It was always going to take Chris Hughton a little bit of time to get a fine tune out of his Nottingham Forest players following his arrival at the City Ground at the start of last month.
Hughton walked into a club that had started the Championship season very poorly indeed. Despite holding aspirations of reaching the Premier League this term, four defeats on the bounce brought the club right back down to Earth.
Hughton’s duty in the short-term was to arrest a dismal run of form, and get to grips with a extremely large group of players. 14 arrived over the course of the summer, adding to a squad which now consists of over 30 first-teamers.
All in all, it has been a largely positive start to life on Trentside for Hughton and his coaching staff.
The win over Blackburn at Ewood Park was very much a smash-and-grab victory, and despite sluggish starts against Rotherham and Derby, their character to come from behind on both occasions perhaps should have culminated in three wins from three.
Forest then came up against two tricky customers in Luton Town and Middlesbrough away from home. The character was there once again as they fought back to grind out a point at Kenilworth Road, despite spending the entirety of the second-half with 10 men.
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At the Riverside, though, Hughton’s men came unstuck against a resilient Boro side, who are starting to find their groove under Neil Warnock’s tutelage.
Nevertheless, back-to-back wins for the first time this season followed, and crucially, too. Both second-half displays against Coventry and Wycombe lacked any real quality and were often lacklustre at times, but they set out to achieve what they wanted to achieve.
Successive league wins. Six points in the space of four days, and more importantly, momentum heading into the international break.
Hughton will now be urging his players to pick up from where they left off before the international break.
The signs have been positive of late – they are improving defensively with Scott McKenna and Tobias Figueiredo forging a solid understanding, they are creating more clear-cut chances, whilst three goals in his last two games has left opposition defences fearing the in-form Lyle Taylor.
But December, and the next six games in particular, will prove to be a real measure of Forest’s progress on the pitch under Hughton.
In what is shaping up to be a hectic December month for Forest with eight games to be played, five of the Reds’ next six games come against current top-six outfits.
There’s a trip to the South Coast next Tuesday as high-flying AFC Bournemouth host the Reds at the Vitality Stadium, with tough away trips to table-toppers Reading and Norwich City to follow shortly after.
Those away fixtures will come after two home games. Swansea City (6th) travel to the East Midlands on Sunday the 29th – as will Watford (2nd) four nights later.
That isn’t to overlook this weekend’s opponents Barnsley, either. The Tykes have already defeated Forest this season – a 1-0 Carabao Cup victory in early September – and are starting to find their feet under Valerien Ismael, who has yielded three wins from his first four games in charge of the South Yorkshire outfit.
Much like Forest’s recent revival under Hughton, the likes of Reading, Bournemouth and Watford have all made impressive starts under new managerial regimes. The difference is, those sides did so from the very off, and have won games in very different types of ways in order to sustain their place in the upper echelons of the Championship table.
Hughton, meanwhile, is still trying to get a firm understanding of his players. They are looking to get a firm understanding of how he expects them to play. That, in turn, should give them a chance of success.
That isn’t to say Forest are completely the underdogs going into this tough run of games. Their chances of picking up three points and going on a run are by no means dead and buried.
The Reds have, arguably, one of the best squads in the division on paper. The likes of Anthony Knockaert, Harry Arter, Cyrus Christie, Joe Lolley and Jack Colback have all tasted success at this level before, and are the type of characters who Hughton will look rely on heavily. Not just next month, but for the remainder of the campaign.
You feel, though, that these next games will provide a real measure of where Forest are really at following a period of rejuvenation under Hughton, and whether they have the credentials and mettle required to reach the top-flight come the end of the season. After a 21-year exile, the hunger to do so is greater than ever before for all connected with the famous Garibaldi.
They will have benefitted greatly from a two-week layoff, affording Hughton time to further get to grips with his players and vice versa.
Now is the time to put action into words, as Lyle Taylor recently said. Despite two regimes crossing paths at the City Ground somewhat, they share the same remit and now is the time to get on with the task at hand.
Fight for promotion, and make a long-awaited return to the Premier League.