When Nottingham Forest flirted with being Invincible…


You wouldn’t know it from their current status, having spent most of the last twenty years outside the top flight and their flirtation with relegation after just one season in the Prem, but there was a spell during which the “tricky Trees” came close to winning the old First Division two years running seasons. They rode a 42-match unbeaten run from November 1977 to December 1978.

It was perhaps the most-impressive achievement in British football until our own Invincibles finished the 2003-04 season undefeated and won 49 consecutive matches across three seasons, and this parallel seemed more interesting to me than any standard match preview. What’s more, we’re the side with nothing to play for, although I doubt we’ll down tools or anything. Forest have it all to play for, sitting just three points from the drop zone. Their magic number​—the combination of points they claim and those Leeds drop​—is three points. That’s a far cry from the glory days under Brian Clough.

Our own Bob Wilson, who made his debut against Nottingham Forest on 26 October 1963 in a 4–2 win, predicted in October 1977 after Forest had topped the table that they “are a bubble that will soon burst”, but he was quite wrong. To that point, they had won seven, drawn two, and lost once (to, it must be added, the Arsenal on matchday four. It was a loss that prompted the club to spend a club-record fee for keeper Peter Shilton who would go on to make more than 200 appearances for the club). It wouldn’t be until mid-November when a loss away to Leeds launched them on their incredible unbeaten run, a run that would see them win the title in their first season of asking and the first in the club’s history.

This made Forest the first club since Spurs in 1951 to become champions in their first season after promotion from the Second Division, and Clough became the first manager since our own Herbert Chapman to win the league title with two different clubs (Chapman had done it with Huddersfield Town before doing so with Arsenal). To add some shine, Forest added the League Cup to achieve a domestic double, which they followed with two back-to-back European Cups in 1979 and 1980. They stayed in the top division long enough to be among the clubs included in the Prem’s first season but bounced around from then on, sinking as low as to League One before finally rising back to the Prem. Staying up would be quite the feat even if it wouldn’t quite rise to the same levels they reached in the late 1970’s.

We’ll have to be wary of these tricky Trees; we’ll be without Saliba, Martinelli, and Zinchenko and are coming off a very flat performance against Brighton that suggests the lads may have given up now that the title is all but guaranteed to City and we can’t finish any lower. Forest will crave points and may carry confidence from a 2-2 draw away to Chelsea last weekend. Given the stakes, things could get tetchy. I won’t go any further than that after my Brighton preview proved to be all too prescient.

Let’s just close by admitting that, for as disappointing as the outcome to this season looks to be, it’s been an amazing renaissance. We still have a chance at finishing on 87 points, our highest haul since 2002 when we won the Prem and one good enough to win the Prem in almost half the seasons it’s existed. Forest’s glory days may lie long behind them; ours, however, seem to stretch ahead of us.

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2 thoughts on “When Nottingham Forest flirted with being Invincible…

  1. palladio43

    With the advantage of 20:20 hindsight, having watched the match, I can only say that Arsenal were bereft of any creativity and their overall play was dismal. If either victories or points were awarded on the basis of possession, rather than goals, Arsenal would have clinched the PL long ago. Unfortunately, there comes a time when you actually do have to score and, of course, not allow your opponent to score or, at the very least, not allow them to score more goals than you. Arsenal, today, appeared never to have learned that lesson.

    Alternatively, maybe other sides have finally understood how Arsenal sets up and how they seem to play every match. It became quite evident after a while that Arsenal seemed unable to penetrate the Forest defense at all (shades of Jose Mourinho and his parked buses). We have gone two weeks, plus some added time before that without scoring a goal and when we look at the ignominious stretch of matches beginning with those draws that sent us into the present tailspin, play, with few limited exceptions has been dismal.

    We can, somewhat rightly blame some of this on injuries, but at the same time we had no FA, no Europa, no CL, etc., that would have distracted and worn out the side. While thinner than some of the other top clubs, this should not be used as an excuse. We need lots of players and those already fantasizing as to who we might get need to recognize that even 200 million (hard to believe that is a number casually bandies about) will not buy more than four to five players, at best, while many on this board or others are ready to ship off twice that number.

    Thus, expect many of the same faces next season, whether we want them all or not. If we get all those we covet, we should get better, but they can only replace a few of the weaker players but not those already on the bench. Thus, since other sides will also improve, even if only incrementally, it either behooves Arsenal to improve by leaps and bounds (doubtful if one is realistic) or look to be far more creative and capable of being much more adept at changing tactics before and during matches and making far better substitutions (please don’t tell me the cupboard was that bare today or in other matches), let alone lining up differently more than they have.

    As for today, if you know in your heart-of-hearts that the season is over, most probably even before last week’s fiasco, then use the opportunity to test new strategies and to allow those with little experience to demonstrate whether they are capable of more play and also gaining more experience on the pitch. Everyone knew the season was over, most probably after the infamous draws, let alone after the City match. Throw in the white flag and use the remainder of the season as a way of learning more about some of the lesser stars unless, of course, you have already chose to dump them all (which, as noted above, may not be possible with all of them). Is Tierney on the way out and not capable of starting? What about Eddie or others? Do we have another striker candidate, because Jesus seems not quite the best except for presenting his incredulous face every time he is bumped, knocked down, etc without a flag (even if some are deserved)? Weren’t there players that could have been tried today rather than Thomas, if only to try and see what happens? I realize we wanted Odegaard to break the midfielder record, but maybe that meant trying too hard and forcing shots and passes? Am I blaming this on Mikel , to some extent yes? If Steve Cooper can manage Forest to work for 98 minutes with players, supposedly, nowhere near our player’s abilities or skills, something is wrong.

    JMHO, of course, but, aside from allowing Xhaka his swan song next week, what else can we expect that proves me wrong?

  2. Pingback: Man City is the Matrix. That’s what this is. | Woolwich 1886, an Arsenal site

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