The definition of insanity, they say, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
A horribly cliched phrase certainly, but one that is constantly applicable to the way certain managers view the game.
Jose Mourinho’s stubbornness arguably got him the sack at Manchester United. Mauricio Sarri’s inability to change his system has led to criticism from many Chelsea fans. Then there’s the Martin O’Neill example.
During the last year of his spell with Ireland, O’Neill’s negative tactics and reluctance to change his style saw him come under fire, before a string of terrible results subsequently lead to his dismissal.
Fast forward a few months and in his short spell at Nottingham Forest, O’Neill’s negative tactics and reluctance to change his style of play have seen him come under fire, while a string of terrible results has lead to reports of him nearing dismissal.
The situations are eerily similar.
Let’s start with the overall picture.
Since taking over at the City Ground on January 15th, O’Neill has overseen 16 games as Forest manager. He has won five, drawn three and lost eight with the club sitting 12th in the Championship and out of playoff contention.
When Aitor Karanka was in charge the owners were reportedly unhappy with the style of play they were seeing from Forest, despite them sitting in ninth and just a few points outside the top six.
Defeat to Sheffield United was their fourth loss on the bounce and they’ve picked up just four points from their last six league games – only crisis club Bolton have picked up less in that timeframe.
Something Irish fans watching a Martin O’Neill team are more than used to.
During his last year with the Boys in Green, Ireland found the net just four times in nine games, only scoring more than one goal on a single occasion and averaging 0.4 goals per game.
It hasn’t been quite as bad as that with Nottingham Forest, but since O’Neill has arrived their potency in front of goal has dropped.
In the 16 games he has been in charge, Forest have found the net on 17 occasions, just over one goal per game (1.06 to be exact). They’ve only managed to score two or more goals on five occasions and drawing a blank six times.
The game against Blackburn last week personified their struggles. They had 22 shots but only managed one on target, a consolation goal from Ryan Yeates in a 2-1 defeat.
If we look at the same period of time before he took over, 16 games again, Forest scored 24 goals under Karanka. Seven more than under O’Neill, an increased average of 1.5 goals per game.
The lack of form of top goalscorer Lewis Grabban certainly hasn’t helped their cause.
Grabban had scored 14 goals before O’Neill’s arrival but has only managed to score twice since the former Aston Villa manager took charge at the City Ground and has been in and out of the starting XI.
Square Pegs In Round Holes
A hallmark of the last year of O’Neill’s tenure was playing players in positions they simply did not suit.
Conor Hourihane as a defensive midfielder, James McClean as an occasional left-back and of course the most famous example, right-back Cyrus Christie in centre-midfield.
His experimental selections have apparently bled over into his Forest spell.
Their usual left-back Jack Robinson, who has had a strong debut season, has been occasionally preferred at centre-back by O’Neill, playing there most recently in the defeat to Blackburn.
What will also be familiar to Irish fans was the left-back’s reaction to playing out of position.
“I was a little bit surprised to find myself at centre-half again,” he told Nottingham Live.
A confused reaction to O’Neill asking you to play in an unfamiliar position? Where have we heard that one before?
Defensive midfielder Jack Colback has been preferred at left-back in the last two games against Blackburn and Sheffield United by O’Neill while Ben Osborne has played in four different positions since the former Irish boss took over; left-back, left-midfield, centre-midfield and attacking midfield.
Negative Tactics = Fan Revolt
A staple of O’Neill’s Forest side is playing with three defensive midfielders when all else fails. It’s been a default for he and Forest this season.
But aside from that, his reluctance to play some of the more creative players is startling. Take £13 million Portuguese standout Joao Carvalho.
He took to life at Forest relatively well, scoring three goals and grabbing six assists in 26 of the 27 games he featured before O’Neill arrived. Since then though he’s only scored one goal and played one full ninety minutes despite their struggles in front of goal.
Then there’s highly touted wonderkid Arvin Appiah. The 18-year-old is an underage international for England and has impressed in a number of cameos this season, but O’Neill is clearly still reluctant to throw him in at the deep end, despite being the kind of player who can get the fans firmly behind their team.
The fans and local media are starting to tire of O’Neill’s tactics also.
In a column for the Ilkeston Advertiser, journalist Tom Head called O’Neill a flawed appointment and said this about some of the former Irish boss’ team selections;
“The standard of football has been particularly dire which, in itself, could be forgiven for a new manager trying to come in and implement his own style. But O’Neill is seemingly trying to commit his own acts of sabotage. One of our most creative players has been dropped, and our £13 million wonderkid is now a dab-hand at pulling splinters from his backside. If Joao Carvalho spends any longer on that bench, he’ll end up with woodworm.”
You only have to go onto Twitter and look at the some of the Forest fans’ reaction to today’s result and O’Neill’s team selection to see that they are at their wit’s end.
How is this progression??? This is just bloody awful football. How can these same players be so bad and Colback at left back, That’s got to be a joke. Sorry with 5 losses he’s got to go now. #MONout #nffc
— Ben Osborne (@nffc_bozman74) April 19, 2019
Best midfielder at left back.
Best left back not in the squad.
Best centre back on the bench (not even in the squad lately)
3 work horses in midfield whilst most creative player sits on the bench most weeks.
Top scorer on the bench.
At least Yacob finally gets a start though 👌
— Gary (@RedDogGary) April 19, 2019
— rich salter (@richsalter68) April 19, 2019
Win or lose…. We look Clueless and that's down to MON. Get tid! #nffc
— E-Nottingham Forest (@e_nottmforest) April 19, 2019
Time will tell how long O’Neill will get at the helm of Nottingham Forest but the warning signs are becoming eerily similar to the ones that reared their ugly head during his spell with Ireland.
Something simply has to change for him or it’ll be a disappointing end to a disappointing spell at the City Ground.