Promotion a pipe dream as floundering Forest lag behind

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Football Manager 2021
Football Manager 2021: Is it time for Milton to cast aside his xG spreadsheets and focus on the only number that really matters: points?

When he was first appointed, Nathaniel Milton declared that he would revolutionise things at Nottingham Forest, but concerns are understandably growing for the Championship club as they languish in the wrong half of the table, with just one win in 11 games so far.

“I’m all about working smarter and not necessarily harder,” Milton told reporters at the start of the season as he calmly faced up to the hostile glare of a frankly unconvinced press pack. “Everything will be planned around ensuring peak performance.

“It all starts with hard work really, the players are prepared to put in the effort to get better and it pays off on the pitch.”

However, it is clear that they haven’t managed to reach the levels Milton’s positive rhetoric promised, and the stark reality is that hopes of a promotion push will soon fade if things don’t improve. 

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“It’s all well and good having training sessions under your belt but it doesn’t truly begin until we get out on the pitch and play for real,” said Milton a few days into his tenure. It’s now very real for Forest and their rookie boss.

“I have plenty of ideas for this team and we’re going to surprise a few people,” he insisted, smiling warmly at the press pack. Thus far, nothing about Milton’s reign has come as a surprise.

Indeed, should results continue in the current vein, then it is surely only a matter of time before the Forest owners will be forced to face up to the fact that they got it spectacularly wrong.

It took six attempts for Milton to get his first win on the board and the fact that it came against bitter rivals Derby County helped to paper over the cracks. It certainly banked a bit of extra credit, not least among the fans.

League Table

Even though club legend Nigel Clough heaped the pressure on in the build-up by suggesting that it was a ‘must-win’ fixture for the rookie, Milton somehow masterminded a 3-0 victory, showing a glimpse of the grand ‘Powerpoint theory’ in practice.

But whatever time the win over Derby bought Milton, it won’t be enough if things don’t change, and something has to change, starting with his tactics. 

His tactical induction with his wide-eyed staff is said to have descended into a war of attrition for his coaches as they struggled to maintain their attention into the fourth hour of staring at their sparkling new personal tablets, watching on as Milton’s endlessly dizzying arrows flashed around their screens and in-depth, personal instructions were outlined for each player.

Brian Clough, the man whose shadow continues to hang dauntingly over every manager who dares to wonder through Forest’s revolving door, once said, “There's so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes.”

Milton, perhaps, needs to show a bit more pragmatism instead of being bound by dogma, of trying to reinvent what is, of course, “a simple game.”

Win over Derby

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its popularity among modern-day managers, Forest have adopted gegenpressing as a tactical philosophy, but some players appear noticeably unfamiliar with their roles and, as results attest, it is clearly not working. 

Nowhere was the folly of implementing such complicated instructions more apparent than their elimination from the League Cup second round in September at the hands of a well-drilled Newcastle United side, who sent a chastened Milton back to the City Ground with plenty to think about.

Then again, to give Milton some credit, the graphs are looking good. Anthony Knockaert tops the table for most attempted crosses (though not many are being converted) and, according to SciSports, Forest are second in the Expected Goals For table for the Championship with 18.06 - whatever that means.

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