Nottingham Forest boss Steve Cooper admitted he didn’t think his side would be in their current position after first arriving at the City Ground last September, speaking to the Independent ahead of their play-off final tie against Huddersfield Town.
The Reds were sitting bottom of the table after nine games when the Welshman arrived, with Chris Hughton winning just one point from a possible 21 in their opening seven league games of the season before the Irishman’s dismissal.
Steven Reid did oversee their first win of the campaign before Cooper’s arrival when they overcame the Terriers 2-0 at the John Smith’s Stadium – but they were still at the foot of the second tier at that point with any hopes of promotion looking dead and buried already.
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However, their consistency under their current boss has led them to their current position and they were even contenders for a top-two spot in the latter stages of the campaign before AFC Bournemouth ended their hopes.
After their penalty shootout victory against Sheffield United though, they are just 90 minutes away from Premier League football having lost just seven league games since Cooper was appointed, including their second-leg tie against the Blades earlier this month.
Like many people, the Welshman is surprised his side have managed to climb into the promotion mix following a difficult start to 2021/22.
He said: “But there was only seven games gone in the season. There was still a huge amount of the season to play from when we started.
“The objective was a little bit different, to get out of the relegation zone and climb up the league.
“I always had the mindset of aiming for the maximum. We always strived to do that but we have taken it step by step. It has been an exhausting but exciting season.”
Considering where they were in the early stages of the campaign, Cooper has achieved a remarkable amount in a short space of time and the most impressive thing about his tenure is how consistent they have been.
Some would argue Chris Hughton was stitched up by late signings and that’s true to an extent – because the likes of Djed Spence and others didn’t have time to settle in before the ex-Brighton manager was dismissed.
They also needed forwards to come in and add the firepower needed after scoring just 37 goals in 46 league games during 2020/21 – but didn’t sign an orthodox centre-forward last summer and that was another big frustration.
Despite this, Cooper coped well with his limited attacking options and played to Forest’s strengths, implementing a positive style of play that allowed the likes of Spence and Max Lowe to thrive on the wings.
This is why he should receive a huge amount of credit, not just for his on-field work but also for ensuring they brought in targets early during the January window, also establishing a real connection with the supporters.