Coming off of two difficult losses for the Toffees, Everton will look to finally get things on the right track against Premier League newcomers Nottingham Forest. With a win and a loss out of the first two matches, Steve Cooper’s outfit will look to continue shocking pundits and Premier League viewers alike even at the expense of the Blues.
Frank Lampard and company know what’s at stake in this match, and while it won’t be the end of the world to lose - with time remaining in the summer transfer window to further transform this team into something more competitive than last season - points must be tallied where they can be collected and this club cannot get behind so many teams as they managed to do last season.
Ahead of Saturday’s affair, we spoke to Grant Nelson, a prominent Nottingham Forest insider, to get a better feel for this club as it stands today:
RBM: First off, with a win and a loss through the first two matches of this Premier League campaign for Nottingham Forest, what is the feeling around the supporters, prognosticators, players, and training ground right now?
It’s an interesting question as whilst we all expected a testing start, I think our two matches couldn’t have gone more differently.
We felt overwhelmed at times against Newcastle & it may have been expected with the lack of top level experience we have in the squad. A real eye opener.
There might have been some panic in the week post Newcastle from some people connected to the club but as we so often did last season we bounced back from disappointment quickly with our excellent atmosphere/support at the City Ground against West Ham. We played as a team which might have been the concern with so much change in the squad; whilst it wasn’t a perfect performance I think the fact that we showed fight as a team, are forming partnerships & are demonstrating the pattern of play that Cooper wants is positive, and we will all take the win.
Overall I would say things are extremely positive. We’ve recruited well & the owner Mr. Marinakis has backed our talented young coach in the transfer market. We’ve got some new signings, which include more players with top level experience added into our young squad, & now we have decent depth & options off the bench.
RBM: There will be folks who do not know very much about this team or how it has reached this point in the Premier League once again; would you be so kind as to say, in your own words of course, what kind of club this is and who are names - young and old - to keep an eye on when Forest matches come on this season?
Nottingham Forest FC., Champions of England in 1978 & of Europe back-to-back in 1979 & 1980 under the legendary manager Brian Clough. A fairy tale story for a provincial club.
We’ve really seen some hard times as well however. 23 years out of the top flight since we were relegated in 1999. We even spent 3 tough years in the 3rd tier. 23 different permanent managers in that time. We really tried everything to earn promotion back to the top flight. From youthful to experienced squads, playing styles, signing more players from Europe. But we rarely stuck at anything long enough to give it a chance & that included managers/coaches.
We’ve also had a few different owners in that time & our current owner is Greek shipping magnate, Evangelos Marinakis, who also owns successful Greek club Olympiacos. You can understand how they were used to success in their homeland but it took time to adjust & understand the requirements of Championship football. A lot of wasted money spent without a clear plan after 4/5 years of his ownership. Change was needed in some form.
We then had a restructuring at the top & it resulted in us bringing in Dane Murphy as CEO from Barnsley who would bring shrewd recruitment using data analytics. His aim was to lower the wage bill & average age of the squad. Which was no mean task. We had to rely on the loan market because of FFP rulings. It was all about progression after a poor previous season where we hovered just above the relegation zone for long periods.
But after the worst start to a season in 108 years after 7/8 games, we replaced Chris Hughton with Steve Cooper. It’s hard to explain just how impressive he has been since walking through the door. The whole club had a sense of frustration & disappointment around it. Anger & apathy even.
But magic happened & we somehow then went on an unbelievable run from stone last in the table to pushing for automatic promotion with a few games left. No team with our start had even finished above 12th in the league before to put into perspective. The rest is history after promotion via the play-offs.
Who to keep an eye on? Well from last season it looks like only Joe Worrall, Steve Cook, Scott Fraser McKenna, Ryan Yates, Jack Colback, Brennan Johnson & Sam Surridge will have a serious part to play. Loans ended, a few players left & we really relied on a core 14 or so players last season.
