Can Chris Hughton change the narrative at Nottingham Forest?

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 07 October 2020, 13:22

After 17 months in the wilderness, Chris Hughton has returned to the dugout. 

The former Newcastle and Brighton boss was a frequent fixture in next manager betting markets last season - and through the summer - but after resisting a return to Birmingham City and an opening at Bristol City, he’s selected Nottingham Forest as his next destination.

Football has an insatiable appetite for rise-and-fall narratives, yet 21 years of frustration and failure have seen Forest struggle to escape the clutches of the EFL. In other wods, there's not been much to smile about.

It’s now up to Hughton to tear up the same-old script and rewrite the narrative at the club, a narrative that finally looked to have changed under his predecessor Sabri Lamouchi, only to almost inevitably end in crushing disappointment. A recurring theme for Forest fans.

Can Hughton instigate a promising new era at The Reds, or will he simply become a mere footnote in their managerial history, like so many before him?

Let’s take a look...

An absolute avalanche of managers

Hughton is the 19th, yes 19th, different permanent Nottingham Forest manager since they were relegated from the Premier League in 1999 (Billy Davies managed the club twice). 

Forest have tried it all in their rolling doors approach to management; from rookies to veterans, club legends, foreigners and even a former England manager. 

David Platt was in the dugout at the tail-end of the 20th century, Steve Pearce lasted half-a-year, and the less said about Steve McClaren’s spell the better.

Hughton’s the seventh different incumbent in the last four years alone, and if - IF - he makes it to 60 matches it will be the highest tally of any Forest boss since Davies’ first spell nine years ago - an achievement in itself.

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Chris Hughton is back

What’s his Championship record like?

Very, very good.

Hughton’s credentials are excellent. He has two promotions on his name; the first was a title triumph with Newcastle (2009/10), then came a historic automatic promotion with Brighton in 2016/17. He also led Birmingham City into the play-offs, in his one and only season at the helm.

In four full seasons in the Championship Hughton has finished: 1st, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd. Say what you want about his style - more on that in a moment - but that is an exceptional return.

Compare that to Forest, who only have three top-four finishes in 18 seasons since they returned to the second-tier.

Are there concerns over his style of play?

Some sections of the Forest fanbase will no doubt air concerns about Hughton’s style, after all it was the main reason Brighton opted to trade him for Graham Potter in the summer of 2019.

Hughton has been criticised over his preference for a more pragmatic and cautious style of play. However, while to a certain extent this is fair, his ability to organise and inspire have been fundamental to his successes. Not only did he propel Brighton into the Premier League, but he kept them there for consecutive campaigns. It may not always have been thrilling, but it was effective.

While initially efficient and rewarding in terms of results, Lamouchi’s own playing style became the main source of frustration for Forest fans, especially in 2020. Come the end of the Frenchman's tenure, Forest were starved of wins, points and goals, so you can understand the request for more excitement and panache.

It would be an exaggeration to state that Forest will develop a cavalier style under Houghton, but his compact, coordinated approach, ability to unite and motivate is what’s worked wonders in the past. He’s calm under pressure, yet there’s also a steely toughness to him. Underestimate him at your peril.

Last word

Forest haven’t finished in the top-six since 2011, while they only have two top-10s to show from the last seven seasons, but promisingly they have come in their last two campaigns; under Martin O’Neill, then Lamouchi.

Hughton arrives at a confidence-crushed club that have lost their last seven successive matches, are winless in 11, and have only scored once this season, so his first task is simply to get points on the board, delete the lethargy and restore self-belief. 

He’ll not be thinking about mounting a play-off charge just yet, but if results improve, the optimism - and expectations - will come flooding back. While there will always be lingering concerns over his style, Forest are in safe hands with an experienced, proven and successful manager, whose strength of character, intelligence and structured approach to the game makes him an ideal appointment.

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