Nottingham Forest face a season-defining week against Wolves, Leeds and Aston Villa… Evangelos Marinakis did not splurge £160m on 30 players to be relegated and his backing of Steve Cooper will be tested to the limit if they falter
- Evangelos Marinakis stuck by Steve Cooper when he was under huge pressure
- Manager has rewarded his faith but now faces a critical week in charge
- If Forest lose to Wolves and Leeds the owner’s resolve will be tested
Evangelos Marinakis did not spend £160million on 30 new players to see Nottingham Forest relegated after a single season back in the Premier League.
By full-time in next Saturday’s match at Aston Villa, he should have a good idea of whether his investment will help keep Forest above the line.
In the space of four days, Steve Cooper’s men take on Wolves and Leeds – two of their direct rivals in the fight for survival. Wolves visit the City Ground on April 1 for what is likely to be a highly-charged fixture, before Forest travel to Elland Road on April 4. For perhaps the first time since the Premier League returned after the World Cup, Forest supporters are very worried.
Their impressive home record was ended by Newcastle before the international break, halting a nine-match unbeaten run. It is better not to talk about Forest’s performances on their travels, where they have taken six points from a possible 39.
Though one result can change it, the mood among the Forest hierarchy is said to be calm and resolute this week and despite recent poor form, they can look to the Wolves fixture with some optimism, with Forest still two points above the bottom three.
Nottingham Forest face a potentially season-defining run of three games in a week
Owner Evangelos Marinakis’ faith in Steve Cooper was rewarded but could be tested again
Cooper’s side lost at home against Newcastle before the international break
Julen Lopetegui’s men are not in the same class as Newcastle and though some of their approach play is excellent, they lack a killer touch in front of goal.
In Brennan Johnson, Forest have arguably the best attacker in the relegation fight. The 21-year-old has nine goals in all competitions and will be assessed after missing Wales’ Euro 2024 qualifiers against Croatia and Latvia with a thigh problem. With Johnson and Morgan Gibbs-White in the team, Forest will always be dangerous.
Former Wolves man Gibbs-White will need full focus after acting the goat when Forest knocked Wolves out of the Carabao Cup in January, and he and Johnson will be just as important at Leeds, whose defence looked fragile in their chaotic 4-2 win at Wolves on March 18.
Cooper has done an excellent job to mould a completely new squad into a unit capable of hanging tough in one of the world’s most demanding leagues. He was smart enough to overhaul a style of play that was not working early in the season and until the recent wobble, it appeared more than likely Forest would stay up.
This is an accomplished coach whose work at Forest has caught the eye of several rivals and he will not be short of interest at the end of the campaign, however it concludes.
There is no guarantee of survival even when a club spends heavily – just look at Fulham in 2019, relegated after spending £105m, or Aston Villa a year later, who stayed up on the final day following a £140m across the previous two transfer windows.
Whether Marinakis sees it that way is another matter. The Greek shipping magnate is used to success in his homeland, where he owns 47-times champions Olympiacos. Relegation after a season is not part of any plan.
Marinakis’ backing was decisive last October, when Cooper risked the sack after a 4-0 defeat at Leicester but was handed a new deal until summer 2025 instead.
Brennan Johnson (left) and Morgan Gibbs-White (right) are key in the fight for survival
The City Ground has become a fortress this season and that support will be needed to the end
Though he has justified that faith by turning Forest around, there are no circumstances under which Marinakis would be happy to drop straight back into the Championship.
Every decision the hierarchy make between now and the end of the season will be driven by that.
Forest’s away form has been a source of frustration at every level of the club, as has an injury list that has hampered them throughout the campaign.
For now, the support for Cooper is there – as it should be. Defeats to Wolves and Leeds could alter the picture drastically, however. It is no exaggeration to say this is Forest’s biggest week since promotion.
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk