It hasn't been the start any of us would have expected. The team was obviously going to take time to gel and preseason had gone very well, but as soon as the first ball was kicked it seemed to have come to nought. Strangely, if not inexplicably, the reality of Championship football has become all too real. Performances were mixed if not altogether bad, results were all too often draws, which suit no one and the plans and composure that seemed to run through the whole of the club this summer looked as if they were being thrown out of the window. Now, on the back of two wins at least and potentially the return to what we can hope and expect to be something like 'normal service' it's a good moment to review where we are, what we have learned so far and what we can hope for from the rest of the season after these initial traumas.
Firstly we have a team with more character and fight in it now. Whilst the confidence and certainty required might have been missing, there has been more determination to dig ourselves out of holes of our own making this season. Bristol, Bury, Wigan and Birmingham have had to settle for less than they were hoping for thanks to our determination to play to final whistle and arguably a fitness level that might have been the one tangible benefit from a hard preseason. Ability counts for a lot but without this sort of gritty determination a team will not be able to escape this league. For me this is a massive tick for our future prospects. Whilst we haven't been able use our squad depth of talent as leverage so far we have managed to gain points through their less sexy attributes of ambition and determination. This will serve us well as the season pans out.
We have had a very mixed set of results from some of our 'star pupils' so far this term. Whilst those familiar faces such as Lolley, Cash and Osborn have shown a lot of their quality when picked or off the bench the new signings have had mixed fortunes. Fox has been a rock but Watson has provided more incorrect answers than right ones when questioned. Guedioura has been back to his best, Figueiredo strangely wobbly and now down the pecking order as a result of this but it's the new signings that were always going to be the ones we hoped could transform our fortunes. Lewis Grabban knows where the goal is and has refound it now in the last couple of games, but anyone thinking this is the 'real him' are doing him an awful disservice. He is far better than this. He looks not only lacking in confidence but also tired to me. There's no doubt he's weighed down by expectations and whilst I don't know what's being said behind closed doors he's crying out for all the support and encouragement on offer in spades. He will pay us back but for the moment he needs to have all the weight taken off his shoulders. Equally Daryl Murphy needs to not be allowed to be excused extra homework by virtue of his ability to find the net but asked what he wants his legacy to be. He's in the twilight of his career and can enjoy a significant and memorably fitting cameo if he's prepared to put in the effort when his chances come. He's made for the role but needs to embrace it too. Hilal Soudani has shown exactly what he offers. He's a clever and capable footballer who will win us points and give us options. The only disappointment is we haven't been able to make the most of it so far and he's currently still stuck on the sidelines. We have several other signings yet to pull on a shirt and Daws cuts a frustrated yet potentially hugely influential figure at the moment. The two wildcard defensive signings of Saidy Janko and Michael Hefele have looked very sound though if early signs are anything to go by. Janko looks solid, calm and very capable. With Robinson also growing into the team we once again look to have solid options at fullback. Hefele will ruffle feathers wherever he goes. I love his almost insane approach and zest for the game. He will suck a lot of the trouble his way and take the weight off the more delicate members of the team. Simple, solid and reliable - our fourth best centre half really but you try and drop him? You can't at the moment! Sam Byram must have done something wrong in a previous life. Thankfully we should not miss him as we might have but hopefully he can come back early next year and offer something new to an exciting, confident team at the right end of the table by then.
The big gamble and huge potential payback was on the three young Portuguese players of course though. Carvalho has been given the most opportunity and has shown his huge potential yet frustratingly very little tangible evidence in terms of results. A stunning goal and lots of creativity that so far has generally been on a slightly different wavelength to his team mates. I don't think there can be doubts about him, quite the contrary, but this only makes the lack of impact more disappointing. He deserves a lot of credit for the effort he undoubtedly puts in though, he runs forever. Goncalves on the other hand has failed to do anything so far. When he's played he's been totally anonymous and is only slowly creeping his way back into contention thanks, I imagine, to his form in training. I am certain his troubles are all mental. He's painfully quiet and has found life in Nottingham a challenge. I am equally confident he has a huge amount of talent, as much if not more than the other two despite him not showing us any of it so far. We hopefully have that to look forward to. He will be as much of a new signing as the Iranian forward who everyone accepts is coming but hasn't quite appeared thus far. Finally we have Mr. Dias. For me this is our trump card. Show him the goal and he will score. Again his chances have been limited and his successes occasional too. He's shown a lot but delivered very little. Hopefully when the spine of the team settles and the changes in the wingers are regular and positive, he will be making the same impact as the other three. The prospect of Cash, Lolley and then the in-form Goncalves and Dias too is a mouthwatering prospect. In this scenario I can see Dias eclipsing the goalscoring exploits of the others - there's a lot to come from him.
Things haven't really clicked at all so far yet we still sit two points from the playoffs and only 4 from top spot. If this is when we are not playing to anything close to our potential then there is a lot to look forward to. I only think Aitor is starting to settle on his best 11 and hasn't really been able to develop a consistent style of play because of injuries, muddled thinking and lack of form in the middle of the pitch so far either. We always knew the team wouldn't gel overnight and it really hasn't. Even the most pessimistic fan will acknowledge that things can only get better than what we have seen so far. I think we have only glimpsed the potential of this team for parts of the WBA and Newcastle games when they were 'up for it' and playing against teams who were ready and able to mix it with us. When we've been faced with negative tactics we have had most trouble in playing the game we wanted to. It will come though.
So whilst things look a whole lot more rosy than they did only a few days ago the main thing we can say about the season so far is, thankfully, 'could do better'. We should therefore still be just as optimistic as we were before KO and have the belief that when things get really serious next Spring the kinks will be long gone and this Forest team will be an entirely different proposition than they have been so far this season. It's a marathon not a sprint and we have set off at a gentle jog so far, hopefully there's an almighty kick left for when we get within sight of the finishing line and the bell rings.