Pleat exit leaves road clear for McClaren at Nottingham Forest

Back in May, Nottingham Forest bowed out of the play-offs at the semi-final stage for the second year in a row. Of course, the spectre of play-off failure distorts the overall picture of a team that became accustomed to winning. A habit that has been hard to come by since the summer. But news has now emerged that seems to confirm Steve McClaren is digging in at the City Ground.

The latest flashpoint in the McClaren situation saw his charges beaten 5-1 at Burnley on Tuesday evening. While this may have seemed like another two steps back for his chances of success at Forest, reports that the former England manager has finally seen off football consultant David Pleat may be one important step forward towards a greater degree of harmony at the club.

Pleat has been picking up a reported £120,000 salary for his role – peanuts in football terms but a huge bone of contention given a recent history of tension in high places. When results start to go downhill, the presence of a football consultant is even greater folly than normal. It is a battle that McClaren has won and his road ahead is clearer. Now he just needs to locate the accelerator after his men crashed to the latest in a series of damaging defeats.

It is important to note that the scoreline suffered at Turf Moor is not without precedent – Davies lost 5-0 at the same venue early in his spell in the hot seat – and Forest also shipped four twice towards the end of last season, to Reading and Leeds United. So the kind of abject defending that allowed Burnley to run riot is not solely of McClaren’s making.

The figures make for interesting reading. Forest have now let in 19 goals from 9 league games this season, the same tally that it took them 21 league games to concede from the beginning of the previous campaign. Last season, the 19th came in the final game of December. This time, it was the last match in September.

None of that says much for McClaren, but Forest also conceded 21 goals in the last 11 Championship fixtures last season (a number rings true whether you choose to include their two play-off semi-final clashes with Swansea City or not). All of which leaves a record of two goals conceded per game over a period stretching back to March this year, after an opening five months of 2010/11 in which the ratio was better than a goal per game.

These basic statistics support the argument that Lee Camp, Chris Gunter, Wes Morgan and Luke Chambers (to name four of the back five which has remained fairly constant in recent times for Forest) are certainly capable of better than the last six months would suggest. With the seemingly perennial left-back saga solved by the acquisition of last year’s title-winning left-back Clint Hill, all was set for an improvement in fortunes.

This is where McClaren has truly baffled. Since signing Hill, Forest have moved to a back five for some mysterious reason. And so a team that has sporadically been in dire need of a left-back for a number of years suddenly found itself possessing an option but no position for him to fill.

While the defence has certainly proved to be problematic, there has also been a surprising transformation in Forest’s attacking approach. They ended last season throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Swansea and coming within inches of securing a place at Wembley when Robert Earnshaw’s late effort struck a Liberty Stadium post. There was enough pace to worry defences, to turn them around and make the City Ground a fearsome place to go.

McClaren, perhaps influenced by Davies’s constant harping about the youth and naivety at his disposal, added experience to the middle of the park by signing Jonathan Greening and George Boateng. In the early weeks of the season, it looked as though the one-way traffic of that late rally at Swansea had been replaced by a mundane city-centre thoroughfare – McClaren had pedestrianised his new team. Whether that is an accurate portrayal of Forest’s overall play this season is for their fans to confirm or deny.

There have been other question marks further up the field. Has Lewis McGugan, a goalscoring central midfielder shifted out to the left wing on more than one occasion by McClaren, been utilised to best effect? What is the best combination up front and are Ishmael Miller, Matt Derbyshire and Robbie Findley even good enough for what Forest want to achieve? In their defence, the need to score three goals in most games in order to win is not a brilliant starting point.

While Davies had his flaws, he knew how to construct a cohesive Championship outfit and his successor must now prove that he can also assemble a winning side. At present, it all comes back to this – whatever the magic formula for McClaren might be, it definitely isn’t 5-3-2.

