The Championship Corner: Why there are reasons for optimism at Nottingham Forest

Adam’s latest “The Championship Corner” column.

Oliver Burke scored and made two more goals in the 4-3 defeat of Burton Albion on the opening day of the season.

He then netted twice as Nottingham Forest beat Wigan Athletic by the same score-line before bagging another as Leeds United were seen off 3-1.

The exciting Scotsman is Forest’s current top-scorer with 4 goals from 5 league games so it is easy to imagine the ire being directed at club owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi by fans disappointed by the sudden sale of the 19 year old to RB Leipzig days before the transfer window closed.

The owner had only 24 hours earlier given reassurances that the winger would not be leaving.

Manager Phillipe Montanier claimed it was his decision not to reinvest the money raised but that is unlikely to soften the frustration felt towards the club’s controversial owner.

Al-Hasawi and Montanier were forced to make a joint-statement in which they defended their summer’s transfer policy in signing 11 players, but it will hold little water with fans accustomed to recent disappointment and who feel the sale of Burke has undermined a positive start to the campaign.

Neither will Al-Hasawi’s attempted justification of the Burke sale by saying Forest signed Michel Antonio and Britt Assombalonga after academy graduates Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow were sold to Newcastle.

Antonio has now been sold on to West Ham while Assombalonga, due to an unfortunate knee injury that ruled him out for 15 months, has had little chance to repay his club-record £5 million fee.

“This money will be used and reinvested back into the squad” Al-Hasawi wrote on Twitter but as the window ended at Forest with the signings of Porto winger Lica for £300,000, Middlesbrough’s Mustapha Carayol on a free and Napoli attacker Nicolao Dumitru on loan, it smacked again of Forest, who had escaped an 18-month transfer embargo as recently as May, showing the chronic lack of ambition that has dogged the Al-Hasawi era.

The club’s hierarchy will hope the bright start under Montanier, with 9 points taken from their opening five games, will assuage the off-field unrest.

Entertainment is certainly in high supply, with 11 goals scored, all of them coming at the County Ground, which only managed to earn a safety certificate after the season started, and 11 conceded.

Unsurprisingly for a renowned academy that produced Jermaine Jenas, Michael Dawson, Andy Reid, Patrick Bamford and Wes Morgan, Montanier’s early days have focussed on youth, with Matty Cash, Alex Iacovitti and James Thorne all making their senior debuts under the Frenchman.

Tyler Walker, the 19 year old son of Des, is out scoring goals on loan in League Two with Stevenage and impressed the management at Forest enough to earn the four year deal he signed last June.

They will hope to follow the standard set by Ben Osborn, a tricky 22 year old winger who has made 86 appearances for Forest since breaking into the side in 2013, and of course Burke, who earned his big money move only a year after establishing himself with the seniors.

Jorge Grant has had to wait more patiently for a regular spot, but the 21 year old will be aiming to impress Montanier in order to build on last year’s tally of 10 appearances.

However two defeats on the road and a leaky defence will press Montanier’s concern in the present, but the experience of Michael Mancienne and Matt Mills at the back, with Damien Perquis showing early promise since his summer move from Toronto, should tighten things up.

Henri Lansbury and Chris Cohen provide guile in a hard-working midfield while the powerful and deadly Assambalonga, providing he suffers no recurrence of his dreadful injury, should score the goals that have Forest targeting a high-placed finish.

The Congolese forward will be joined in attack by former Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner who signs on a two year deal after being released from Wolfsburg in March.

Quite what will the enigmatic Dane will bring to Forest is uncertain but if Montanier can eradicate the disciplinary issues that dogged the striker in Germany, an apparent desire to resurrect a failing career may see signs of the forward that scored 11 goals to help Birmingham City to promotion when he was last in this division in 2007.

Bendtner... a surprise addition.

Bendtner… a surprise addition.

Forest will meet another former European Cup winner in Aston Villa on Saturday, offering a chance to recollect glory days that have long since passed, before a meeting with Arsenal, especially meaningful for Bendtner, at a sold out City Ground in the EFL Cup looms a fortnight away.

The departure of Burke may have re-opened wounds at a club that has been troubled since falling from the Premier League in 1999, but if Montanier can find a balance between vibrant youth and the experience offered by the likes of David Vaughan and Danny Fox, there may be reason for optimism once again.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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