Score draws, ebbs and flows
A version of this article was first published in "Forest Review" on Saturday, 7th November, 2020 versus Wycombe Wanderers
It has been an unusual start the season in many ways and our form is no doubt a concern for the players and management just as it is for us fans, particularly when also taking the end of last season into account.
However, it is incongruous that this run can continue based on the evidence of our relative defensive solidity under the new manager and the attacking intent we showed in the second half performances against Bristol City and Rotherham, in particular.
I write this before the visit of Coventry so who knows what that match bought.
But whether it was win, lose or draw, the notion that we “have to win” the next match and, if we don’t, we have “too much ground to make it up”, defies logic.
I’ve heard this well-worn phrase on numerous occasions recently and it always makes me chuckle.
One of the endearing characteristics of the Championship is it’s ebb and flow, rather like test cricket.
England might three down on this first morning but still get 450 and win the test match.
Similarly, we might lose five (or six) matches early in the season but still be loitering around the play off places come May, like a doughty tail ender refusing to budge.
That recent run of 1-1 draws reminded of both the 1978/79 and 1988/89 seasons.
In 78/79, we drew six of the first seven league matches, plus another draw in the League Cup, with four of those draws goalless.
The goalscoring issue was unexpectedly resolved by a carpet fitter from Long Eaton United and, by May, we were Champions of Europe and second in the league only to Liverpool, having lost a miserly three matches (the same number as when we won the league the season before).
In 88/89, five draws followed an opening day defeat at Norwich (four of them were 1-1).
By New Year’s Eve, we’d only won four league matches and sat in 12th in the top flight: we were nearer the bottom than the top.
But then it clicked.
A wonderful ran followed including an unprecedented ten straight away wins.
In line with the theory of “ebb and flow” (also see: Manager of the Month curse), I was continually anticipating we’d lose the next away match.
Instead, that away run culminated in a delicious finale: away wins on successive Saturdays at Arsenal (who won the league); Old Trafford in the sixth round of the FA Cup; and then at the Baseball Ground.
Inevitably it was Wimbledon who finally broke the sequence but we ended up third, won the League Cup and were semi-finalists in the FA Cup. Not too shabby.
The concept of “clicking” was at its most evident in the 1993/94 promotion season.
Coincidentally, it was this weekend in that season that Lars Bohinen made his debut at Birmingham in our much needed 3-0 victory.
We were licking our wounds after a midweek home defeat to Millwall had left us in 17th, with just 14 points from 16 games and having lost six matches already (see the similarities?).
Little did we know, but the addition of the magical Norwegian was the final piece of the jigsaw and we only lost three more matches that season to take second place.
And, the next season we only finished one place lower ... in the Premier League.
My personal less-than-scientific theory is that the losses column needs to be a single digit to be serious about promotion, like it was in 93/94.
We only lost eight in the 1997/98 promotion season and you have to go back to 2012 to find the last time both automatically promoted teams from the Championship lost double digit matches (Reading with eleven and Southampton ten).
Rather like a difficult pitch reducing the need for big first innings runs, this season’s extraordinary circumstances with no fans possibly means less points will be needed to get in the play offs.
So, yes, it’s been a difficult start. But once the shine comes off the new ball, the pitch flattens and the opposition bowlers start to tire, our middle and lower order might just be able to still turn this around.