The City Ground tomorrow and a quick chance to work on improving the performance from the defeat at Brentford. That was as bad as its been all season, in the Championship at least.
Steve Bruce has his work cut out with the quick turnaround between games. The defensive weaknesses haven’t just materialised out of nowhere, they have been apparent all season. It’s why we draw so many games; it’s why Roberto Di Matteo lost his job; we aren’t good enough at the back.
For a club which professed to have promotion ambitions until recently but they are gone. Now we’ve got to get into a winning groove, starting at Forest. It won’t be easy; they have won their last couple of home games but like us are a pale shadow of their former glories.
Indeed, we should look at their lack of progress since dropping out of the Premier League and take on board the lessons of their mistakes. We have an eager to please owner who at least recognised the problems early with the previous manager.
We now have a boss whose record at getting teams out of this division is impressive; I just won’t mention the frequency with which they return to this level…
Bruce strengthened the squad in January but is it enough to take us in the right direction?
The departures were largely welcomed. Ayew is, I think, the only player we will genuinely miss, but given he was strongly rumoured to be moving last summer, we were on ‘borrowed time’ with him to an extent.
Gestede and Westwood were the others to leave on permanent deals.
The former as a striker, suffered from a lack of goals. A non-scoring forward? Either lacking in confidence or playing for the wrong team. That we signed Jonathan Kodjia signalled an end to his relatively short Villa Park career in the summer. Steve Bruce’s mind hasn’t been changed in the interim so his sale to Middlesbrough can’t be argued with.
Ashley Westwood was slightly disappointing. While not a ‘flashy player’, he was a solid squad member, but if the Premier League comes a-calling, it’s hard for the club to stand in his way.
Gollini, Tshibola, Cissokho and McCormack all out on loan meant 21 players departed since the end of last season, a phenomenal number.
More important are the incoming. Sam Johnstone from Manchester United to replace Gollini isn’t proving wholly successful. A mistake at Molineux underlined the questions about his inexperience, and the jury remains out. It probably won’t deliver its’ verdict until the summer when he has left.
Neil Taylor and James Bree suggest Steve Bruce is considering a back five, with both confident in attack. Let’s hope they are confident in defence as well.
The midfield is being reshaped with the arrival of Lansbury – who’s assured a ‘warm’ welcome tomorrow – while Birkir Bjarnason and Conor Hourihane offer the prospect of hard-work and attack.
Scott Hogan’s arrival is the signing which is most intriguing. At £12m, he’s not a substitute or squad member; he’s straight into the XI and forming a partnership with Kodjia. In my mind, it emphasises that Bruce is looking to use wing-backs to provide width with a box-to-box midfield in support of the attack.
It’s a risky strategy to some extent but with the existing squad and new signings, offers more defensive stability (I hope) in the long-term. The question is how quickly we adapt to the style.