How Nottingham Forest turned the City Ground into a fortress
Nottingham Forest waited 23 years to stage Premier League football at the City Ground, so perhaps it is no surprise that their home is proving so significant in the battle for survival.
The famous old stadium can be a magical place when the floodlights shine off the River Trent at night, and a reminder of those days when anything seemed possible under Brian Clough.
This season, home matches have felt like special events with a fanbase and city joining as one to back the team.
Many opposing managers have highlighted the electric atmosphere to Forest’s head coach Steve Cooper in the aftermath of draws or defeats, with one high-profile manager even admitting envy over such unwavering support.
Forest are unbeaten in the league at home since September 16: a run of nine matches which has seen them extend their record against the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea.
It is the longest unbeaten home run from a promoted team since Birmingham City’s 15-match sequence at St Andrew’s in the 2009/10 season.
Teams coming up from the Championship always plan to secure survival on the basis of decent home records, but actually delivering it is very difficult.
Last season, Watford and Norwich went straight back down after suffering 15 and 13 home defeats respectively.
Cooper will never dare to underplay the importance of the City Ground this season, or in the last campaign.
He always seems visibly moved before kick-off when Mull of Kintyre reverberates around the stadium.
Supporters’ group Forza Garibaldi works closely with the club and have turned home matches into a celebration, with flags and huge banners evoking memories of those glorious European nights under Clough.
Forest’s impressive form has been sorely needed, too. Their away performances have been the complete opposite, with Forest possessing the joint worst record along with West Ham and Leeds.
If their home form had not been so good, Cooper’s team would be deeper in relegation trouble, and maybe even cut adrift.
The visit of Newcastle on Friday night represents another threat to Forest’s record in front of their fans.
Eddie Howe’s players have recovered after the Carabao Cup final defeat with victory over Wolves last weekend and remain in contention for a top-four finish.
With Forest still to play Wolves, Manchester United, Brighton, Southampton and Arsenal at home, the proud record will be severely tested.
The worry for Cooper is how his players will recover if the air of invincibility is finally snapped. Forest also cannot rely on home form to keep them up.
This could be one of the most dramatic relegation battles in Premier League history, with nine teams from bottom club Southampton up to Crystal Palace in danger of going down.
Cooper said: “It has been tight for a while and everyone wants to stay above that horrible dotted line.
“With teams from 12th to bottom in it, we’ve got to do our best to be as high as we can in that group.
“The home record has proved to be very helpful, with the league position we currently have.
“We’re such a together club and not every team will be getting the backing and goodwill we’re getting from our supporters.
“We should be relishing this situation, we’ve worked all our lives to be here. We’ve got to go for it – it’s brilliant.”