Welcome to my end of season round up from the banks of the River Trent. My last update took us up to the end of December which saw us sitting at the top of the Championship table after going undefeated from the start totalling 25 matches that included 17 clean sheets. The question was could we maintain our form and push for promotion.
We started the month of January off with a bit of an injury crisis to our front line, we had Lewis Grabban, Rafa Mir and Zach Clough all on the treatment table. I had an option of recalling Tyler Walker from his loan spell at Lincoln City so that is exactly what I decided to do and guess what? Yeah you guessed it, he returned carrying a knock. We had money in the transfer budget to go out and sign a forward but the options at our disposal did not fall in to both our financial plan and football aesthetic. What we did have though was a 17 year old Hungarian forward called Rajmund Molnàr (left) who I purchased from Benfica in the summer as a 16 year old. Along with Molnàr I also decided to use Brennan Johnson in the deep lying forward role with the first test being at the City Ground against a mid table Blackburn Rovers side on New Years Day.
The City Ground faithful were in expectant mood after our performance in the first half of the season but they were soon silenced when Blackburn’s Bradley Dack put Rovers 1 up after just 3 minutes. We responded well and Brennan Johnson playing in the forward role came close to an equaliser when beating the offside trap but pulling his shot wide. Nuno Tavares was causing Rovers trouble down the left side combining well with his fellow countryman and Benfica team mate Jota. Rovers held out until the break and at 0-1 down I decided to tear a strip off the lads at the break.
The response out on the pitch was evident to see with us dominating our visitors and getting our reward in the 61st minute through Brennan Johnson who coolly finished after a through ball from Carvalho. We pushed for a winner but lacked the cutting edge so I decided to give the 17 year old Molnàr his debut replacing Johnson who had done himself proud.
The City Ground faithful did not have long to wait to the youngsters promise when in the 81st minute Rajmund Molnàr made it a scoring debut when put in 1v1 the young Hungarian placed a first time shot beyond the Rovers keeper to seal a valuable 3 points. This kid could become a superstar and I really hope it’s with us in the Premier League.
Our FA Cup 3rd round tie against Liverpool was next and whilst I wanted to have a go at our old foes from Merseyside I decided to rotate the side for our trip to Anfield prioritising our push for promotion. In all honesty Livepool had more than enough to see us off beating us 3-1 with our goal coming in the way of an injury time penalty converted by Ben Watson.
The board wanted us to reach the 4th round but I quite happy to trade a 4th round place for promotion come the end of the season.
A 3-1 win at the Majewski against Reading saw Rajmund Molnàr get his 2nd in two games sandwiched between goals from Jack Robinson and Tiago Silva extending our unbeaten run in the league to 27 games.
Relegation threatened Luton Town came to Nottingham with a defensive formation looking to frustrate us, but Albert Adomah put us 1-0 up after just 3 minutes and then the young Hungarian taking Nottingham by storm Rajmund Molnàr doubled our lead in the 36th minute with another well taken effort. It’s been a fantastic start to life in England for Molnàr but our curse of forward injuries would strike him down after a rash challenge in the 2nd half that will sideline the young forward for at least a month.
We finished the first month of the year off with a trip to face third placed promotion contenders Brentford at Griffin Park. Tyler Walker started up front for us after passing a fitness test but it was our Portuguese contingent who were pulling the strings with Carvalho and Silva controlling the game but after a goalless first half it was Portuguese left back Yuri Ribeiro who put us 1-0 up in the 64th minute. Brentford hit back in the 79th minute with Watkins levelling the game with what would be the last goal of the game.
Matchday 30 already and St Andrew’s would be the venue for our opening game in February against Birmingham City. The Blues are having a good season and proved a tough opponent with us running out 1-0 winners with a Jota solo goal in the 13th minute that takes our unbeaten run to 30 games. That unbeaten run came to an abrupt end when Leeds Utd turned up at the City Ground and hammered us 0-4 in a game which our Yorkshire rivals played us off the park no excuses. The big test now for us was how would we respond to our first defeat of the season and after just over half an hour in our next game on Trentside we were 2-0 up against Charlton Athletic and absolutely bossing the game with Tiago Silva (left) the creator in chief for both his Portuguese comrades Jota and Joào Carvalho to fire us in to a 2 goal lead at the break. The second half was a mystery to me we blew a two goal lead against the league’s bottom club who could have gone on to pinch it but luckily enough we came away with a 2-2 draw and a point but it felt very much like a defeat.
I decided that for our next game away at the Hawthorns against Slaven Bilic’s West Bromwich Albion that I would change our style to a possession focused system using the same shape but going for the Tika Taka with Tiago Silva conducting things in the middle of the park. They say two games are never the same but this one felt like it was the last because not only did two of the Portuguese players in Rafa Mir and Yuri Ribeiro give us a 2-0 lead after half an hour but we threw the game away by conceding two second half goals to share the spoils.
We recorded our third draw on the bounce with a 1-1 draw when we hosted Queens Park Rangers at the City Ground. We are still topping the table thanks to Joe Lolley who netted our goal in the 52nd minute. Tiago Silva was the man of the match again, the Portuguese midfielder is performing week in week out and looking very much at home in Nottingham.
It was Tiago Silva who opened the scoring on the road against Cardiff City after just 3 minutes and it was his countryman Rafa Mir who secured a 2-0 win in the 61st minute meaning that we had won our first game after 4 winless games.
We are now using two tactics, both of which use the same 4-3-3 / 4-1-2-2-1 formation but our second system is built for us on the road. Like I mentioned above we are now playing a possession based system built for us to take the sting out of our opponents with plenty of ball retention and patience.
