Godfather Of Champions
397 “A New Player” Part 1
On December 26, Nottingham Forest triumphed by 2:1 over Aston Villa in an away game.
And then, on December 29, the Forest team returned to their home ground. Their opponents were "The Black Cats," the Sunderland team. The two teams, who had competed against each other in the EFL Championship before, were now in the Premier League. The difference lay in the situations of both teams. Nottingham Forest had now accumulated forty-two points with a high ranking of second place, whereas Sunderland was at the bottom after eighteen rounds in the league tournament, with only six points from their single win, three draws, and fourteen defeats.
As they were facing such a weak opponent and it was their home ground, Twain carried out a large-scale rotation once again. Other than van der Sar, George Wood, and Anelka, all other players were changed.
Amidst the cheers of twenty-seven thousand Forest fans in City Ground stadium, Nottingham Forest easily won by 3:1.
Chelsea won, the Forest team won, and Manchester United also won. The three teams were in a tight race. The gap between Chelsea and the Forest team was four points, and the gap between the Forest team and Manchester United was two points. As for the league's fourth-ranked Liverpool, the gap was too wide to pose a threat to the three teams for the time being.
"We can't say Nottingham Forest is an outstanding disruptor anymore this season. Look at their lineup and current ranking; we should change to calling them 'a strong contender for the league title.'" In that day's segment of Match of the Day, Gary Lineker expressed his optimistic outlook for Twain's team.
"As usual, I have a different take on this, Gary." Mark Lawrenson appeared on the television screen with a serious expression.
When Lineker looked at the smooth skin on his chin and above his lips, he laughed. "Are you going to bet on your hair this time, Mark?"
Next to them, Alan Hansen laughed happily.
"No, I'm not betting this time." Out of habit, Lawrenson touched his lips, even though there was nothing above them. "I'll admit that Twain's team is doing very well now. But I think the real test for him isn't here yet."
"This intensive competition schedule has not stopped Nottingham Forest from winning. What do you mean by 'a real test?'" asked Lineker.
Lineker raised his brows. "You mean, once the Champions League tournament starts again?"
Lawrenson gave a nod. "If Twain's team can pass the third round in the FA Cup, then they'll find themselves up against three tournaments. I think that's the real test for Twain."
Lineker was silent for a moment. During his silence, Alan Hansen spoke up and disagreed with Mark Lawrenson's opinion. He cited the example that the Forest team had not fallen behind in their performance during last season's double competition in the UEFA Europa League and EFL Championship.
"Alan, you have to understand that the Champions League and the Europa League are not on the same level. Competing for the league title is not as difficult as qualifying for the Champions League." Lawrenson's words sounded true and reasonable.
"Nottingham Forest currently only has three strikers. Anelka is stable and trustworthy after his return to the English Premier League, but this is still their greatest hidden danger. If one of the three strikers is injured again, it's almost impossible to rely on just two strikers to combat three tournaments."
"But Eastwood is going to be discharged from the hospital soon."
"There's still a big difference between being discharged from the hospital and playing on behalf of the team. What's more, whether the Romani can return to his former state after two operations… I'm not optimistic about it at all." Lawrenson shrugged, determined to stand on the opposite side of the Nottingham Forest fans.
Lineker knew that if the subject went any further, he and Alan Hansen would not be able to refute Lawrenson because what Lawrenson had said was reasonable. So, he laughed. "Okay, moving on, let's turn our focus to Chelsea. Otherwise, we're going to have our viewers complaining that we've become the Forest television station."
The three men laughed and moved on from the Forest team's issue.
As if to demonstrate against Mark Lawrenson's remarks, on December 31, as the league tournament entered its second half, the Forest team beat this season's "dark horse," Wigan Athletic, in an away game. And then, on January 2, the Forest team had a 3:1 away victory over Charlton.
Since December 11, after a 1:1 tied game with Manchester United in the 16th round of the league tournament, Tony Twain's team had had a five-game winning streak during the most intensive period of the competition schedule.
The mighty Chelsea was still winning. After 21 rounds in the league tournament, Mourinho's Ruble corps was still progressing at a high speed. They had achieved 18 victories, one draw, and two losses. They were at the top with 55 points.
Following closely with fifty-one points, the second-ranked Nottingham Forest had 16 wins, three draws, and two defeats.
Manchester United had a run-in with their arch rival, Arsenal, in the 21st round. The visiting Manchester United tied at 0:0 with Arsène Wenger's team. Now they were ranked third with forty-seven points. Their gap with Nottingham Forest had widened to four points.
However, no one dared to underestimate Manchester United. Ferguson's team gained one point at Highbury, which brought them closer to three points. There was always hope when there was no loss, which all of Manchester United's fans were probably thinking.
Twain did not dare rest on his laurels. He knew there was a pack of wolves relentlessly in pursuit. Even though he was also one of those wolves, if he even slightly slackened, he would be torn to pieces by those who caught up from behind.
After ending a physically-draining and nerve-wracking Christmas competition schedule, the various football clubs were given a chance to take a break. The next round of the league tournament would not start until January 14th; there was nothing else on other than an FA Cup match during those two weeks.
In the FA Cup game, Twain employed player rotations in such tournaments as usual. Their opponent was the EFL Championship team, Sheffield Wednesday, which Nottingham Forest easily beat at home and advanced to the next round.
Mark Lawrenson's prediction seemed to be set in motion.
After a succession of victories, the Forest team stormed into the three competitions in a frenzy. While enjoying the thrill of victory, the danger of being toppled accompanied them at the same time.
But no matter how many crises lurked in their future, the victory before their eyes was considered good news for everyone on the Forest team. Who would not like to win?