As much as anything, the negatives of any defeat are always amplified by supporters if their manager has adopted an unusual formation. It smacks of a desperate short-term measure being applied to a situation which needs to be treated with extreme caution. And while sources claim that chairman Nigel Doughty is continuing to back McClaren with impending Financial Fair Play rules and an accompanying need for stability at the heart of his thinking, football is, as ever, a results game and improvement is imperative.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.


  1. theseventytwo
    September 28, 2011

    Just seen a few comments about Pleat not actually being on the payroll at Forest. Confusion reigns.

  2. Husky Red
    September 28, 2011

    In my opinion, the new forward line is at least as strong as last year. Earnshaw is a big loss, but had a poor season, and the other players moved on were fringe. Findley has a fairly good goals per game rate and Miller provides what forest lacked for most of last year – a physical presence up front – he makes lots of chances for a strike partner, and has started to score a few himself. Derbyshire has been a slower starter, but had little pre-season so it is too early to tell.

    Midfield is the big problem. Reid is good for dead ball situations, but without the ball he is so static he offers little cover for the left back behind him. The club has lost Paul McKenna’s leadership and Chris Cohen’s midfield engine. Chris is one of the highest rated midfielders in the division. We lost him in midfield for the first few games because the manager (inexplicably) chose to use him out of position at left back, and more recently we have lost him for the season through injury. We’ve also got our 2 pacey right wingers out since the start of the season. The manager has regularly played 2 static / holding central midfielders so the supply to forwards has been non existent.

    Defence is an enigma, but there are 4 key factors:
    1) The club did not bring in a defensive coach when the previous manager’s team left.
    2) The team has been asked to revert to zonal marking, and it clearly isnt working.
    3) The manager has a penchant for playing people out of position. On tuesday we played a recognised left back in central defence with a recognised central defender as a left wing back. then we reverted to a back four, but took off the regonised international right back and played our captain, an accomplished centre back at right back! This after playing our best midfielder as left back until he got injured.
    4) The team has been asked to play 4 different formations in its last 8 games, having had very little time in pre-season with the new manager to learn any of them.

    Trouble? Yes. Of our own making? Quite a bit. Confident? errr…. get back to you on that one.

  3. Seat Pitch
    September 29, 2011

    I think the confusion about Pleat is a case of semantics. Consultants are rarely employed and therefore cannot be sacked. However, the decision to end the relationship is significant – if not about two years too late… Doing it now is a desperate PR stunt in the aftermath of Tuesday’s thrashing.

    Who knows what would have happened if McClaren had been able to bring in a couple more signings in the summer – and whether Pleat prevented them. It’s very clear he wanted, and still wants, wingers and that they’re key to how he wants to play football. At the moment – with both Anderson and McCleary injured – we have no wide players, let alone pace, and the constant tinkering is the quest to find width.

    The narrow midfield diamond accomodates the best midfield players we have but clearly hasn’t worked. Last week’s 4-3-3 formation against Newcastle was a bold attempt to utilise the strikers in wide positions – Derbyshire, Tudgay and Findlay combining well to score three very well worked goals between them. And, with nothing to lose, the formation proved Forest are an attacking force to be reckoned with.

    Lining up against Watford in a 3-5-2 formation made sense – tackling our problems in defence with wing-backs offering the width. Using the same formation against Burnley, whose use of wingers is hardly a secret, was tactical suicide. No surprise we quickly converted to 4-3-3.

    McClaren’s tactics, whether they work or not, were never going to be instant. New players and new formations need time to gel. Question is, can he turn it around?

    The point about the defence is important. We’ve been in a downward spiral since Bertrand went back to Chelsea and Wilson was frozen out – leaking goals in most games. Zonal marking at set pieces is, presumably, to address our weaknesses but, as Benitez found out at Liverpool, it can only work if given time.

    Doughty’s giving McClaren time so we don’t really have a choice. The players and fans need to get behind him – save your vitriol for the board – circumstances dictate that it was never going to be a case of simply picking up where Davies left off.

