The matchday programme summed it up nicely.
The brief overview of Nottingham Forest’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Stoke in early March began “Nottingham Forest’s play-off hopes suffered a blow…”.
On the very next page, the summation of Saturday’s fine 3-0 victory over Hull City stated, “Nottingham Forest’s play-off hopes were boosted…”.
What a difference a week makes.
Only a few days after that Hull win, the possible promotion pendulum has swung back the opposite way after Forest were rather comfortably beaten 3-1 on Wednesday at the hands of fellow play-off hopefuls Aston Villa.
Though the defeat is a blow to the Reds, a win would have taken them into the top six on goal difference, it’s not decisive and Forest are still in contention despite dropping to tenth.
That view was echoed by Forest manager Martin O’Neill after the game with the two-time European Cup winner urging his charges to pick themselves up ahead of Saturday’s important clash with bottom-of-the-table Ipswich Town.
Forest were simply not at the races against Villa and they were punished by a side who have plenty of Premier League quality at their disposal. Villa are underachieving this season and should be challenging for automatic promotion.
On that basis, O’Neill maybe able to easily look past the defeat however the bigger ramification is that Forest are still on the hunt for their first back-to-back victories since September.
It is this inconsistency that has plighted Forest’s season and prevented them from challenging higher up the table. Fans will somewhat understandably point to crucial refereeing errors that have played a part in this.
Kemar Roofe’s controversial ‘handball’ goal for Leeds back in October denied the Reds what would have been a second, successive win. As did Dwight Gayle’s dive to win a penalty for West Bromwich Albion in the middle of February.
Both were without question poor decisions however there’s an argument to be had that if Forest had been able to produce a little something extra in their performance then they would have had enough to see those games out and secure the extra points.
With nine games to go, O’Neill spoke on Wednesday about wanting his side to find some consistency between now and the end of the season.
“It would be nice to put a run together,” said the 67-year-old.
The former Celtic chief continued, “If you can’t win back-to-back games, and we haven’t done that since September, that doesn’t bode well for a side that’s struggling never mind a side that has aims to get into the top six”.
Depsite obviously identifying this an area that his side will need to improve on over the coming weeks, the fact of the matter is that O’Neill’s men remain in the hunt partly down to the failure of the fellow challengers to lay down a marker.
O’Neill puts this down to the quality of the division with the Championship proving to be as tight as ever at both ends of the table.
“I think people are wanting to have a grip on the play-off positions but it’s difficult. This is the league. It is unpredictable.” he explained.
There could be as many as eleven teams vying for the last two play-off places with West Brom, and seemingly one of Leeds or Sheffield United securing the other two.
With the clock running down on the 2018-2019 season, now is the time for one of those teams to put a run together that could potentially define their entire campaign.
Martin O’Neill will be hoping his boys can do just that. Saturday’s trip to Portman Road would be a very good time to start.