It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for – no, Charlie Austin hasn’t just pulled into The City Ground car park, straight into Darren Pratley's parking space, far more importantly it’s the opening game of the season as Forest gleefully welcome Huddersfield Town back to Nottingham.
Expectations are often inflated at this time of year, and with exciting new signings completed and memories of their last visit still fresh, fans of The Garibaldi could be forgiven for looking forward to seeing their team get stuck into The Terriers again. Huddersfield fans for their part seem apprehensive on the whole, but as usual this should not be seen as an automatic three points.
Lest any Forest fan look down on our first opponents – unwise in The Championship– we should remember that even considering our flirt with promotion, Forest finished only 9 points above them. Indeed, Huddersfield finished the season strongly under new manager Mark Robins, losing only one of their last six games.
Town's strength lies in going forward – they have good attacking options and have strengthened this over the summer, making permanent signings of Adam Hammill and James Vaughan – both proven performers at this level. They have also brought in old boy Jon Stead among others.
A side with tricky wingers, and strikers who are renowned aerial danger-men, might look to capitalise on this – we have already seen proof of what James Vaughan can do if allowed to reach crosses, scoring one and hitting the inside of our post the last time he played in front of the Trent End (see right). Stead is, if anything, a better header of the ball. Although Forest have focused on improving this vulnerability, our greatest threat will surely be from the air and without diligent defending we will be punished.
Another consideration should be the fact that Huddersfield, despite not appearing against us, were the third best side in the league last season at defending a lead when away from home. Their opponents equalised on only 33% of occasions, and The Terriers won on a very impressive 78% of occasions. If we let them edge ahead again, we may be less fortunate than in our last encounter.
Indeed, the 6-1 thrashing was only Mark Robins’ first league game managing Huddersfield. Usefully for us, he led them into fifteen Championship games – the same as Billy Davies. Comparing their records leaves Billy on top, but where he exploded onto the scene with a ten match unbeaten run, Robins worked his way into his new job and actually outpointed Davies in the last ten games of the season.
This improvement was due to Huddersfield tightening up their defence, but this remains their weakness. They conceded a large amount of goals – only Peterborough and Bristol City let in more – and had an alarming tendency to capitulate entirely, letting in four or more goals on six occasions, which is more than any other team in the league.
Where Forest have gone to the transfer market to improve their weaknesses, Huddersfield appear to have taken a different approach and ignored it – preferring to bring in strikers (four at the last count). Their fans seem to think this will be their downfall and expect “another hefty goals against column” this season. I’m told they will also be without their regular left back for the opener – which should weaken them further.
Joel Lynch will probably slot into this position, also his bane at Forest. We saw glimmers of quality from him at centre-back – indeed he was part of the meanest central defensive pairing since Forest’s return to The Championship – but a full-back he is not, and I’m told he’s struggled at Huddersfield when playing here, and seemed unsettled. It will be interesting to see how he does against one of our shiny new wingers.
Another point worth noting is Huddersfield’s dire record against the better teams in the league last season (see left). Overall, they were far from the worst team in the league, however whenever they came up against quality they floundered, their poor defence letting in more than two goals per game. This continued even under Robins, who lost four out of four games against opponents who finished in the top 8. Perhaps his record would have looked different had they not already played most of the big guns.
It is difficult to foresee how Forest will shape up. We have a whole team of attacking options, surely the envy of the division (see right). Encouragingly they are all different kinds of players and with the addition of three wide men (proven threat Jamie Mackie, Olympiakos import Djamel Abdoun, and exciting prospect Jamie Paterson), The Reds should be able to come up with various tactics going forward. Last season, Billy’s system brought immediate success, but teams soon learnt how to deny space to Forest’s narrow attack, which proved fatal for our playoff push. He now has options galore.
With Forest’s quality, and considering our opponents’ poor record last season against the better teams, and their neglected defence, Saturday should see a positive start. Huddersfield were able to scrap with the mid-table teams and their relegation rivals with some success – this is where they picked up their points – but again they will struggle to keep out the goals against the best. Billy Davies has a plethora of attacking talent at his disposal – whichever team he picks should be capable of scoring goals, and although their strikers pose a threat and will need to be marked tightly, Huddersfield may still have a few crumbly defensive performances in them yet.
Looking at various forums, many Huddersfield fans fear a thrashing, Forest fans generally expect a goal feast – this should be simple, right? In any other league perhaps, but this is The Championship. Anything can happen, it will happen, and we at Forest Boffin can’t wait for kick off!
Thanks to the Huddersfield fans at Down at the Mac forum for their knowledgeable and kind help, thanks for reading, and COYR!