"The only way to come out of the embargo is to get promotion to The Premier League – so it gives us a fantastic target going forward.”
…so said Stuart Pearce in his usual honest and (perhaps too) revealing style.
After a fantastic start, Pearce’s men have run into problems. Be it injuries to key players, a confidence crisis – or even the possibility that they were overachieving in the first place, a huge dip in form has led to the first murmurings of discontent since Psycho’s return.
Pearce's minority of detractors have been saying he's not the man to lead Forest back to The Premier League for a while to be fair, and already claim promotion this season has slipped away – despite only being 21 games into the season.
Even when speaking to many believers, there is a sentiment that The Reds probably won't go up first time, that this was always going to be a rebuilding season and Pearce, club legend that he is, needs – no, deserves – time.
Pearce himself, however, was never going to think like that, and the embargo has given him even more motivation than ever to gain promotion straight away.
2014/15 is probably Forest's best chance to win promotion while under their transfer embargo; can they do it?
There is an argument to say they are already too far behind - even at this relatively early stage of the season.
Statistics back this up; they show that it is very difficult to launch a promotion bid from mid table. Since the inception of The Championship ten years ago, of all the teams eventually promoted, only four were not occupying a top six spot at this point of the season (after 21 games).
It has even been rare for such clubs to go up via the play-offs; eight out of the ten winners were in the top six at this stage. Simply put, the successful teams in The Championship tend to be successful all season long.
The Anti-Statistic Brigade will grumble that every season is different and the past has no bearing on the future; while this is true, statistics such as those above indicate a trend, and trends exist for a reason: the reason for this trend is that if a team is not good enough to have muscled it's way into the top six of the league by now, they are probably not promotion material, and are unlikely to improve enough to change this.
And there has only been one season as open as those two years; this one (see graph, right. Click to enlarge).
This season, there are twice them amount of teams you would statistically predict to be within 10 points of leaders Bournemouth at this stage, based on past performance1. The league is wide open.
The conditions are in place for someone to rise from mid-table and win promotion, but an important factor in such a revival would be the fans.
Forest are a big club for this level and are well overdue some success; of their Championship rivals, only the likes of Bournemouth, Brentford, Huddersfield, Millwall, Rotherham and Brighton have been absent from the top tier longer.
Impatience under such circumstances is understandable, but in Stuart Pearce we have a manager uniquely capable of keeping the fans onside. I recently undertook a small survey of fans; 75% of respondents thought Psycho was the right man for the job.
Were any other manager in charge, you could envisage the fans getting on players backs, but so far their loyalty to Pearce has not only prolonged patience, but driven the team on. The atmosphere both home and away this season has been as good as anything I can remember personally.
Such support will be essential considering the existing team must improve without significant reinforcements. The Financial Fair Play embargo will make strengthening difficult, as they will struggle to bring in any player wanted by other clubs.
Pearce himself is doing a good job of downplaying the significance of the embargo, but even if Forest cannot bring in players of sufficient quality to improve the team, they still have Jack Hobbs and Andy Reid returning from injury.
Jack Hobbs has been sorely missed from the back four, but it was the loss of Andy Reid which turned Forest from table-toppers to also-rans. The longer he stays fit, the more inexorable Forest's rise in fortunes will be.
There seems an almost resignation that Forest will not be promoted this season - perhaps I've misread that and it is merely a willingness to give the manager time, which is no bad thing, but it's my belief that we've got a lot to look forward to in the next few months.
Pearce himself is certainly readying himself for a real crack at promotion, and has been at pains to reassure supporters - particularly in light of the FFP embargo. Forest's prized assets will not be sold - in fact the manager is looking to strengthen.
This is probably the best Forest squad since their relegation from the top flight, a squad who’ve already demonstrated they can win games, led by a born winner, supported by one of the most positive Forest crowds in living memory, in an unusually open Championship season.
What chance promotion? Don’t count them out.
Thanks for reading, and COYR.
1 There are 11 other teams within ten points of Bournemouth, who occupy 1st position. The median amount of teams we would expect - based on the previous ten seasons - is 4.5, less than half as many teams are there are currently.