A few weeks ago Nottingham Forest sat bottom of the EFL Championship and were the last team to register a point in the league. Now, they sit 16th, climbing the table and not looking back. Where has this success come from? Steve Cooper.
The former Swansea City manager was appointed on the 21st of September just a handful of days after Chris Hughton was sacked by the club. The Reds have managed to turn their season around under Cooper, sitting third in the Championship form table.
Cooper's career to date
At 41-years-old, Cooper is still relatively young in the management game and his portfolio mirrors this. His career started at Liverpool's academy and after that moved on to the England youth setup with the U16s and U17s.
Whilst with the latter of the two he averaged a points-per-game ratio of 2.24% in a sample size of 74 matches. He also won his first major honours whilst with the England camp, winning the FIFA U17 World Cup and finishing second in the UEFA U17 European Championships.
His talent was noticed by one of the top clubs in his home nation, Swansea, who he took charge of for 105 competitive games. Cooper won the Manager of the Month award for August, last season, as he took 16 points from 18 in an unbeaten start to the Championship that gave Swansea their best start to a campaign in 41 years.
After his first four games at Forest, he had won three and drew one, transforming their season from relegation candidates to outsiders for the play-offs.
Change in tactics
Many would say that Forest haven't looked this good in a while and when you look at Cooper's track record it's easy to say how they've turned their form around.
A 4-3-2-1 formation was most common at Swansea with width and crossing the ball key parts of the play, moving the ball into central areas in the final third. He looked to exploit the spaces by dragging defenders out wide, using his wide players in the three for width.
Defensively, they pushed their opposition out wide having two defensive-minded players in the midfield to help stop them from playing through central areas.
However, at Forest things have changed slightly, Cooper still looks to use width and expand play by dragging defenders out of position using width but the formation has changed. Now Cooper plays a 3-4-2-1 system. Now Ryan Yates offers a different dynamic working as a deep-lying playmaker with Jack Colback taking up defensive duties. The three centre-backs offer defensive cover in narrow areas and with both the wing-backs defensively sound, they can provide cover in the wide areas.
This follows a similar style of play to the one he would have played at Swansea, using the wing-backs to expand play and utilising crosses or the channels to drag defenders out of position.
Max Lowe has impressed in the formation as Cooper makes use of his wing-backs. The left-sided player is top in club statistics for most successful tackles per game and key passes per match.
The use of wing-backs in Cooper's system allows for the width and expansive style the Welshman wants in his side. Lowe is a huge part of that. As a natural full-back, Lowe's defensive ability is unquestioned and helps Forest at the back when under pressure. However, it's going forward where the 24-year-old has been important for the Reds, with his passing game being a key part of the side's build-up.
Lewis Grabban has been on fine form since Cooper's arrival with three goals in the last three games, including the winner in the sides last tie with Blackpool. The 33-year-old has been a consistent performer in the Championship but started this season slowly, that was until Cooper arrived. He has now scored five in seven games and has been involved in 37% of all the club's goals in the league this season.
Danish attacker Philip Zinkernagel has been a star in the attack this season. Playing as part of two, alongside Brennan Johnson, that sits behind Grabban, Zinkernagel has been the best creator for Forest this season. His two goals and six assists in all competitions this season have made him a key figure and a brilliant supply chain for Grabban.
A sleeping giant
"Cloughy would be turning in his grave," a fan said during Hughton's start to this season and I'm sure other fans feel the same. Nottingham Forest's glory days may seem like a distant memory now and no one is saying that Cooper is going to win a European Cup but the feel-good factor seems back at the club after a long-time.
Cooper is a young, exciting manager whose style of playing will excite fans. His short but successful career in management to date shows his talent in the field. This season will be all about steadying the ship and giving the club stability after an awful start. However, if Cooper is given time, fans could expect a push towards the top of the table next season.