Worrall & Yates made the Championship team of the season 2021/22. Johnson was young player of the year for the Championship. Worrall is a fine leader who mixes old school defending with good ball progression, whilst Yates is a box-box midfielder with excellent defensive work as well as end product for goals. Johnson is a lovely player to watch as he glides with a ball as one of two forwards; 19 goals & 11 assists last season is not bad at all.
Too early to say on the new signings but Dean Henderson in goal was superb at Newcastle as well as all the starters against West Ham.
RBM: Steve Cooper is an interesting manager, and the way Forest has played since he was hired little more than a year ago is a really inspiring story I think; what has he been able to unlock in this club and its players since his arrival?
It’s a very good question. We’ve hired supposed bigger names than Cooper & a lot of the times said managers couldn’t deal with our successful past. The pressure & demands of owners/fans seemed to get to them.
But Cooper has embraced everything about the club. He made sure he spoke with our European cup heroes & made them feel welcome. He would say the current group need to stand on the shoulders of the giants of the past & I think that is the key point. He quickly made our players think positively & about what we could do as a team so as to play to our strengths better. Whilst I believe he is tactically astute with the help of his support staff, I think he a master motivator too. His teams play for one another, the fans, the city & the club.
How quickly he found a way to unite the fan base with a team is another feather in his cap. We have an amazing away following but the atmosphere at the City Ground behind our team will be important for us this season.
RBM: Nottingham Forest has been quite busy in their first Premier League transfer window in some time; how would you grade what has been done with recruitment, and do you see anything further occurring during this window?
Fifteen new signings for the first team. It was required with how many players we owned & were Premier League ready after last season.
Some really talented players at good ages with their best years ahead of them in Henderson, Williams, Biancone, Niakhate, Toffolo, Richards, O’Brien, Mangala, Gibbs-White & Awoniyi. Particularly targeting the Bundesliga using data analytics & backed Cooper with personal choices here too.
In terms of balancing off with experience. Kouyate’s been a key player for Palace the last four seasons. Freuler has been a top performer in the Champions League for Atalanta; Lingard & Dennis have been there & done it in the Premier League with goals/assists; an international keeper with 100 caps as back-up in Hennessey.
It will be hard to argue against how good how window has been. Good balance to it & Cooper/recruitment are shaping the squad to the club’s vision.
I believe after breaking our transfer record for the second time this window in acquiring Morgan Gibbs-White we may see a wing-back & wing-forward still.
RBM: What are the expectations for this club this season? Surely it will be to remain in the Premier League for another year, but I get the feeling that they have greater ambitions than just being at the party; this team wants to make a bit of noise at least, no?
Yeah, whilst survival would be a great stepping stone for us the investment from our ambitious ownership along with a talented/ambitious coach shaping the squad they will be aiming as high as possible. Our biggest problem will be forming a team & building partnerships. But it gets me thinking about how quickly Cooper did it last season, & it really isn’t impossible from where he picked us up from then. Now he just has more players of a higher calibre; a truly great problem to have.
RBM: How do you expect Forest to set up on Saturday, and who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
We’ve largely set-up in a 3-4-1-2 or 3-4-2-1 under Cooper. Niakhate at CCB is an injury doubt after an impressive performance against West Ham. I would be surprised if we change too much from Sunday, but we will have serious bench options to introduce & generally Cooper doesn’t just throw new signings in.
Lewis O’Brien & Orel Mangala showed great all-action displays in midfield, & I reckon if they can get their ball carrying right that they could turn Iwobi/Doucoure around a lot if they don’t lose those physical battles. You just feel Neco Williams & Brennan Johnson can turn a game from nothing, so their partnership on the right might be important for us.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s match?
Massive respect for Everton FC & how tough it is to go to Goodison Park. Going 1-1 but also get the feeling Forest will believe Everton are vulnerable at the moment with the squad looking light as Lampard is looking to shape it still.
Our thanks to Grant for his time.