Steve Cooper endures the jeers as cracks begin to appear at Nottingham Forest


Over the years, boos have echoed around the City Ground on plenty of occasions. In previous eras it became a fairly regular occurrence at the final whistle during times of struggle.

But it has never been like that under Steve Cooper.

Such dissent has been a rarity. Boos, generally speaking, have been reserved for the match officials or, occasionally, opposition managers or players who have done something to irk this fiercely partisan crowd.

Which is why, when plenty inside this famous old stadium erupted into a chorus of jeers as Everton celebrated victory on Saturday evening, it felt a telling moment.


At the very core of Cooper’s remarkable Forest tenure has always been one thing — the strength of his relationship with the supporters. Few managers have struck such a rapport with the Forest faithful; even fewer seem to have grasped the nuances either of this club or this city quite as well as he has.

Forest’s rise from the lower reaches of the Championship into the topflight was achieved on the back of a remarkable sense of togetherness.

A few boos at the end of one game do not represent the end of all that. It is not a relationship that has been burnt to the ground on the back of one transgression.

What Cooper has done for this club should never be forgotten. He is the man who led Forest out of the wilderness and back into the Premier League for the first time in 23 years. He is the man who gave people something to be proud of; a figure who brought joy and hope with each and every post-match celebratory fist pump.

That was reflected during the first half against Everton when, more than once, the City Ground raised its voice to chant his name.

But, at the end, the mood felt different. There was a sense that perhaps, for the first time, cracks are starting to show. The relationship is being tested.

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Cooper’s side have won once in 10 matches (Eddie Keogh/Getty Images)

This has certainly been the most difficult week of Cooper’s tenure — which, in itself, is a massive statement because there have been significant ups and downs at times since he took up the role in September 2021.

During a difficult first season back in the top division, Cooper found his position under serious scrutiny on two occasions. The first saw him end up with a new contract, benefiting from a public demonstration of support from the hierarchy following defeat to Leicester. The second saw him survive after Forest had lost at Leeds in part, at least, because the alternative options available were uninspiring.

This season has brought a lot of new faces amid another flurry of 13 signings, but also a familiar set of problems as Cooper tries to gel together a new-look squad while simultaneously seeking to evolve the team’s style of play. But through it all, that sense of unity remained.

Cooper is not naive to the situation. He will understand that he is under pressure.

And, over the past week, he has spent plenty of time trying to deflect that away from his players; trying to do what he has done in those previous moments when the speculation had become as deafening and dark as the City Ground was at Saturday’s final whistle.

Cooper is a head coach who likes to communicate with his players. He takes them out for dinner. He surprises them with random phone calls, just to check on their well-being.

And, in the days building up to this game, there were numerous meetings — as usual. Individual conversations with players, meetings with units within the side, and gatherings of the squad as a whole.

Cooper has never been one to brush problems under the carpet. He likes to face them head on.

And that had been his intent over the past week; to talk through Forest’s issues and how they can solve them, amid what is now a run of one win in 10 games — including three consecutive defeats.

“You talk, when you have these moments. You need to have self awareness. You do not want to ignore it. You don’t let it be the elephant in the room,” said Cooper ahead of the game. “You need to put things into context. We want to play well and win in every game, but that is not going to happen. To get to where we want to get to is not going to be easy. It is a process that is going to take time.

“We are trying to go a certain way, but it will not be an overnight thing. It will be two steps forward and one step back — sometimes even two steps back — before we start to show real signs of what we can become.”

There remain numerous entirely valid arguments about the need for patience; about how Cooper has earned the opportunity to turn things around. If there is a parting of ways, whether it is in two weeks or two years, it will be a genuinely sad moment.

But this was a bad time for Forest to produce their worst performance of the campaign; for them to take what even Cooper would surely concede was a significant step backwards.

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Forest players are left dejected (Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images)

Forest had no cutting edge in the final third. The void left by Taiwo Awoniyi’s injury seemed to grow with each passing minute, with their first meaningful opportunity not arriving until after the half-hour mark when Anthony Elanga’s shot flew narrowly wide. Even if Felipe hit the post and Elanga and Morgan Gibbs-White both sent further shots close, the only real save England keeper Jordan Pickford ended up having to make was one to keep out a low drive from Murillo.

There was also a penalty claim, when Abdoulaye Doucoure pulled Ryan Yates’ shirt, that was very similar to the one awarded against Chris Wood only last weekend against Brighton. But, while Cooper can do little about the inconsistency of referees, he must address the lack of consistency in his side.

“There will have been lots of emotion among people walking out of the stadium today. Whatever that emotion is, it will only come through their support of this club,” said Cooper when asked about the boos. “We all show our emotion in different ways. I have no problem with any emotion that is shown, because it only comes from the heart.

“The supporters want the best for this club. We have lost three on the bounce, including two at home, and there will be no hiding away from that. Own it, talk about it, do not deflect. We will work even harder to put things right. As disappointed as we are, that is all we can do.”

Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis was not at the City Ground, but he was watching from Greece. And, as is normal, there were post-match debriefs held over the phone. There is speculation in Athens that Olympiacos might be about to change their head coach amid their own stuttering start to the campaign.

In that context, there would be no better time for Cooper to be able to dust off his celebratory fist pumps than at Fulham on Wednesday.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Steve Cooper is on an upwards trajectory – whether at Forest or elsewhere

(Top photo: Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images)





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