A season that promised so much for Nottingham Forest is threatening to slip away from them as the Reds fell to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Birmingham City on Saturday in a game that also saw defender Yohan Benalouane shown a straight red card.
The defeat is the second in Martin O’Neill’s three games in charge of the Reds and despite being so early into his tenure, the Forest legend is already under some pressure from fans.
Though they currently sit in 12th in the Championship table, Forest are only five points off the play-off places with any hopes of promotion this season currently dangling by a thread.
O’Neill’s men now face a crucial month with in-form Brentford to visit the City Ground on Saturday before two difficult away fixtures against West Bromwich Albion and Preston North End take Forest into a massive East Midlands Derby on Monday 25th February.
O’Neill has been given an eighteen-month contract, tasked with getting Forest promoted to the Premier League by the end of next season at the latest.
After having gone for evolution rather than revolution in the January transfer window, the former Republic of Ireland manager will unquestionably need time to settle into the job and the shape the squad in his fashion but another defeat on Saturday has not helped lift the mood of frustration at the City Ground.
It has to be said that issues Forest are having are not unique to O’Neill’s time in charge.
Aitor Karanka ultimately left the role having overseen a run of just one win in six games over December with Forest failing to hit the back of the net in four of those fixtures.
The Reds continue to look toothless in front of goal and they’ve now gone goalless in seven out of their last ten league games.
With their side currently so impotent in front of goal, it’s no surprise that supporters are clamouring for top ‘scorer Lewis Grabban and record signing Joao Carvalho who both found themselves starting from the bench on Saturday.
It was the third successive time Carvalho occupied the bench since O’Neill took over whilst Grabban also sat out last week’s 3-1 win over Wigan Athletic.
Football, as they say, is a results based business and O’Neill’s time as Forest manager will be judged by the results he gets rather than the teams he picks.
However leaving out your most prolific marksman and arguably your most creative playmaker, and then losing without getting a goal is going to raise a few eyebrows.
It’s not that Forest are completely reliant on Grabban for goals. Wingers Joe Lolley and Matty Cash both have a very respectable eight each so far this season and the pair both scored in the Wigan victory.
Grabban however has 15 goals to his name and also a history of scoring goals at this level.
Whilst O’Neill currently favours the physicality of forward Daryl Murphy, Grabban is much more clinical in front of goal and could give Forest the cutting edge they’re currently missing.
A return to the team for Carvalho also does not guarantee goals.
The Portugese playmaker arrived in the summer for 15 million Euros and has three goals and six assists to his name so far.
I’m sure many Forest fans would have liked a better return from the 21-year-old but it has taken him to settle into life in the Championship and he will undoubtedly be better for the experience next season.
He is one of, if not the most creative player in Forest’s squad however and the side badly missed his creativity in the recent 1-0 home loss to Bristol City. He was also impressive in his twenty-minute cameo against Birmingham at the weekend.
Forest currently have 42 league goals this season with nine teams scoring more than that tally so far.
They have the joint fifth best defence in the division, however which highlights the one area of the field where the Reds need improvement if they are going to fulfil their promotion ambition.
Time is running out for O’Neill’s charges if this is going to be the year they return to the Premier League. Starting on Saturday they need to put a consistent run of form together that can drag them up the table and to do that, they’re going to need to start scoring more goals. How they manage that is for O’Neill to work out though he may look to his bench for inspiration.