We put the system to the test in our next game at the Riverside against Middlesbrough and it worked a treat limiting the Boro to just two shots on goal whilst one of them was a penalty that gave our hosts a 1 goal lead at the break. We got back on level terms when Rafa Mir headed home from a Carvalho corner in the 59th minute. The goal was the catalyst for us to go and look for all three points and with just 15 minutes of normal time remaining Tiago Silva finished a flowing move from back to front to silence the home crowd and give our travelling supporters something to sing about on the trip back to Nottingham.
We are now in to the nitty gritty part of the season and a big month ahead of us that could make or break our season. It is important that we keep our heads and focus on getting the job done. I have spoke a lot about our Portuguese contingent and it was three of them that got the goals when we entertained Millwall in the first game of the month at the City Ground. It was winger Jota who got us underway with a solo dribble ending in beating the visitors keeper with a low drive in the 20th minute. Wing back Nuno Tavares (Left) put us 2-0 up after some good link up play with Silva who yet again was running the midfield. Joáo Carvalho made it 3-0 just after the half hour mark with a curling effort that beat the keeper to the left. It would take an almighty effort from Millwall to get anything out of this game now and despite a goal for our visitors in the 2nd period we took all three points and gave Lewis Grabban some valuable playing time after returning from injury.
The small trip up the M1 to Hillsborough to face Sheffield Wednesday was next and despite outplaying our hosts for the biggest part of the game we could not find a way past the Wednesday keeper and ended up conceding an early goal that we failed to peg back. Our lack of finishing on the day cost us any chance of getting anything out of the game and we now have to guard against complacency.
With the end of the season upon us it’s make or break with our push for promotion and the first obstacle in our way was Derby County our East Midlands rivals in their own back yard. So we prepared for the short journey down the A52 with a team meeting to give the lads a bit of encouragement going in to the derby. On the day we dominated the derby but needed an own goal from the Derby keeper to get three points and a 1-0 win. We are a step closer to automatic promotion and Tiago Silva is on fire in our midfield alongside countryman Joáo Carvalho our record signing. A Ryan Yates 9th minute goal was enough to beat Fulham on Good Friday meaning that we are just a point away from gaining automatic promotion. It was also our 23rd clean sheet of the season which in the scheme of things is not a bad record in the Championship given how competitive it is.
We made the trip to Lancashire to face Preston North End knowing that a point would take us back in to the big time ahead of the boards vision. Preston made it difficult for us however we tried and when Rafa Mir hit the post after good work from Matty Cash down the right flank late on it looked like a draw would be the end result with Preston not troubling the Garibaldi back line for the first 80 minutes, however football is a funny old game and when Jack Robinson gave away a penalty in the 88th minute it looked like that we would have to wait until our next game to try and secure promotion. Brice Samba had other ideas though and when he saved the resulting penalty we had done it, Forest are Promoted with a 0-0 draw at Deepdale.
We celebrated promotion with an home game against Swansea City who surprisingly are languishing in the bottom half of the table. The packed City Ground warmed to the appearance of the team and did not have long to wait for a chance to celebrate when captain Joe Worrall scored what turned out to be the winning goal of the game in the 1st minute giving us a 1-0 win to not only secure three points but to keep clean sheet number 25 from 44 games and secure top spot making us Champions.
We then visited Oakwell for the penultimate game of the season against Barnsley who have found themselves in a relegation battle this season and it was an opportunity to give a run out to one or two fringe players who came in and ground out a 1-0 win with our goal coming via Alfa Semedo in the 28th minute. The game ended without either side looking like they could add to the scoreline meaning we finish the month without conceding a goal in the 5 matches played in April.
A packed City Ground for the final game of the season against relegated Stoke City with the Garibaldi faithful here to see the presentation of the Championship trophy to their champions. The game itself would take second billing although leading scorer Jota netted his 12th goal of the season in a 1-0 win that took our clean sheet total in the league to 27 from 46 matches setting a new club and I think divisional record. On loan winger Jota was our top scorer with 12 goals followed by on loan forward Rafa Mir and winger Joe Lolley on 10 goals each. Both Joào Carvalho and Tiago Silva each pitching in with 6 goals each. It was the same midfield duo who led the way in the assists table with 11 and 9 respectively. Tiago Silva was voted the fans player of the season after a superb season in the reds midfield.
What a first season for us not only did we win the Championship but we did it in style playing an attacking brand of football whilst keeping it tight at the back, very tight with 27 clean sheets to our record the board are very pleased. We more than met the boards vision with promotion a season ahead of their vision and also met the Carabao Cup expectation but after a 3rd round FA Cup defeat to Liverpool we failed to meet expectation of reaching the 4th round. My focus now is firmly on building a squad that I think can give us a chance of meeting the boards vision of ‘fight bravely against relegation’ whilst playing ‘attacking football’ which is probably not the way that I would have approached our first season back in the Premier League but I have made a commitment to the board that we will play attacking football so I will attempt to build a squad which will give us a chance of doing it. I do think that I will have to dip in to the transfer market to achieve this because I don’t think our youth are ready to be dropped in to a Premier League survival campaign as yet.
On the subject of our Youth Development both the Under 23 and Under 18 squads had successful seasons with the Under 23’s winning their Division and the Under 18’s losing in the Final to QPR after winning their Division. I do plan to loan a lot of our development squad out during the next season to get some first team experience before returning back to us.
Thank you for taking the time to drop in and have a read and I hope you return to check out my transfer special that will open our 2nd season with me bringing back a former player to help us maintain an attacking focus in the Premier League.