Tuesday night’s visit of Nottingham Forest brings with it another chance for Farke’s work in progress to entertain a home crowd. Last minute equalisers aside, boy do they need it. Jon Punt caught up with Forest fanzine Bandy and Shinty’s David Marples to get the low down on City’s opponents.
Jon: When we spoke last, it felt a little like we were on similar trajectories. Head Coaches installed with slow signs of progression starting to emerge and a focus on youth development at the forefront of the club’s respective strategies. It all screamed of trying to be fit for purpose and sustainable all at the same time.
Things have obviously changed, and to an outsider looking in it seemed a strange one to jettison Warburton when you did. How’s that gone over with the Forest fans?
David: Where to start...
The binning of Warburton didn't raise as many eyebrows as one might suspect beyond Nottingham. Sure, he was doing some good things and as long as we won one, lost one, won one, everyone seemed reasonably pleased. But then it turned to lost one, lost one, won one, lost one, lost one and culminated in us losing at home over the Christmas period to Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland. Drink that last one - lost at home to Sunderland. The nature of those two performances in particular stunk the place out.
Beyond that, it seems that he was deeply entrenched in his system and didn't want to even countenance buying any defenders over the January transfer window to bolster a defence that was conceding goals by the rickety and hole-strewn bucketload. It was kind of admirable that he stuck to his principles for so long despite the wheels falling off and us being so easy to play against but sometimes, you have to adapt to the players at your disposal, to the opposition and ultimately, to the really annoying habit of giving goals away every 20 minutes or so.
It didn't help either that he stuck Ben Brereton wide right rather than through the middle - just like Colin Calderwood did with Grant Holt. No. Really. Calderwood played Holt wide left for a period before your man went and tore it up in the Premier League and scored stacks of goals by being deployed as a classic number nine. Football - a simple game often over-complicated.
So essentially, it was a bit of a shock but not quite as seismic as, say, spanking Arsenal 4-2 or the league leaders Wolves away in between losing a gazillion games against mediocre Championship opposition. Besides, we're Nottingham Forest: we simply don't DO a season without escorting a manager to his car while he carries a cardboard box containing a framed picture of his family on a skiing holiday and a sad looking plant protruding mournfully over the edge.
Aitor Karanka comes highly recommended and loved by Middlesbrough fans. He instigated his very own Red Wedding by ripping up a few contracts in January and bringing in virtually a brand new team. It's gone very slowly if truth be told and at times we look like a brand new team that has been cobbled together in the January transfer window. Weird. We've ceased faffing about with it at the back and while we haven't entirely done away with the the young uns, Karanka is favouring experience in the shape of Costel Pantilimon, Ben Watson and Jack Colback - all ever presents since signing.
We stuck five past QPR last week but then again, it was only QPR - we even stuck four past them earlier in the season. QPR to us are what you are to Fulham: cute and innocent fluffy playthings to be booted around at will.
I remember Holt being deployed on the wing for Forest, and Sheffield Wednesday if memory serves. Complete madness.
With Karanka it genuinely feels as if you’ve gone the polar opposite direction in terms of approach, yet I can kind of see the logic. The Forest wage bill will take a hit for sure, but I won’t throw stones from our own glass house *cough, Naismith, cough, cough, Mulumbu**
I’m guessing he’ll keep you stable and competitive, at the cost of anything expansive or easy on the eye. Has that been the way things have shaped up so far?
We certainly look more cohesive, which is warmly welcomed, but that's not to say we are dull, drab and miserable like, say, Middlesbrough last year in the Premier League. With Lee Tomlin, Joe Lolley and Brereton in the side with Kieran Dowell most likely on the bench, we do have goals in us. Tomlin will wind you up, get right under your skin, up your noses and in and around your crotch area as much as Ross McCormack did last season. We like him already and fully expect 'You're just a fat Andy Reid' chants.
In terms of FFP and wages and all that sums 'n' money stuff; we've tried everything in the last twenty years - all to no avail. With new owners comes the desire to show us the money but with the sale of Britt Assombalonga, we might 'just' be ok for a while...until we bin off another manager and start all over again midway through next season. However, there really is a sense that as a club, we are going to do things right from here on in. No longer are we deeply embarrassed and mortified as a result of doing weird stuff like signing Niklas Bendtner or sticking 'Fawaz' on our shirts as a sponsor. We are something like approximating a professional club these days...which is nice.
You kind of tried dangling Naismith in front of us didn't you? Nah, even we don't do stupid stuff like buying Naismith these days.
