Inside take on Hughton at forrest from the athletic today
On a basic level, Hughton’s biggest downfall, his biggest failure was not any breakdown of his relations with the players or the Forest hierarchy. It was a refusal to try anything different, he had no Plan B. Those results never came; the mood never changed. At least not for the better.
He has faced similar criticisms before, at Norwich and Brighton.
“I did not like the way he was as a manager,” former Forest striker Grant Holt, who played under Hughton at Norwich, told the Under The Cosh podcast recently. Holt added that he did not like the defensive philosophy of Hughton’s football, despite liking the man himself.
“I did not enjoy it,” he added. “We did have an argument about it once and he said to me ‘if you do not like the way I am going to play, you are not going to play’.
“I told him it was fine, because I’m bored to death playing the way you play anyway…”
But another impact of the COVID lockdown was a sluggish, cautious transfer window throughout the Championship, among those clubs not armed with parachute payments at least.
For Hughton, the reinforcements arrived too late. Ten new signings eventually came, which prompted talk of adopting a 4-3-3 formation, with Paraguay international Braian Ojeda set to be a key figure in midfield. But with the 21-year-old forced to isolate after international duty, Hughton’s last two games saw him persevere with the same 4-2-3-1 approach and the same structured mentality that had become a source of frustration for so many.
There was a glimmer of a suggestion that things might change against Cardiff, as a well-crafted team goal, finished by Lewis Grabban, provided a sense of hope. But then normal service resumed as, for the fourth time in six Championship games, Forest conceded two soft goals to succumb to a 2-1 defeat.
Against Middlesbrough, the story remained familiar. Forest missed the few decent chances they created, while Warnock’s side did not. The agonising mistake from keeper Ethan Horvath, who controlled Loic Mbe Soh’s back pass poorly and allowed Onel Hernandez to fire into an empty net for their second goal, felt like an unnecessarily cruel coup de grace.
The fact he subsequently used his final substitution to replace Mbe Soh with another right-back, in Jayden Richardson, at a time when Forest needed two goals to get back in the game, only underlined Hughton’s habit of making cautious, like-for-like changes off the bench.
There are mitigating factors when assessing what has unfolded.
Forest have had a fierce and admirable desire to do things differently this summer; to build a younger squad that is full of ambition, hunger and potential — all while cutting the wage bill and trimming some fat.
All of which took time and, in the process, left Forest — and Hughton — short of options in key areas. Forest lacked options in both full-back positions. Gaetan Bong was brought back in from the cold to play at left-back — after previously being told he could leave the club — and, at times, still looked partially frozen.
On the right side, Forest had to rely on an 18-year-old; Fin Back is a young man with a very bright future ahead of him — and who performed well when called upon, letting nobody down — but his initial inclusion was still motivated by circumstance.
Hughton departs without three of the new signings — Ojeda, Rodrigo Ely and Mohamed Drager having kicked a ball.
While their failure to sign a striker — with a deal for Bordeaux forward Josh Maja collapsing at the 11th hour when the French club thought it was done — has left Hughton to persevere with Lyle Taylor up front, who has struggled badly in the last two games.
In the days before his departure, it felt telling that Hughton began to speak about his tenure as if it had already ended.
“You feel the pressure of the job, of the support base and what the club want. But the last person the players need to see down in the dumps or not on decent form is the manager,” said Hughton in his final pre-match press conference. “I enjoy this job. It is less enjoyable at times like this. But the plusses are the work you do on the training pitch; working with young players is the best thing you do.
“It is only when you are here that you realise what a big and great club this is. I have thoroughly enjoyed managing this club.”