5 Things We’ve Learned About Nottingham Forest Under Chris Hughton



Chris Hughton delivers his instructions from the touchline against Blackburn RoversChris Hughton delivers his instructions from the touchline against Blackburn Rovers | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Four games into the Chris Hughton era and things are looking up for Nottingham Forest.

After four straight losses in what was a turgid start to the season under former boss Sabri Lamouchi, the arrival of Hughton has sparked quite the turnaround, with four games without a defeat and not a goal conceded from open play demonstrating a return of the solidity and organisation that served as the cornerstone of last season’s playoff push.

Introducing the likes of Ryan Yates and Anthony Knockaert to great effect, Hughton has managed to rejuvenate Forest, and while improvements have only been incremental when it comes to creating chances in the final third – three draws and two goals from open play in four games doesn’t exactly constitute the playoff form that Forest have in their ambitions – the early signs are positive.

Hughton has yet to mould his disparate attacking parts into a cohesive unit, but as last season’s bright start and the later capitulation proved: early-season form has a tendency to deceive. There is plenty of time to iron out the imperfections.

Here, 90min spins through five major talking points from Hughton’s first four games in charge.

? Man of the Match, @NFFC’s Ryan Yates

4️⃣ interceptions (most in game)
6️⃣2️⃣ touches
4️⃣8️⃣ passes
9️⃣2️⃣% passing accuracy

Started all 4 @SkyBetChamp games under Chris Hughton

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— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) October 28, 2020

Over the course of his two seasons at Nottingham Forest since graduating from the youth set-up, Ryan Yates has been no stranger to criticism.

As a gritty, hard-working defensive midfielder that often labours in his passing, he has never been everyone’s cup of tea, particularly given his tendency to rush over-zealously into tackles and give away free-kicks.

That was last season, though, and this year, even his harshest critics would struggle to find faults in the fine start he has made to life under Chris Hughton.

The value of confidence is often understated in football, and here is a case in point. Hughton has placed his faith in Yates, and he has rewarded him with a series of all-action, combative midfield displays.

Picking up the Man of the Match award after Wednesday’s draw with Luton Town, Yates has been one of the few success stories of a difficult start to the season.

Martyn Waghorn curls home Derby's opener in the East Midlands derbyMartyn Waghorn curls home Derby’s opener in the East Midlands derby | Alex Pantling/Getty Images

It’s worth noting that, after a few insipid first-half displays against thelikes of Derby County, Luton and Rotherham United, slow starts are nothing new on Trentside.

Forest would often find themselves a goal down early on under Lamouchi, and when they did, they struggled to reassert themselves in the contest, with a low block proving a simple but effective way of shutting out a side that seemed short of ideas in the final third.

Three second-half comebacks would suggest the latter half of that trend has not continued, but Hughton’s men have certainly not been able to shrug off the habit of starting matches on the backfoot.

The fact that none of the first-half goals conceded in those aforementioned three fixtures came via open play perhaps points to the need to erase errors more than anything else, but that’s not to say the displays in those periods have been scintillating. Far from it.

Forest have often looked off the pace in those early moments, and you wonder how many more points it’s going to cost them.

Jack ColbackJack Colback assesses his options against Luton | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Of all the various flaws and shortcomings of Forest teams over the past two or three seasons, the inability to orchestrate effective passing moves in the final third just about ranks highest in the reasons behind their undoing.

Aitor Karanka was decidedly defence-first, Martin O’Neill had no discernible game plan, Sabri Lamouchi’s men looked lost in the opposition’s half, and though the jury is still out on Hughton, it’s going to take some doing to find a way to interconnect Forest’s attacking artillery in a way that can provide a reliable threat.

Hughton has succeeded in instilling a new-found tempo and intensity in Forest’s passing, but his team are yet to find their mojo when it comes to creating chances and finishing them.

The main outlier here is the Rotherham game, when Forest had 20 shots and were unlucky to come away with just a point, but apart from that, clear-cut chances have been hard to come by so far.

Only time will tell whether Hughton has the capabilities to find a solution.

Tobias Figueiredo rises for a header against Rotherham UnitedTobias Figueiredo rises for a header against Rotherham United | Alex Pantling/Getty Images

1-0 down with 10 men, the resolve of this Forest side came to the fore on Wednesday night as they clawed back a point against Luton with a spirited second-half response.

Forest improved in all aspects after half-time, but it was the formidable defensive display that was most crucial. The likes of Tobias Figueiredo, Scott McKenna and the midfield duo of Yates and Jack Colback kept Forest in the game at 1-0, restricting Luton to mere rations in the final third.

It was a similar story at Ewood Park against the free-scoring Blackburn ten days prior, when they became only the second side to keep a clean sheet against Tony Mowbray’s men in Hughton’s first game in charge.

Far more compact and well-organised, Forest look like they are back to their sturdy selves.

Sammy Ameobi, Wes HardingSammy Ameobi dribbles past a Rotherham player | Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Sammy Ameobi, the ungainly 6’4 winger, can often be an acquired taste when it comes to aesthetics, but after a number of eye-catching displays coming in off the left, nobody is doubting what he brings to the table. Not anymore.

While his output in terms of goal contributions leaves much to be desired (he’s notched just six goals and ten assists in his 51 appearances), Ameobi continues to confound opposition defenders with his technical ability for a man of such size, with his unorthodox dribbling style making him incredibly difficult to contain.

It was a rocky start for Ameobi at Forest – many questioned his ability to link up with others and keep attacks flowing – but for much of the last six months he has been a beacon of ingenuity going forward, and that has only continued under Hughton.





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