Behind Enemy Lines: Nottingham Forest

MILLWALL face Nottingham Forest at The Den in their last game of 2018.

Aitor Karanka’s side haven’t won in four games, while the Lions got their first victory in nine on Boxing Day against Reading.

The sides played out a 2-2 draw at the City Ground earlier in the season, with Shaun Williams and Lee Gregory netting for Millwall to complete a comeback from 2-0 down.

Lucas Ball spoke to Sam Bowles this week.

Twitter: @BowlesSamuel

Why do you support Forest?

I support Forest because of my dad and my uncle. I was born in Nottingham and live in a town between Nottingham and Derby. I went to my first game when I was eight, Forest versus Doncaster Rovers, if I remember correctly.

Two years later I got a season ticket for my birthday and have been there every year since (nine years).

What’s been your favourite season?

The best season following the club since I've been going would either be this season so far, or it would be 2012-13 season under Sean O'Driscoll, Alex McLeish (though I try to forget that part) and the returning "King" Billy Davies.

That season we finished eighth just outside the play-offs and from there it only went downhill under the Al Hasawi regime.

Also, I have to give a special mention to the last day of the season in the 2016-17 season when we beat Ipswich at home on the last day to stay up on goals scored. Although that was a terrible season, it was my happiest moment.

The worst?

I’m not sure where to begin with the worst season (I've experienced many). For me it would have to be the 2016-17 season under the unknown name of Philippe Montanier.

Although he was a nice guy, he didn't seem to understand defending (despite being a goalkeeper in his career). We started the season with two 4-3 wins at home against newly-promoted sides. Soon after we stopped scoring goals and carried on conceding.

We signed a load of foreign players that were not at the level to play in the Championship. We lost Henri Lansbury in January to Aston Villa because he only had six months left on his deal. We lost Oliver Burke to Leipzig at the end of the window despite our manager saying he wouldn't be sold – it turned out he was sold by Fawaz behind the managers back.

We replaced Burke who was sold for £13m with three wingers with a total outlay of £250k.

Montanier was sacked during January and we had Gary Brazil as caretaker for a couple of months. He actually did some good business in the window, or at least we thought we did with Zach Clough arriving on a permanent deal (who is now on loan at League One Rochdale and can't get in their team), and Ross McCormack on loan from Villa which didn't go to plan.

We got Mark Warburton in when it looked like we were under serious threat of going down and he managed to keep us up on the last day.

Also, we had two failed takeovers because Fawaz pulled the plug last minute, leading to protests outside the ground and Stan Collymore getting involved to help before then trying to get a job for himself under Fawaz at the club.

Also we signed "Lord" Bendtner, because why not?

Forest lost just two of their first 20 league games this season, but after four without a win boss Aitor Karanka is under pressure. This sounds harsh.

Sacking Karanka would be insane. He has taken us, in 11 months, from a relegation battle to play-off contention. He has a completely new squad that are still gelling together and with a few additions could be in the play-offs.

Karanaka is proven to be able to get promotion as he did it with Middlesbrough. With them it took him two and a half years to get them up and I believe he deserves that amount of time here, as long as we are in the top half of the table, in contention for the play-offs this season. Then we should stick with him.

We have been near the bottom of the league for the past five seasons switching managers every six months and it has got us nowhere, we need to be patient and let him make a team and get us to the top.

Norwich finished 14th last season and Daniel Farke wasn't the most popular man and they even had a rough start to this season but given time look at them now. Patience will reward us in the end.

Forest have spent a lot of money, but do you need to splash more in January?

Although we spent £25m this season and have been labelled "big spending" Nottingham Forest by Sky, we have had so many years of spending peanuts and selling star players under the Al Hasawi regime that we had fallen so far behind other teams in the division.

This money has only allowed us to catch up. I do think there will be money to spend in January to get us into the top six. In my opinion we need to sign three players in the window.

We need a left-back to provide competition and cover for Jack Robinson as he is the only natural left-back at the club.

We need another winger as Gil Dias and Diogo Goncalves have not settled in yet, though they still could as they’re only young so require patience.

Finally, we need a goal-scoring central midfielder who makes runs from deep. We have lacked this position since Lansbury left two years ago. Currently from our central midfield we have scored one goal and that was from Adlene Guedioura in August.

Shaun Williams scored in the opening minute in the corresponding fixture last season

Lewis Grabban has scored 15 goals this season. You must have high hopes for him against his former club on Saturday?

Grabban is the sort of striker that needs the service to get his goals, give him a chance and he will score.

In the last two home games we played against Preston and QPR, because they sat back there was no room to play the ball through to Grabban so he struggled.

Hopefully on Saturday there will be more space as you’re the home team and may come at us a bit more.

Who else will be a threat to Millwall?

The three behind Grabban will be the ones to look out for, most likely being Joao Carvalho – who has the best passing range in the league in my opinion given time on the ball – Joe Lolley, who has been our best player this season, and Matty Cash who has come through the academy and is in good form after netting two on Boxing day against Norwich.

Which Lions players are you wary of?

Lee Gregory is always a danger as he is a very hard-working forward.

But for me Jed Wallace is your main man and the guy that can just make something happen out of nothing. Although sometimes he can go missing like all wingers do from time to time, he's the man that we have to keep out of the game.

What do you think of Neil Harris?

I like him as a manager. He obviously has a strong connection with the club because of his playing career but he has also proven himself to be a very good manager getting you to two play-off finals and winning the second one, following it by getting so close to the play-offs last season after your form in the second half of it.

It’s incredible given your budget compared to other sides in the league.

Which Lions player would you like Forest to sign?

Jed Wallace. I just like him as a player. I have known about him since he was at Portsmouth. I think he would suit Forest because we like to have a tricky winger who can create something.

Do you think Millwall are where they should be in the table?

After the 2-2 draw when we were 2-0 up then the floodlights went out and you came back out like a different team and pulled it back to 2-2, I'm shocked to see that you’re only a point clear of the bottom three this season (by the way, it does feel nice not to have to look at the bottom of the table this year).

I think you should be in mid-table as you are a team that we always struggle against because of your physicality. I think you will be fine this season as at The Den you should make the game difficult enough for anyone in the league.

What’s your predicated Forest line-up and formation?


Pantilimon; Darikwa, Hefele, Fox, Robinson; Yacob, Colback; Cash, Carvalho, Lolley; Grabban

Will you be at The Den for this?

Sadly not because of the amount of hours at work I’m doing at this time of year. But I’ll probably take my break during the game to listen to the match.

Finally, a prediction?

I reckon it will be a tight game but we might just snatch a 2-1 win near the end.

Graphic: @ShedCreative