Davies axed as SOS sent to Warnock

Saturday’s embarrassing 5-0 loss to local & promotion rivals Derby County led to an abrupt end, again, to Billy Davies’s time at the City Ground. The loss saw Forest fall out of the playoff zone and continues a winless run that’s now up to 8 games.

What a difference a month makes. Just over five weeks ago, Forest were 1-0 up at half time at Bramall Lane, unbeaten in 16 games, looking good for the playoffs and a potential semi final appearance given the kind FA Cup draw. That disappointing loss though shouldn’t have necessarily had repercussions in the league – and for long periods of their next league game against a strong Leicester side they were in control. But with a late equaliser for the ten men of City, the wheels appeared to fall off.

Billy Davies, likely appealing against one of the conspiracies against him (photo: Telegraph)

Hammered at home to Wigan, beaten at the impressive promotion-bound Burnley, and by dismal relegation-bound Barnsley, with draws against beatable Middlesbrough and Donny Rovers – the Derby game continues what is a terrible run at the worst possible time of the season. Owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi has today decided to act.

Some may be sympathetic to Billy Davies, the manager. Forest are, after all, sitting just two points from the playoff zone with 9 games to go – 5 of which are against teams in the lower half, with only QPR to play in the top 6. With that set of games, they have a great chance to finish in the top 6.

But most will find it tough to be sympathetic to Davies, the person. His refusal to deal with certain parts of the media certainly didn’t help matters, and the post-match interviews he’d give were often unbearable. Most recently he was handed a 5-match ban for abusive language towards the ref in the Leicester game. His abrasive personality has often annoyed fans of other clubs, but his character was tolerable provided the results were delivered.

In a surprise twist, this may be the first job that Neil Warnock is appointed to where he’s actually considered to be more likeable in the game than his predecessor. In what would appear to be the shortest of short-term appointments, “One Last Challenge” Warnock is being heavily linked as the man that will be handed the task of quickly steering Forest back on course. His record of high initial impact is decent – turning around the form of Sheffield United, Crystal Palace and QPR overnight when all three were relegation-threatened and all over the place off-the-pitch.

Coming into a promotion-chasing side though, the expectations are quite different. And his record in that situation, coming into a club in a decent with relative stability, is not quite as impressive. It’s not too dissimilar to the situation when he was appointed at Leeds. Impatient for promotion, Simon Grayson was sacked with Leeds sitting in 10th, 3 points off the playoffs. Warnock’s impact-appointment saw him move the team 4 places in the table. Sadly for him, this was downwards – finishing in 14th place, and 14 points off the playoffs.

“Ah, but he has an impressive playoff record” I hear in the distance. And by distance, I mean the distant past – 1996 to be precise. While Warnock has tasted success of promotion via the playoffs with Notts County (twice), Huddersfield Town and Plymouth Argyle, you have to go back to a time when Forest finished 9th in the Premier League – yes, it must feel like another lifetime ago.

Neil Warnock – playoff genius, but not since 1996

His greatest playoff success since then was probably Sheffield United’s pulsating 4-3 victory over, ironically, Forest in the 2002-03 playoff semi-finals. But that was followed with an abject display in the final against Wolves – a game where tactically he got it completely wrong. And at Palace, the season fell away in the semi finals. He has had impressive promotions automatically since then, with Sheffield United and QPR, but both teams he’d built up himself.

His Notts County connections may be an issue for Forest fans, but given the thick skin most will have had to develop to cope with Davies you’d expect Warnock to be tolerated until the summer at least. And for Warnock himself, in semi-retirement since leaving Leeds, it’s a completely risk-free job for him. He’ll be saying all the right things as he always does when he joins a new club – expect him to talk about his past conversations with Brian Clough, his love of the City Ground and the “great set of fans” at the club, not to mention the “great bunch of lads” he’d be managing. And with zero pressure on him to really succeed, coupled with the fixtures before him, it might be a smart “Save Our Season” appointment. But for this to work, he’ll need to lift a team already fairly high up – and if he does, it’ll be a unique moment in his managerial career.

Written by @josephclift


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