How Steve Cooper Turned Forest’s Season Around: For many, Nottingham Forest have been the prototypical example of a ‘sleeping giant’ in English football for far too long. The Nottingham club, twice champions of Europe, haven’t been in the top flight for 23 years. That absence has been ended by their play-off final victory but, if you had told a Forest fan back in September that the season would end in promotion, they simply wouldn’t have believed you
Just over a month into the season, Forest was rooted to the foot of the table, having made their worst start to a campaign in a century. Steve Cooper took over from Chris Hughton and found himself at the helm of a club which had lost six of its opening seven games.
Cooper’s arrival made him the club’s 14th manager since the departure of Billy Davies in 2011, with the club’s managerial turnover often cited when discussing their consistent underachievement, relative to their size. He arrived fresh from a run to the play-offs at his previous job, taking Swansea to the play-off final, where they lost 2-0 to Brentford.
Although he exceeded expectations on a tight budget, his style of play didn’t enamour the Swans fans, but his ability to get results, and bring together a group of players, was beyond question. Those were skills Forest were in desperate need of, given their faltering start to the campaign.
Many expected that Cooper would spend the season trying to claw back points during a relegation battle, while some were more optimistic, thinking that Cooper could even guide Forest to the relative safety of mid-table.
However, none really expected the Welshman to take Forest into promotion contention, yet that’s what he did. The automatic promotion places were a possibility until the last week of the season, as Cooper’s side picked up more points between his arrival and the end of the season than any other team.
Forest spent the season winning in style too, casting off the criticisms that were levelled at Cooper during his time in South Wales. Forest finished the season with a goal difference of +33, bettered only by Fulham, who won the league, and Bournemouth, who finished second. Bournemouth were the only team to concede fewer than Forest, who conceded 40, while the top two were the only teams who scored more goals than Forest’s 73.
Cooper has massively improved many of Forest’s players. Djed Spence has become a flying full-back on the right side of the defence, and has caught the eye of numerous Premier League clubs. Young forward Brennan Johnson has thrived under Cooper’s tutelage, while the likes of Ryan Yates and Scott McKenna have also been key cogs in the Forest machine.
While Cooper is an understated professional, he will have enjoyed the games against Swansea, as he managed to gain some element of revenge over his former side. Forest won 4-1 away to the Swans in December, before bettering that with a 5-1 home win in the closing stages of the season.
Cooper also oversaw an impressive run in the FA Cup, where the Reds overcame Arsenal and Huddersfield, as well as comfortably dismantling Leicester City, before losing 1-0 to Liverpool in the quarter-final.
While some will see Cooper’s achievement as nothing short of a miracle, the understated Welshman would almost certainly argue otherwise, remarking that he’s merely brought the best out of a talented group of players. Ending Forest’s absence from the top flight is no small feat though and, while staying in the Premier League will be a whole other task, there’s no reason to think it’s beyond Steve Cooper and his charges. Forest fans will be eagerly looking at football odds today, optimistic of a successful return to the Premier League.