Last season Nottingham Forest completed its fairy tale story by securing promotion to the Premier League after a 23-year absence. The two-time European Champions clinched their long-awaited return to the top-flight for the first time since 1999 via a 1-nil playoff victory over Huddersfield courtesy of an own goal by Levi Colwill.
Manager Steve Cooper spearheaded Forest’s return to the Premier League after he took over from Chris Hughton, who had led the club to its worst ever start in 108 years, taking just a single point from his first seven games.
The 23-year Journey
Nottingham Forest’s 23-year wait for a Premier League return is unique, as not many English clubs can boast of a trophy cabinet consisting of Two European Cups, an English top-flight title and four League Cup successes. Only Chelsea, Man United and Liverpool have such silverware.
The waiting period has seen Forest play 1,069 league and playoff games, clocking over 100,000 miles journeying to and from those league games, amounting to the equivalent of circling the globe more than four times. A total of twenty managers have been unveiled and later shown the exit door during this period, finally resulting in the arrival of hero Steve Cooper, who delivered the much-awaited fairy tale return.
Going back to 1999, no one in the right frame of mind would have for a second thought it would take a decorated club like Forest 23 years to return to the Premier League. After all, the club had come back up immediately twice in the previous five years after suffering unexpected relegations to the Championship. BBC radio correspondent Colin Fray, who has been commentating on Forest matches for 31 years, described Forest as a “yo-yo club”, and as such, an immediate return to the top flight was once again expected when they suffered relegation in 1999.
What followed the expected blip was six seasons in the second division, which included a play-off defeat against Sheffield United in 2003. The biggest shock occurred in 2005 when Forest became the first European Cup-winning club to be relegated to a domestic league’s third division. At this point, the reality began to set in that this was no longer the European Cup-winning club, and a return to the Premier League was far away. Fray said:
“There have been so many lows over the years, but relegation to League One and the dawning realization that you would be playing in that cup after climbing to the pinnacle of European football for two years in a row was a wake-up call.”
One season in the third division quickly turned into three after the club lost a semifinal playoff match against Yeovil Town despite securing a 2-nil victory in the away leg and needing only a draw or a 1-nil loss in the home fixture. It was, however, during their time in League One that the club was able to build any sort of structure and repurpose the club on the right path under the stewardship of manager Colin Calderwood and owner Nigel Doughty who purchased the club for £11m and saved it from going into administration in 1999.
Forest finally secured a return to the Championship 2008-09 season, with Calderwood sacked just four months into the first season up. Billy Davies immediately took over and guided the club to back-to-back playoff campaigns which ended in semifinal defeats. A period of turmoil followed Davies’ exit, with the club managing only a top ten finish thrice in three years. A new owner Fawaz Al Hasawi came in following the death of Doughty. His eagerness to quickly see the club back in the Premier led him to spend too much on transfers, which led to an 18-month transfer embargo. During his five years as club custodian, Hasawi hired and sacked no fewer than eight managers.
Current owner and Greek shipping magnate Evangelos Marikanas purchased the club from Hasawi in 2017. Managers such as Mark Warburton, Aitor Karanka, Martin O’Neil, Sabri Lamouchi and Chris Hughton have all been hired and sacked by Marikas, with Hughton being the last one, making way for Cooper.
Rooted to the bottom of the table on his arrival, Cooper secured a fifth-place finish in the league, which was enough for the playoffs. He guided them to their first-ever playoff final and secured the return to the Premier League. He also oversaw the club’s best-ever FA Cup run, including victories over Huddersfield, Arsenal, and Leicester.
Who is Steve Cooper?
Steve Cooper is the son of former Premier League referee Keith Cooper. Previously a footballer, he featured for the likes of The New Saints, Rhyl, Bangor City, and Porthmadog in the Welsh League. However, throughout his time as a footballer, Cooper always had his eyes fixed on being a manager. His burning desire saw him earn his UEFA Pro Licence at the young age of 27.
He began his coaching career at Wrexham academy, quickly progressing through the ranks to become the club’s head of Youth. He soon moved to Liverpool academy, where he worked with the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Raheem Sterling. Cooper joined the Football Association in 2013 and led the England U-17s (with the likes of Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho) to a World Cup triumph in 2015.
After his time with the Football Association, Cooper joined Swansea, where he did a fantastic job until he left by mutual consent in July 2021.
Ever since Steve Cooper was placed in charge of Forest eight games into the season, he has put the team on the front foot at all times. Forest finished fourth with 80 points, having scored 73 goals, which was the third highest in the league. The defense shone, conceding only 40 goals, the second-fewest among all Championship teams.
While Cooper loved to see his team in possession of the ball for the majority of the match, this Forest side was also efficient without the ball, becoming the best counter-attacking side in the Championship last season. The team is adept at making one-touch passes that usually find one of the fullbacks who puts a ball into the box for the attackers. The perfect example of the team’s ability to play beautiful counter-attacking football was the 5-1 victory over Swansea City during which the team had just 30% possession.
