By Tony Leighton
The return of Billy Davies to Nottingham Forest's managerial hot seat has sparked a promotion bid that looked unlikely to happen as the City Ground team floundered in the middle of the npower Championship table in the wake of four management changes in 20 months following the sacking of Davies.
Tuesday evening's 1-0 victory over nine-man Ipswich Town, who had both left-winger Lee Martin and right-back Richard Stearman sent off, was fortuitous but nevertheless very welcome as substitute Lewis McGugan's late winner - courtesy a massive deflection - lifted Forest to within two points of the Play-Off places.
"Sometimes you get a break and sometimes you don't," noted Davies, whose team's win was a fourth in succession and took their points tally to 13 from five unbeaten games since the manager's return. "We'll take it," he added, "we'll be thankful for it and I'm absolutely delighted to have got another three points.
In the 14 league and cup games before the Davies appointment, Forest had won only three times, so recent results mark a spectacular turnaround. "This is a team that was supposed to be dead," said the manager, "but we haven't half picked them up - we've got work rate, attitude and determination out of them.
"They've gone up against an Ipswich team that had got four clean sheets in their last six games and [despite being near the wrong end of the table] are not any pushover. They were always going to make it difficult, although we made life difficult for ourselves because our energy and passing weren't crisp and quick.
"But we're not always going to get the fluid, passing football we've had in the last three matches and I was a bit concerned about this game after playing on a very heavy surface at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday evening. The team looked completely leggy, but they gave all they'd got and you can't ask for any more."
In Davies' previous two-and-a-half year stint at the City Ground, he twice led his team to the Championship Play-Offs, only to fall at the semi-final stage on each occasion. Without him last term, Forest finished three places above the relegation zone as they failed to find the consistency required to produce a promotion push.
Now Billy's back, and so are Forest - but the wily manager is refusing to name his end-of-season target. "You can see the turnaround," he said, "but you can also see the work we've got to do here. I'll only look at the next game, concentrate and prepare for that one, and we'll just keep on doing the best we can."
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