The SkyBet Championship season may have been suspended indefinitely, but Nottingham Forest have had an impressive season so far.
Sabri Lamouchi’s side have shown a staying power they lacked last season with the departure of Aitor Karanka, Martin O’Neill’s return and the disappointing slip to ninth place which followed.
With nine games remaining and 27 points to play for, Forest sit fifth with 60 points, five clear of Bristol City just outside the playoff places.
For comparison, they finished last season on 66 points with 17 wins, the same amount as Lamouchi’s side have amassed already this term.
Manager Martin O’Neill was the first major departure of the season after the first day of pre-season training, following rumours of a player revolt.
He was replaced by Rennes manager and former France international Sabri Lamouchi just 18 minutes later. Lamouchi took charge for the remainder of pre-season, including their trip to Greece to face Olympiacos, also owned by Evangelos Marinakis.
Brice Samba was one of Lamouchi’s first signings at the City Ground, brought in from SM Caen.
The Congolese shot-stopper quickly became a fans’ favourite at Forest, for his Twitter antics almost as much as his exploits between the posts.
He deposed Manchester City loanee Aro Muric after the Reds’ 2-1 home defeat to West Brom on the opening day and has been ever-present since.
Romanian keeper Costel Pantilimon departed for Cypriot side Omonia in January on a loan deal until the end of the 2019/20 season.
Yuri Ribeiro joined from Portuguese side SL Benfica on a permanent basis having only signed a five-year deal at Estadio da Luz in 2018, along with midfielder Alfa Semedo arriving on loan for the season.
Tiago Silva also swapped Portugal for the East Midlands, the attacking midfielder joining from Feirense on a two-year deal.
Samba Sow joined from Dynamo Moscow, the Mali international having come through Lens’ academy. He became an important part of the Reds’ midfield, and Forest took significantly less points per game when he was absent from the side. Sow picked up a hamstring injury in early November, and a knee injury against West Bromwich Albion in February.
Sammy Ameobi terminated his contract with relegated Bolton Wanderers to join the Reds and scored in their 3-2 win over Stoke City in September 2019 which took them top of the Championship for a night. He also scored the first goal in their 2-0 home victory over Leeds United in February.
Ben Osborn departed for Premier League Sheffield United in the summer but has only made seven league appearances to date due to their impressive run towards European qualification. Osborn has struggled to dislodge Enda Stevens from the left-wing-back position in Chris Wilder’s pioneering setup, but fellow Forest left-back Jack Robinson also swapped the City Ground for Bramall Lane in January.
Hillal Soudani, Daryl Murphy and Karim Ansarifard all left the City Ground in summer, for Olympiacos, Bolton Wanderers and Al-Sailiya respectively.
Centre-back Alexander Milosevic‘s contract was terminated by mutual consent on 28 October 2019.
The Reds’ league season started poorly, with a 2-1 home defeat to West Brom which will perhaps be best remembered for two goalkeeping mistakes by Aro Muric on his debut outweighing right-back Matty Cash’s first-half goal.
Forest overcame Fleetwood Town in a home Carabao Cup tie courtesy of Tiago Silva’s first goal for the club. Young winger Arvin Appiah started before leaving for Almeria, with Jayden Richardson and Alex Mighten featuring on the bench.
Joe Lolley, Lewis Grabban and Michael Dawson scored to give Forest three points from their home game against Birmingham City, a result which will have pleased Aston Villa fan Lolley and Grabban, who featured on loan at Villa Park in the 2017/18 season before joining Forest from AFC Bournemouth.
An impressive performance and a great team goal helped Lamouchi’s men past Fulham at Craven Cottage before they defeated rivals Derby County 3-0 in the second round of the Carabao Cup. Joe Worrall captained the side after returning from a season-long loan at Rangers, while Brennan Johnson also started.
Alfa Semedo scored to deliver three points and get September off to a perfect start in Swansea, but after another 1-0 win at home to Barnsley, Forest were briefly brought back down to earth with a 5-0 defeat to Arsenal in the Carabao Cup third round. Alex Mighten replaced Ribeiro in the second half and Johnson started again.
The Reds went top of the table for a Friday evening as they defeated Stoke City 3-2 away from home, but the early-season form wobbled briefly in late October as they slipped to defeat at Wigan Athletic and at home to Hull City.
Consecutive wins started November off perfectly, helped by a 1-0 league win over Derby County. A point at Bristol City and a 4-0 rout of Queens Park Rangers led into a disappointing 1-0 defeat at home to struggling Cardiff City.
Lewis Grabban thought he’d secured three points at his former club Millwall in early December with two goals from the bench but Aiden O’Brien equalised in stoppage time to send Forest fans home disappointed. A point at home to Middlesbrough was followed by a 4-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday at the City Ground, where all the damage was done by half-time. Defeat at Huddersfield Town looked like all was lost going into the festive period but victories at Hull City and home revenge against Wigan restored some pride.
League form markedly improved in January with Forest taking 11 points from a possible 15 and staying unbeaten throughout the transfer window, as Adama Diakhaby joined on loan from Huddersfield, Nuno Da Costa arrived from Strasbourg and Gaetan Bong left Brighton to provide cover for Yuri Ribeiro.
There was no shortage of interest in right-back Matty Cash, whose impressive start to the season saw him leading the tackling stat tables in not only the Championship but the whole of England. Despite Cash having signed a new contract in November tying him to the City Ground until 2023, there were rumours of bids from West Ham, Everton and Southampton, and even as far afield as AC Milan.
The 22-year-old remained in Nottingham, though, and has played a huge part in Forest’s success this season after transitioning to play as a right-back, having come through as a right-midfielder.
The Reds’ academy was in the spotlight as the first-team travelled to Chelsea in the FA Cup third round for the second consecutive season, with ten academy graduates in the squad and five starting.
Jordan Smith started in goal, joined by Michael Dawson, Ryan Yates, Brennan Johnson and Alex Mighten. Tyrese Fornah replaced Alfa Semedo and Yassine En-Neyah came on for Johnson in the second half, while George Shelvey, Liam Sole and Jordan Lawrence-Gabriel stayed on the bench. The latter joined Scunthorpe United on loan later in the transfer window.
Striker Tyler Walker was recalled from his loan spell at Lincoln City on deadline day, having scored 16 goals in 34 games, and scored in stoppage time to secure a 2-0 win over title contenders Leeds United. Forest had lost on the road at Birmingham City the week before and would take two points from their next three games before getting revenge on Cardiff City at the end of February with a 2-1 victory courtesy of Tiago Silva.
Things looked to be looking up as the Reds were unbeaten in three and had only lost one of their last five games going into March.
But a 2-2 draw at Middlesbrough, where Lewis Grabban struck in the 86th minute to secure a point, and a 3-0 home defeat to Millwall ended the season to date with Forest in poor form.
The season has been suspended indefinitely but looking ahead to the remaining nine games, Forest provisionally still have to travel to Hillsborough to face Sheffield Wednesday and try to avoid a repeat performance against the Owls before the visit of Huddersfield Town.
A home reverse against Bristol City leads into the annually-anticipated trip to Pride Park, for which Forest fans can be optimistic having defeated the Rams in the Championship and the Carabao Cup this season.
They then host Fulham before travelling to Deepdale to face Preston. They should host Swansea afterwards before visiting Barnsley, with their last game of the season coming against Stoke City at the City Ground.
Forest fans will hope the City Ground will be awash with red and white to celebrate their first Championship playoff finish since 2011, but it will be crucial to come back fully fit and ready to recapture their best form when football eventually returns.