherwise evenly matched.
In fact, it was probably Forest who dominated possession for the greater periods in a first half that began in lively fashion. But after failing to properly connect with three half-chances, Dexter Blackstock was unlucky to then connect too crisply with a header, that bounced away off the bar.
And, once Davies' deflected shot, which came after some indecisive defending, had found the back of the net and Elliott had risen, too easily, to power home a towering header, the game was all but over, in the early stages of the second half.
Between the two goals, Billy Sharp had been denied by an outstanding save from Tom Heaton, after connecting perfectly with a volley at the far post.
But once City began to defend their two-goal advantage, sitting deep with two banks of players in midfield and defence, Forest had little answer; little attacking punch.
The trademark of Davies' first spell in charge was a brand of decent passing football. But the foundations for that were a steely defensive resolve. Forest, before anything else, were a hard side to beat, resolute and tough to break down.
On Saturday, they were not aided by injuries picked up by both full backs, Dan Harding and Gonzalo Jara, which forced both to be replaced early in the second half.
But that does not gloss over the fact that Davies' priority will be to add some steel to a defence that has now not kept a clean sheet in their last ten matches, while conceding 21 goals along the way.
Whether the solution to that problem proves to be a foray or two into the loan market or a reshuffling of the defenders he already has at his disposal remains to be seen.
But the holes Davies identifies in his side are likely to be similar to those Alex McLeish attempted to address in the January window, when he targeted a left back, a winger and an attacking midfielder.
Davies, who often cajoled outstanding displays from both Radi Majewski and Lewis McGugan, may not feel the need to add another midfielder to his ranks. Indeed, Davies' return may see Forest revive contract talks with McGugan, whose current deal expires at the end of the season.
But the lack of attacking width was again obvious on Saturday, with Forest too often trying to find a way through the centre of a packed Robins rear-guard, once they had gone behind.
And, while Harding had been playing well prior to collecting what looked to be a knee problem, there is a lack of depth in the side when it comes to the left back position.
This, of course, is hardly unfamiliar territory for Davies, whose frequent lament about having to put square pegs in round holes became one of his many familiar catchphrases.
Those buoyed by his return will be hoping to see Davies inspire the same turnaround in form that steered them clear of relegation the first time he was appointed.
But, in truth, there are many problems to be addressed if Forest are to forge a late push for promotion.
That, in itself, should not be too much of a surprise, given the turmoil of a season that began with O'Driscoll having to build an entirely new defence, amid a complete restructuring of the squad, all in the space of a few weeks following his July appointment.
His shock departure, followed by the short, controversial reign of Alex McLeish, has only added further plot twists to an already intriguing, but also destructive saga.
Davies is now the man who Forest are hoping will pick up the pieces; who will provide some stability following a period of remarkable drama.
But, given that they currently sit on the bottom half of the table – and have won only once in eight games – the size of the task Forest has taken on should not be overlooked.
If the club hierarchy do attempt to interfere with Davies, a man with strong character and a very clear idea of what he wants, then the end result is hugely unlikely to be the stability they crave.
But, if they let him get on with his job, while supporting him with a few quality loan signings, then his appointment could still prove to be a masterstroke.
In fact, it could yet prove to be one occasion when Al Hasawi has indisputably made an important decision over the management of the club.