  4. Mistrollingin
    September 29, 2011

    We definitely need wingers but we do have the option of variety with a little imagination. You only have to watch Ishmael Millers impactful moments to see that he is really a wide forward – not a winger but someone who could play the wide forward role in a 4-3-3 formation. His power and pace mean that he is an ideal outlet ball out wide and he is able to then run in from those wide positions. He is certainly a much better option for providing width than say playing a centre half as a left wing back!
    McGugan and Majewski are certainly not winger but they are capable of delivering crosses and through balls from wide areas. It is not ideal but I would play them in the central and wide right roles of the 4-3-3 and as our most creative players give them license to roam as they see fit.
    This is even more possible by playing Findley as the striker because his pace and movement means that he is able to play across the front line. he often drifts wide to good effect and is therefore able to offer an alternative outlet ball. If he drifts wide right then Majewski, McGugan and Miller can all be available to take central positions.
    These four players give us a good mix of pace, power, inventiveness and comfort on the ball from which to build our attacking play. Behind them we need a combination of muscle/defensive cover – Moussi – and someone to link our defence (which frankly cannot pass the ball) and our attacking options. This could be Greening, although personally I have not been too impresses up to now.
    The ability to get the ball forward is helped by Gunter’s forward play on the right and when he plays Lynch on the left. i haven’t seen much of Hill but he played left back for the Champions last year and I’m sure could provide decent enough options down that side.
    This gives us a system that fits the long term aspiration for style of play and allows the players to get comfortable with their roles without constantly chopping and changing to fix (or not) the latest problem. the final thing is to make the defending simple. Chambers and Wes are bog standard Championship defenders, they like to throw themselves infront of shots not stand in space and try to read the game. Keep it simple with clear instructions and for the time being at least put Camp in charge of barking the orders.
    And breath.

  5. Nottingham Forest (since 1865) | Lies, damned lies and opinions: what on earth is happening at the City Ground?
    September 29, 2011

    […] it is balanced opinions you want, perhaps have a read of this excellent précis on the neutral 72football (although I believe that the author is a bin dipper, for what it’s worth); also take note of […]

  6. Geoffrey Von Snorg
    September 29, 2011

    Pleat’s departure really is pretty pointless. It wasn’t Pleat’s fault that we don’t have a left back, it’s McClaren’s. He more or less stated that he wanted to concentrate on other areas and that Cohen could play there. Well yes Steve, he can, but he’s not a great left back and he is a great midfielder, probably our best and most consistent. Couldn’t you have devoted just a little time to finding a reliable left back? Obviously you could, because Clint Hill arrived as soon as Cohen was injured. And then you don’t play him at left back.

    Not that the left back position is Forest’s only problem. But it’s indicative of how well organised McClaren is, i.e. not at all.

  7. RighteousBrother
    September 30, 2011

    It is no surprise they are lying about Pleat’s role, they have been lying to us for years. One recent example is the new stadium. They insisted they could do nothing to redevelop the City Ground, but once the World Cup bid failed, look what’s back on the agenda: re-developing the City Ground!

    I suspect that the FFP is a convenient excuse for Nigel Doughty not wanting to invest any more significant funds into the club. That’s fine, it’s his money, but don’t pretend FFP is the reason, you can always put in equity instead of debt and there are clearly other ways around FFP. Just like with the administration rules in the past when there was no points deduction, we will end up on the wrong end of trying to do things ‘properly’.

    All I want is for Doughty to come out and publically state that he is willing to the sell the club if the right responsible buyers can be found, then we can at least still have some hope that being at the mercy of a board with a track record of almost nothing but failure and our horrendous demise will one day be reversed!

    We’re serious about relegation, are you?

  8. theseventytwo
    October 2, 2011

    Okay, so maybe “digging in” was the wrong phrase. The road is clear for him alright, the M1.

    I misread the Pleat thing, but that was off the back of the Mirror’s reading of it. Doh.

    He just made far too many bad decisions. Cheerio Steve.


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