Date:Thursday February 8 2007
Paul Taylor examines the strength of the Nottingham Forest squad following the departure of a number of players and asks if it is still strong enough to win the promotion that fans crave
Seventeen could be the magic number for Nottingham Forest's Colin Calderwood.
When he took over as manager, the average Forest training session was something akin to watching the Zulus coming over the hill at Rourke's Drift.
Calderwood inherited a squad of around 25 senior players from the Gary Megson era, along with a handful of teenage players who were regarded as having a bright future.
This weekend, as he prepares for the visit of his former club, Northampton Town, Calderwood will do so with a squad that includes only 17 senior players.
That will be boosted by a group of youngsters that has grown in number during the season, as the likes of Lewis McGugan, Alan Power, Robert Hughes, Vinnie Fernandez and Hamza Bencherif have enhanced their reputations with impressive performances in the reserves.
But that does not entirely shield Calderwood from accusations he is taking a gamble.
In some eyes, it will certainly be regarded as a risk. Injuries to three or four key players could see Forest looking short of options very quickly.
But Calderwood seems unfazed, hitting back with a three-fold response.
The first is that Forest can still fall back on the emergency loan system, should they find themselves wanting to make additions.
In addition, he believes those young players who have started to shine in recent months - and particularly, you suspect, the likes of Lewis McGugan and Robert Hughes - can be relied upon to play their part.
But, most crucially, he believes the compact nature of the squad can work in their favour.
When he arrived at the City Ground, Calderwood was concerned with the size of the squad - admitting that his biggest challenge, as with every manager, would be to keep those players who were not involved in the first team fray properly motivated.
In truth, this never seemed to be a problem. With Forest flying high, those players on the fringes could have few complaints about being left on the sidelines.
Publicly, at least, there have been few moans and groans from the dressing room.
Nevertheless, Calderwood says he has already seen a reaction from his players now there are fewer of them.
'There is a bit of zest and freshness about the squad already, because the players are nearly all in the strip on Saturday,' he said.
'It is a number that I am very happy with. It might be something that is questioned by the end of the season - but I don't think it will be.
'I think we will improve and prove ourselves between now and the end of the season.
'I know what we have to do to achieve that - we have to win promotion.
'I don't envisage any problem through the changes. In fact I think we will be stronger.
'We have got young players who have a chance of playing in the first team, every one of them.
'There is Alan Power, Robert Hughes, Hamza Bencherif, Vinnie Fernandez - they can all step in, if required.
'We have enough experience to help these players, if required. We have people who set a good example on the training ground.'
Few eyebrows were raised at those allowed to leave the City Ground, as players who had not been involved were whittled down one by one.
That was, at least, until deadline day when three more senior men were allowed to leave.
John Thompson joined Tranmere on loan but, with his contract set to expire in the summer, is likely to remain at Prenton Park for longer.
Danny Cullip, who had been a rock in the heart of defence earlier in the season, and Nicky Southall - who had barely missed a game - were also allowed to depart.
There were rumours that Cullip had fallen out of favour with his manager after reacting badly to being left on the bench. Southall's reasoning was more straightforward - he had been offered the chance to return 'home' to Gillingham as a player-coach on a two-and-a-half year deal.
For a 35-year-old, the appeal of such an offer would be hard to resist.
But Calderwood says neither was a decision he took lightly. 'They are people who played the vast majority of games for us.
'Without discussing personal situations, there were different reasons for both going.
'I had to make a judgment call on whether we will be good enough or whether we can improve if these players are not at the club.
'We are not going to be at crisis point if we get three or four injuries. We were aware of the situation with Kris Commons, with him coming back from injury. And we still trained with 20 outfield players last week.
'David Prutton coming in eases the question marks over Nicky Southall leaving.
'Luke Chambers' arrival eases the departure of Danny Cullip and John Thompson. But the way the back four performed in recent league games has made me think we will be okay.'
Such is the level of belief at the City Ground, it is not impossible that Calderwood had the thought of building a squad for the Championship at the back of his mind.
Alternatively - as was the case with Nathan Tyson last year - it may be that Forest still have one or two further additions in mind, who could join on a loan basis with the permanent transfers completed in the summer.
Either way, when it comes to the most crucial question, Forest can still feel reasonably confident.
The important questions have not changed since the summer. Do they have cover in all areas and, more specifically, do they have a squad of players that can take them to promotion?
Barring any serious injuries, then yes - they should have. Forest may not have strength in depth, but do not lack quality.
They still have four strikers who, in League One terms, are as good as most others.
The addition of Prutton already looks to have made a difference, as his simple but effective approach added an immediate air of urgency and authority to the Forest midfield at Bradford.
While, if they had been missing the guile and creativity of Southall, it was masked by an industrious and imaginative performance from Jack Lester.
Plus Kris Commons is still to return.
At the back, Ian Breckin and Wes Morgan again look to have a formidable blend of youth and experience in the middle, while John Curtis and Julian Bennett are reliable full backs.
The presence of Chambers will keep them on their toes, with the new signing likely to be drafted into the team from the moment one of them suffers a slip in form.
As Calderwood says, it is his reputation that is on the line
and in May he will be judged on how many decisions he got right.
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