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Looking Back

Three months ago Nottingham Forest were flying. Seven points clear at the top in League One, the Reds were fully living up to their status as title favourites.

A sixth consecutive victory, as Brentford were brushed aside 2-0, ensured that second-placed Yeovil were left trailing in their smoke and Forest blazed into a daunting lead.

A pair of stunning free kicks from talismanic figure Kris Commons was capped off by the early, unexpected return from injury of an equally influential figure, Nathan Tyson.

With a third of the season gone, Forest had already amassed almost half the points total that had been enough to take both Colchester and Southend to promotion in the previous May.

Everything, it seemed, was rosy.

But, throughout it all one man refused to get carried away. Where Colin Calderwood was concerned, a an air of caution was the order of the day.

There was, we were reminded, still a long way to go in the season, nothing had been achieved yet. Promotion is earned in May, not November.

But then this seems to be the way of things where the Reds manager is concerned.

When Forest have done well, Calderwood's priority has been to keep their feet firmly planted on terra firma.

He is more than happy to talk up their abilities, to speak of their promotion credentials. But when Forest are on form, he steadfastly serves a reminder that there will be tougher times ahead.

It has only been when Forest have encountered the odd blip that Calderwood has allowed the more bullish side of his nature to show.

So perhaps it should be no surprise which side of Calderwood's personality is now in the ascendancy.

Following Scunthorpe's win over Bristol City in midweek, it is Forest who find themselves adrift of the leaders, by a margin of five points.

But with a third of the season left to play, Calderwood knows that the run-in has well and truly started.

And he believes his side should only have one target in mind - making sure they are either top of the table or within touching distance of it.

'We have 16 matches left at the moment, but then we will be down to 15 - and it is countdown time,' he said.

'There is no disaster if you don't win a game - as long as you remain in a position where the next game can take you to the top of the league, if you can pick up a win.

'We have always got to be in that scenario.

'I don't think we have to remind ourselves of what we are capable of - we just have to go out and do it. We have to go to work.'

In the short term, you suspect Calderwood's bullish stance will remain, purely because - despite having a game in hand on Scunthorpe - they will play at least two games before returning to the pinnacle of League One.

But, although he is unlikely to admit it publicly, Calderwood may also allow himself some reason for optimism when it comes to the fixtures Forest have left.

It is not hard to ascertain where things have begun to slide for Forest lately. Their away form over the last five games is the second worst in the division, with only Port Vale collecting fewer points than the two Calderwood's side have mustered.

But, crucially, nine of their remaining 16 games will be played at the City Ground.

Of those, potentially, three of their next four will be the most difficult, starting when they face a Northampton side tomorrow that, as well as wanting to prove a point to their former boss, have only lost twice away from home all season.

Blackpool and Doncaster - two sides with play-off aspirations, who have both won six times away - also visit within the next month and will provide tough opposition.

But, beyond that, six teams who do not boast the most impressive away records will visit the banks of the River Trent.

Cheltenham, Rotherham and Bournemouth have won only eight away games between them so far.

Huddersfield, Gillingham and Crewe are all mid-table teams, but have amassed 25 away defeats between them.

It is a similar story away from home, where Forest must visit two more relegation battlers, in the form of Brentford and Leyton Orient, as well as Chesterfield and Brighton, whose record at home is hardly glowing.

Expectation is something that Forest have long failed to live up to in recent years, but if they are to be successful, they must hope to pick up points from those games. But, even beyond those visits to the City Ground by Northampton, Doncaster and Blackpool, there are two even bigger games on the horizon.

Two matches that could decide Forest's fate.

On March 10, the Reds will make the journey to Scunthorpe with a point to prove, after seeing the Iron do the double over them last season - and inflict a humiliating 4-0 reversal in front of the Sky cameras in October.

But more than pride will be at stake at Glanford Park, whether it be because Forest are back on top or because they still have ground to make up on their hosts.

And the same will apply at Bristol City, on March 31, when victory would take Forest a very big step closer to promotion - with defeat likely to have the opposite effect.

But, when compared to their rivals, Forest do have an advantage, with Oldham, Scunthorpe, Bristol City and Yeovil all still to be involved in many matches against their key rivals.

So far this season, Calderwood's character has slowly become more easy to predict.

What will count more, come May, is that the same can be said of his players.

Nottingham Evening Post

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Date:Monday February 12 2007
Time: 8:33PM

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