We dangled Naismith in front of EVERYONE. Slathered him with pedigree chum, maggots and bacon - not even a bite. That was until we agreed to pay 75% of his wages to offload him and I’m not sure Hearts fans think they’re getting value for money either. Poor lad, I like him, but he was symptomatic of everything that went wrong for us during that last flirt with the top flight.
Have to say, I’ve always had a soft spot for Forest, and it’s been a crying shame to see you languishing for so long. I’m pleased you’re getting back on track. What’s the expectation beyond this season though? Will Karanka be under pressure immediately if the top 6 doesn’t look likely next term?
As usual, to finish a season with the same manager that we started with - something we haven't achieved since the 2010/11 season...and even then it was with that odious little man Billy Davies in charge.
With the new owners doing the right things off the pitch - incredibly good deals on season tickets for youngsters next season - and Karanka at the helm, play-offs next season has to be the aim. Judging by the sacking of Warburton, play-offs always was and will remain the aim. For too long we have executed an insanely good impersonation of Phil Connors in Groundhog Day. Estimates vary as to how long Phil spends in his personal purgatory of small town Americana. Director Harold Ramos initially estimated it to be around ten years but later revised that up to 40 years. Maybe it's an eternity.
Connors goes through the whole gamut of emotions at being stranded in a place he detests before figuring out how to break fee. Yet it is his initial emotions that cut deep here. Confusion, denial and anger give way to nihilism before he undergoes his anagnorisis and realises that he must simply be a better person than he was before if he wants to escape.
It seems that we are marooned in our very own Groundhog Day at times - destined to relive the same season over and over and over and over until...well...something changes. Maybe we just need to fall in love with an incredibly annoying TV producer, learn to play piano, master the Heimlich manoeuvre and generally be better people in order to achieve promotion. Worth trying, I guess.
Our lovely neighbours down the A140 are stuck in that particular cycle, 17 years next season. If you think it’s bad, you could always be Ipswich.
My next question was about the season tickets now you come to mention it, really admirable and a no brainer I guess when seats aren’t filled. Hopefully the next generation coming into the stadium, coupled with the excellent Forza Garibaldi’s continued work, means a perfect storm for the City Ground to be loud again once more, right?
We are not entirely dissimilar to your friends down the A140 in that respect.
The new owners are desperate to fill the corners of the ground and entice those back who have lost That Loving Feeling in recent years. Forza continue to organise excellent pre-game meet ups and there is even a fanzine nominated for an award these days. We are winning at life. Just need to convert that to the old football.
I can confirm the fact your fanzine is utterly fantastic and was a deserved nominee. Wanna plug it some more? No? Ok.
So you’re now 4 unbeaten coming into this fixture, albeit against some of the divisions also rans and strugglers. Do Norwich have much to be fearful of now Karanka has his feet under the table?
Karanka has not only got his feet under the table, he's met the parents for a Sunday roast and appeared on the photographs of your cousin's wedding. He's settled on his starting eleven and we're starting to look like a team that is much harder to beat than it was and has a very credible goal threat in (Joe) Lolley and (Lee) Tomlin - a partnership that sounds like a children's television show featuring a pair of hapless builders. Decent. Admittedly, the opposition for this four game unbeaten run doesn't strike fear into anyone's hearts but we haven't gone four games unbeaten since November 2016 so we're lapping it up.
We can now stop looking down and concentrate solely on consolidating our position in 16th place - our average finishing position over the last 20 years or so. Next season could be interesting though: big plans, dreams and ambitions are afoot.
You can join the other 16 or so Championship clubs who think 6th is realistic then. It’s nice, until December or so when you realise there’s nowt to really play for.
Turning to Tuesday, I’d expect us to remain compact, pass the ball around lots in areas that won’t hurt you much, then tire you out and let a certain Mr Maddison hurt you. Your thoughts?
Sounds about right. I'm increasingly confident that Ben Watson and Jack Colback will make the excellent Maddison have to work a little harder to hurt us than might have been the case before Karanka's intervention.
I have a number of thoughts going into Tuesday's game: Norwich is a long way to go on a school night. Carrow Road has not been a kind place to us in recent times. Norwich has a lovely cathedral and the centre is easily accessible from the A14 then A11. The 1984/85 Norwich City kit is a thing of raw beauty. It'll probably be a draw.
Good Nodge knowledge. Although we have two lovely cathedrals, and the city centre isn’t as easily accessible now the pedestrianisation has taken hold. Good job Dixons folded.
I’ll go 2-1, feels like we’re starting to come together offensively a bit more, although we do like a draw at home
David Marples writes a column for the Nottingham Forest programme and co-produced the FSF award nominated Forest fanzine ‘Bandy and Shinty’.