The big decision facing Nuno as Nottingham Forest leadership set to be tested

Nottingham Forest head coach Nuno Espirito Santo
Crunch time for Nuno and his Forest team with three games to go. -Credit:Getty

It is crunch time for Nottingham Forest as they prepare for a huge clash at Bramall Lane on Saturday (3pm kick-off). The Reds’ Premier League fate is hanging in the balance with three games to go. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side take on already-relegated Sheffield United desperately in need of a win.

With so much at stake, there was a lot to talk about when NottinghgamshireLive's Nottingham Forest reporter, Sarah Clapson, held a live Q&A session on our Reds Facebook page. Here is a look at the big issues with supporters as the Reds' survival fight goes down to the wire....

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Q: If Murillo is fit, stick with the same back three?

A: I think so, if Murillo and Boly are both fit. Having Boly back is so important. He makes a massive difference with his height, his physical presence and his experience. I think it would give everyone a lot more confidence going into the final three games if he is available and if he starts.

He looked really solid on Sunday. Put his body on the line, wasn’t afraid to throw himself in front of things and gave his all. You need that in a relegation fight, and it galvanises the rest of the team. He helps with defending set-pieces, too.

Assuming Boly and Murillo are fit, it is a big decision for Nuno over whether to stick with three at the back or go with his usual four. I’d be tempted to stick with a three for the remaining three games as it worked really well against Manchester City. I’ve banged the drum for a while about consistency in team selection, too, so keeping it the same would add some stability.

Forest could take a lot of positives from Sunday’s performance. There is a lot for them to build on, so I don’t see the need to change too much this weekend. Murillo, Boly and Moussa Niakhate helped limit City to very few chances. Matz Sels didn’t really have too many saves to make.

I thought Forest got the balance right between being defensively solid and attacking with intent and getting on the front foot on Sunday. The set-up suited that particular game, with the unique challenges City pose, but I do think it can suit the next three games as well - particularly away from home when you do have to be mindful of being tough to break down while also trying to stamp your authority on the game.

Q: Hope the team spirit is up - the performance against Man City was brilliant considering they were better than Real Madrid only last week.

A: Sunday’s performance was really encouraging. It should be a real confidence booster going into the final three games.

Some players really stood out with their individual performances. Ola Aina was absolutely outstanding. The wing-back role worked really well for him, and we all know how quick he is.

It was the same for Neco Williams on the other side. Hopefully his injury isn’t too serious because he has been in excellent form. He is certainly one of the most improved players this season.

If Williams isn’t fit, Forest do at least have options. Nuno could swap in Gonzalo Montiel, who came on last weekend. He could also switch Aina to the right and play Harry Toffolo on the left, if he wanted to. That might be a decent option as Montiel has been up and down. Aina is comfortable on both flanks and Toffolo has generally done a decent job when he’s played.

In terms of the team spirit, whenever we speak to Nuno or any of the players, they all make a point of referencing the bond and the unity they have. Sometimes when results haven’t gone the right way, there can be a temptation to assume the team spirit isn’t the same as it was last season, but that’s certainly not the impression given.

Nuno has been very clear about how the uncertainty around the points deduction has had an effect, though. It has been hanging over the club since they were charged in January. The players are only human, so of course they take note of what is happening. They try to shut out all the noise - and I am certain it is not playing on their minds once they cross the white line - but it is difficult to avoid it. It does get spoken about around the training ground and in the dressing room. Having clarity on that front can only be a good thing.

I think you can question the leadership in the squad, though. Do Forest have enough leaders in the group? It is something we have discussed a lot.

They do have some. Boly is one. Morgan Gibbs-White another, and I think he enjoys the responsibility when he wears the armband.

Ryan Yates is another. He gets his fair share of stick, but you can’t underestimate the role he plays on and off the pitch. But do Forest have too many others beyond those three? I think you have to question that.

The last three games will tell us a lot about the leadership and character in the side. This is when Forest need big characters to come to the fore, along with the unity you mentioned.

The run-in is as much about the mental aspect as what happens on the pitch. It is about who can cope with the pressure. Some of that comes down to Nuno to prepare the players in the right way and make sure they can handle the pressure, but Forest also need their leaders and big personalities to step up.

Q: Will Taiwo play again this season? We need him.

A: Forest have been hopeful since Taiwo Awoniyi picked up his injury that he would be back before the end of the season. Nuno said only the other week he was confident Taiwo would still have a part to play.

With only three games left now, time is running out. Nuno said after the Man City game, he would assess how Awoniyi is this week and see whether he is able to join the group.

Forest are going to be treading very carefully with him because of the injury problems he has had. I can’t see him being thrown straight back into the XI when he does return, because he has been out for a while and also missed a chunk of the season previously. There will be a degree of caution with him.

Prior to the last few games, the form of Chris Wood had taken the pressure off a bit. He was on fire, so Awoniyi would have faced a challenge to get back in the XI anyway.

Wood has had a bit of a dip in the last few games in terms of not finishing chances. They were gilt-edged ones against City; the kind he would have snapped up a few weeks ago.

Those kinds of games happen for strikers, though. They go through ups and downs, peaks and troughs. It is about how they bounce back and recover from them. Chris Wood is experienced enough to know you just have to put those missed chances behind you, move on quickly and take the next ones. Hopefully he does that and can make up for the missed chances by scoring a few in the remaining games.

If Awoniyi can play even a small part by being an option on the bench, though, it would be a big boost and make a big difference. Just having someone different to be able to turn to, someone who is capable of coming on and getting a goal when needed, would be a massive help.

Hopefully he is back soon. It is a real shame for him that his injury problems have happened when he has been in good form. He deserves better luck on that front.

Q: Any team that wants to stay in the Prem has to convert their chances. Same applies in the Championship. Sadly though, if Boly, Williams and Murillo are out, we've had it.

A: Agree about taking chances. That’s what cost Forest the chance of getting any kind of result on Sunday.

It wasn’t just Wood. If Neco Williams had scored early on, it would have been a completely different game. Callum Hudson-Odoi had a couple of chances as well, and Murillo.

Forest deserved something from it. They played so well and the performance merited a result. But Man City were ruthless where Forest weren’t. Even though City were not at their best, they took their chances - and that was the difference.

You cannot afford to miss too many chances in the Premier League, particularly against the likes of City. If you don’t take your opportunities, there is always the risk you will get punished.

You can look back on a number of games where that has been the case for Forest this season. But they are all gone now, all that matters is they do the business in the last three games. Forest don’t want to get to the end of the season and be left kicking themselves over all the times they should have got something from games but didn’t.

In terms of the three injury doubts, it would be a big blow to lose any of them. Fingers crossed they are not serious injuries. They are all key players.

Are you confident Forest will stay up? Have your say in the comments below