Wes Side Story: What does Morgan move mean for Forest and Foxes?
Both last season and the one before, Nottingham Forest were, by and large, a tough nut to crack. Their woes at left-back were well-documented, Chris Gunter was a consistent right-back and the whole team generally worked hard when out of possession, but their real solidity seemed to come from the dependable spine of goalkeeper Lee Camp and centre-backs Wes Morgan and Luke Chambers.
It could be argued, certainly with the benefit of this season’s experience, that Morgan (now of Leicester City) and Chambers are limited players who were inspired to new heights by the management and style of play of Billy Davies. Nevertheless, with Chambers newly-installed as captain at the City Ground and Morgan a Nottingham-born, one club man, the pairing looked set to be a key part of Steve McClaren’s reign.
There seems little point in going over the old ground of the McClaren era but Morgan and Chambers in particular looked ill at ease with being encouraged to play a high line and pass out from the back, resulting in uncharacteristic errors. When Joel Lynch got his chance at centre-back, he seized it with both hands and has arguably been Forest’s best player so far this season. With Morgan and Chambers both out of contract and Forest struggling in the Championship, both looked vulnerable during the current January transfer window. If asked which one they would be happier to surrender, Forest fans appeared more willing to sacrifice Chambers. Morgan’s long service for the club and ties to the city cemented his popularity further than most players.
This is where Leicester have stepped in, but at a very odd time. After a year and a half of stopgap measures and uncertain pairings, Nigel Pearson finally seemed to stumble across the right blend when Sol Bamba left for the African Cup of Nations and Aleksander Tunchev picked up an injury after initially replacing him for two games. Finally Matt Mills and Sean St Ledger were thrown together and Leicester have kept three clean sheets in a row, the first of which came against Forest, with St Ledger particularly impressive. As a result, the Irish international has been removed from the transfer list. So, with Bamba set to return within a month, why have Leicester opted for Morgan?
It could be that Pearson simply sees the acquisition of Morgan representing good value for the club, but talk has understandably turned to the consequences of his arrival. St Ledger seems almost certain to stay. There has been no speculation over the departure of Mills either, with Pearson retaining the former Reading defender as his captain. Perhaps Bamba, the least Pearson-esque of the trio, is the prime suspect to leave, especially given the high-profile nature of his current duty with the Ivory Coast and the miniscule likelihood that he will be tried in the defensive midfield role that some Leicester fans are desperate to see him undertake.
Morgan is certainly a Pearson-type defender. He is an old-fashioned stopper – extraordinarily strong, good in the air and committed in the tackle. He is not the quickest, but neither were Wayne Brown and Jack Hobbs. They were Pearson’s first-choice pairing during the 2009/10 season and Leicester’s defensive record that season was excellent. One of the few blemishes that year was Forest’s 5-1 win at the City Ground, in which Morgan was superb. He also dealt well with the considerable threat of Yakubu when Eriksson’s new-look City were beaten 3-2 the following season.
Forest have today signed Wolves midfielder Adelene Guedioura on loan until the end of the season. At first glance, and without taking into account the usual worries of permanent players with resale value being replaced by loanees, this looks an excellent move on a short-term basis. And width and a goal threat seem a more pressing concern than the centre of defence, especially if Forest’s notoriously cautious manager is brave enough to utilise the prodigious Jamaal Lascelles should Lynch or Chambers be unavailable.
Whatever Forest choose to do with the remainder of their incoming funds, Morgan’s exit will surely be looked back upon as the defining moment of their season when 46 games have been played and their fate is sealed for better or worse. There is still so much football to play that they could yet climb well clear of danger, but this seems a long way off given current form. Life without Wes for the first time in over a decade starts with the visit of Burnley tomorrow evening. Shortly afterwards, the transfer window will close. Crunch time.