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THE VERDICT | Philippe Montanier had a tough task, but still failed at Nottingham Forest

A few days ago, Philippe Montanier was relieved of his duties as manager of Nottingham Forest after almost seven months in charge.

A prolonged takeover process that eventually collapsed actually served to give him a slight stay of execution. However, with the team languishing in 20th and having lost six of their last eight games, a change was needed at the City Ground.

The story started with so much optimism, as it always seems to do. Stories of getting to the Champions League with Real Sociedad and working with young players like Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé gave the Reds faithful the hope that he would work wonders with their impressive crop of academy graduates.

It began well too, with Forest winning three of their opening five games. Starting with a crazy 4-3 win at home to Burton Albion on the opening weekend that displayed everything about what could happen under Montanier in one game.

There would be goals, with an emphasis on using pace and creativity on the wings. Youngster Oliver Burke and Ben Osborn were given chances to shine and both were impressing, especially Burke who was being compared to a young Gareth Bale.

There would be goals going in at the other end too. Forest conceded three goals on three different occasions in those opening five contests and if they had not caught on already, Dorus de Vries was not as adept at keeping opponents at bay as he had in his time between the sticks.

There would also be chances for the youngsters to earn their keep. The starting midfield against Burton consisted of the aforementioned Burke (19) and Osborn (22) but also included Matty Cash (19) and Jorge Grant (22).

The early optimism faded quickly, with Burke being sold for a reported £13m to RB Leipzig and their league form taking a severe dip. They lost six of their next 11 games, winning just once and failing to record a single clean sheet in that spell.

Through a mixture of injuries and indecisiveness, Montanier continuously rotated his line-up to find the mix that would work. An issue that also plagued his time at Rennes, he failed to find a settled team and any changes he did make never made any lasting impact on games.

Montanier had a reprieve in late November, winning three games in a row including a surprising 2-1 win against Championship leaders Newcastle United. A switch to a 3-5-2 seemingly got the best out of the team until another poor run quickly saw them revert back to a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, again highlighting his indecisiveness that has been an undercurrent of his managerial career.

That final poor run of six losses and two draws in his final eight games was the last straw. In fairness, he might have gone a few weeks ago had the takeover been completed earlier but that mishap allowed him to drag his feet across the finish line.

In his time, only Rotherham conceded more than Forest. While only five teams in the Championship had scored more than the Reds, the two clean sheets all season long tells its own story about where the team’s major failings lie.

What is also shocking to learn is the team’s incredibly poor disciplinary record. Their 61 yellows is only bettered (or worsened) by Aston Villa, but seven red cards is simply astonishing, a total that is almost double anyone else in the league and a clear sign that Montanier did not have a full grip on this squad as it ran away from him.

That is not to say that he was entirely to blame with chairman Fawaz Al Hasawi’s frosty relationship with the fans not helping matters. A lot of the signings made do not look like the typical moves from the Frenchman and many were in the wrong kind of areas.

Free transfers for the likes of Mustapha Carayol and Armand Traoré have not paid off, Pereira has been sent off three times while being a defensive liability while Licá has almost been non-existent. They have had some decent performances from former Everton man Apostolos Vellios and Vladimir Stojkovic but the lack of quality at centre-back is astonishing.

Michael Mancienne is far past his best, Matt Mills is probably the rashest defender in the entire division while Damien Perquis is not a good enough replacement. Thomas Lam has looked okay in spells and at 22, he has time on his side but there needed to be more investment at the back that would never come.

There were a number of mitigating factors that were out of his control but in the end, Montanier was just not the right man to lead Forest out of the wilderness. His brand of attacking, risky football seemed like the antithesis of what they really needed, which is a solid foundation to build a contender in a highly competitive league.

Where he goes from here is a tough question, with two setbacks it could be time for him to find a niche somewhere back in France. As for the once proud European champions, the future seems frustratingly bleak.

 N.S.

 

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