Throughout the 2021-22 season, Cooper deployed 3-4-1-2 formation, which switched to 5-3-2 when the team wasn’t in possession of the ball. He ensured his players were flexible enough to adapt to positional and tactical changes during the game. A back three of Scott Mckenna, Joe Worrall, and Steve Cook formed the watertight defensive line that conceded the fewest number of goals in the Championship last season.
Jack Colback and Middlesbrough loanee Djed Spence were stationed as wing-backs just in front of the back three. An integral part of the team’s attack, the wing-backs were given total freedom to bomb forward in transition. The importance of the fullbacks to the team’s attack is evidenced by 78% of Forest’s attacks last season coming from the flank. Colback and Spence contributed 16 goal involvements to the team’s promotion-winning campaign.
Central midfielders James Garner and Ryan Yates were both tasked with playing the box-to-box role, but a closer look at their position shows that Garner played a little deeper while Yates bombed forward. Just ahead of them was Philip Zinchernagel, who excelled as the team’s playmaker. Forward Brennan Johnson was the club’s first-choice striker, while Keinan Davis, Sam Surridge, and Lewis Grabban all took turns to partner him up front. Johnson contributed 19 goals plus 10 assists last season.
However, Garner, Davis, Spence, and Zinckernagel were all borrowed assets last season; they have since returned to their parent clubs (with Spence then sold to Tottenham). Let’s take a look at the club’s new signings who could replace them and add extra quality to the team.
Nottingham Forest has bolstered options between the posts by adding two proven Premier League keepers in Man United’s Dean Henderson (one-year loan) and Burnley’s Wayne Hennessey (two-year deal). In defense, Forest bought fullbacks Neco Williams from Liverpool, Harry Toffolo from Huddersfield Town, Nikolas Ioannou from Como 1907, and Guilian Biancone from Troyes. Center-back Moussa Niakhate has also been acquired from Fsv Mainz 05.
In midfield, central midfielder Lewis O’ Brien has been signed from Huddersfield, while Taiwo Awoniyi (see Spotlight here), Nuno Da Costa, and Jesse Lingard have been signed to bolster the team’s attack.
Best Fantasy Prospects
Nottingham Forest is scheduled to begin the season with a number of tough fixtures, West Ham, Newcastle, Tottenham, and Manchester City being four of their first five fixtures. However, the sledding gets better from game week 6-11 with a run of games which includes much relegation-fodder in Bournemouth, Leeds, Fulham, Brighton, and Wolves.
Some of the players that you should keep an eye on:
Dean Henderson (£4.5m)
Signed from Man United on a one-year loan, Dean Henderson will be fighting for the number one spot with Wayne Hennessey, also recently signed from Burnley. However, Henderson’s track record and performance during his two-year stay at Sheffield United points toward him making the number one spot his. Nottingham Forest’s defensive record of just 40 goals conceded in the Championship last season points toward a settled and strong defense, which will be important in their bid to avoid the drop. Henderson is certain to face quite a number of shots on goal, which makes save points a certainty in addition to points accrued from clean sheets. See our Spotlight article on Henderson here.
Neco Williams (£4.0m) & Jack Colback (£4.4m)
Steve Cooper’s style of play, which relies on flank attacks, makes the club’s wing-backs interesting FPL options. Colback managed four goals plus one assist for the club last season, and more will be expected of him this season as the club fights to avoid immediate relegation. Neco Williams’ loan spell at Fulham last season showed that he is an excellent crosser of the ball, and he also isn’t one to shy away from attacking duties. See our Spotlight article on Williams here.
Brennan Johnson (£6.0m)
Nineteen goals plus ten assists in fifty games for Forest last season tells us that the 21 year old Welsh international has stepped up to become the club’s main man. Previously used on the wing, Brennan Johnson was moved into the middle to play alongside one of the club’s other strikers in a two-man attack. Johnson looks set to again be the club’s first choice striker while the club’s other strikers battle for the second striker position alongside him. He’s also the PK taker.
Jesse Lingard’s decision to join Nottingham Forest over West Ham on a free transfer might just prove to be the best bit of business done by the newly promoted side. He brings a lot of Premier League experience and leadership to the team. While it is unknown where he will fit, Lingard should be a certain starter. If he can play anywhere near as well as he did at West Ham on his six month loan just over a year ago, he will be a popular pick among FPL managers. The England International is definitely one to keep an eye on when the season kicks off.
See our Spotlight on Bournemouth here.
See our Spotlight on Fulham here.
Follow us at www.nevermanagealone.com.
Click here to play our FPL mini-league.
Click here to play our Fantrax mini-leagues.
Stats, quotes and info for this article were sourced from fantasypremierleague.com, bbc.com, transfermarkt.com, www.skysports.com, foottheball.com, nbcsports.com, fantasyfootballscout.co.uk, theathletic.com, nottinghampost.com.
What do you think of Nottingham Forest’s fantasy assets? Are there players that you could add to your squad? What player do you think will shine for Steve Cooper’s team? Do you think Forest will be a success in the Premier League this time? Please log in and let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!