Analysis: Why the next quartet of fixtures are crucial to Aitor Karanka and Nottingham Forest

The Spaniard has overseen five defeats in six games during a "grim" start to his spell in charge.

Analysis: Why the next quartet of fixtures are crucial to Aitor Karanka and Nottingham Forest
Performances on the pitch must inspire support from the stands (photo: Getty Images / Ashley Allen)

Nottingham Forest are a difficult team to understand right now. Five defeats in their last six games have coincided with failing to score in seven of their previous eight Championship fixtures. Yet they managed to secure a shock victory over Arsenal in the FA Cup, putting four past the most decorated team in the competition's history, before beating runaway league leaders Wolves away from home during that period.

The six goals scored in those two fixtures are the only time they have found the net in their last nine games. The other seven have presented lacklustre defeats and the natives are getting restless.

Looking over their shoulders...

I spoke to a fan who has been a season ticket holder at the City Ground for 20 years and he described the current situation as "grim". When I asked if he felt more positive about the squad after a series of deadline day signings his response was, "not really. Ten players came in and ten players went out. How is Karanka going to get them playing together in a short space of time?"

But surely a side that started the season so well up until November and lingered just outside the playoff places for a substantial period will survive with mid-table mediocrity? The answer was, "Hull are only nine points behind us. If they get three points today then we are dragged right into it."

The Tigers duly grabbed all three points as the patience of Forest fans starts to wear thin. I have always seen the East Midlands side as a friendly club where the locals are knowledgeable and enjoy chatting all things football. Yet the jeers that greeted the players at half-time, after falling two goals behind, and then again at the final whistle suggests the fans are most definitely fed up.

Chants of "we're poor (or words to that effect) and we know we are" sounded out from sections of the City Ground. Bar that victory over Wolves, Karanka has not experienced the usual honeymoon period that a new manager often enjoys. Five losses in his first six games have caused the Spaniard to call for "patience" as he looks to embed his style on the team.

14.3% more passes going astray

The problem for Forest is that they seem to be going backwards tactically. They have an average possession rate of 54.1%, the fourth best in the division, and have continued that trait under Karanka.

Yet they miss the penetration and cutting edge you would expect to see under the guidance of a former Real Madrid player. The 14th best shots per game ratio underpins the fact that too many passes are going sideways and backwards in the Forest midfield.

It is the sort of football that should be played when you are leading 1-0 and looking to control the tempo of the game. Yet Forest are losing the ball too often and being picked off at ease by their opponents. The majority of the nine goals they have conceded in the last four games should have been avoided - a worrying sign for a former central defender leading the team.

Perhaps the most damning statistic is how their pass success rate has dropped. Forest boast the fourth best pass completion percentage of 79.8% in the league across the season. Yet under Karanka, that value has dropped to 68.5% in the last five games.

Goals, goals, goals

Confidence is clearly a telling factor for Forest as Karanka eluded to after the Hull game. There must be quality in a side that can defeat Arsenal and Wolves by two clear goals in each contest. Scoring appears to be the foundation for morale in the Forest squad to go sky-high but conceding looks to have the adverse effect on a wider spectrum than most other teams in the league.

Losing to a side who had not won a league game since December under the backdrop of a 20,000 strong fanbase turning against you will not help the Forest squad at all. The worry is that a lack of confidence appears to be spreading to the new players with Adlene Guerdioura, Lee Tomlin, Joe Lolley and Jack Colback all failed to make an impact on their home debuts.

This is why the next four fixtures are so vital for Forest. Burton Albion, Reading, Queens Park Rangers and Birmingham City are all in the bottom half of the table and present an opportunity for Karanka's side to pick up valuable points. However, a string of defeats will not only drag them deeper towards the relegation battle but also hit the faith of fans and players alike. With Norwich City, Derby County and Sheffield United the next to face Forest after that quartet of fixtures, it is now or never for the Nottinghamshire side.

For this to work, Forest simply need to take risks going forward and push more players up the pitch to support the lone striker. They have creativity in their midfield but Karanka must release the shackles and let them play. Passing sideways is not working but looking to get balls in the box should pay dividends.

Put into perspective...

Yet it is not all doom and gloom for Forest. Continuing my chat with the City Ground regular, he went on to describe how the Championship is lacking quality - a fair point when you consider how unpredictable the league is and how many promoted teams struggle in the Premier League. Pointing to Steve Hodge, who was sitting a few seats away from me in the press box, he explained how "he was a great player and could work wonders with the ball." Stories followed about the former Forest star and England international as the 1980s star was compared to the current crop of Forest first-teamers.

However, the "grim" situation that Forest find themselves in was put into perspective by one of his concluding comments. "Am I fussed about our dip in form? No - last year I was diagnosed with sepsis and was lucky to survive. The entertainment might not be great right now but each game I watch is a bonus. I get to spend time with my mates and watch the game I love."

Let's hope that Forest can start finding the net and give such a dedicated spectator something to cheer in the coming weeks.