Chapter 38: Natural-Born Manager Part 2
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
On February 9th Nottingham Forest played their 31st match in the English Football League Championship. It was their home match with Crystal Palace. Four minutes after the start of the match, the Forest team's young Captain, Michael Dawson, made use of a corner kick and scored the first goal with a header. The atmosphere of City Ground was sparked from the very beginning.
Soon after in the 59th minute, Marlon Harewood scored another goal to lock down on a victory. Andrew Johnson scored a face-saving goal for Crystal Palace only at the 75th minute. That man later transferred to Everton in the 05-06 season after Crystal Palace failed to advance in the league. He then immediately became The Toffees' number one striker. At one point, he was a hopeful for the Premier League Golden Boot. But during this match with Dawson's defense, he had very few chances.
With the 2:1 victory over Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest had scored two consecutive victories. As their disparity with the top half of the league points table was not huge, the Forest team's ranking leapt to sixth place. They had the same points as Norwich City, and once again pushed the other team down with the advantage of another complete victory.
Being sixth in the league was a morale-inspiring ranking, because according to the English Football Association's regulations for teams to be promoted from the English Football League Championship, the first and second ranked teams could be promoted straight to the Premier League, and those ranked third to sixth were eligible to join the playoffs to determine the last team to be promoted to the Premier League.
Nottingham Forest's 32nd match was postponed until April 16th. This gave the team a chance to rest and adjust. Tang En continued to carry out his tactical thinking of "less ball control, quicker passing" in training. No one objected to this as everyone had witnessed the results.
On February 22nd, their 33rd match of the English Football League Championship, Nottingham's home match was with Stoke City. This match left a very deep impression on Tang En, and also left the 31,000 home fans with a wonderful memory of that afternoon.
From the second the referee kicked off with his whistle, the match completely fell in line with the Forest team's rhythm.
Marlon Harewood became the Forest team's biggest contributor during this match. After the match he was awarded best player. His performance was steady throughout February, and he was even elected the best player in the EFL Championship for that month. In the 13th minute, Harewood received Andy Reid's pass, drove the ball into Stoke City's goal, and unveiled the prologue to the Forest team's carnage.
In the 24th and then 28th minute, within these four minutes, Harewood scored two more goals, completing his hat-trick for that match.
The entire City Ground was full of jubilant voices for the 23-year-old English striker. Even Tang En did not expect this match to start so smoothly. His rapid offensive play completely stunned Stoke City, leaving them confused and disoriented.
He had thought that Harewood would take it easy after scoring a hat-trick, but unexpectedly at the last minute in the first half, he scored again.
At that moment when Harewood scored, Tang En suddenly felt his seat shaking. He turned to see everyone on the substitutes' bench and in the technical area jump up. Walker faced him, giddy with excitement.
"4:0! Harewood is unstoppable! This is his seventh goal in three consecutive matches! The Forest team is an unstoppable force, after experiencing five embarrassing rounds of defeat, they have a complete reversal, a winning streak!"
Stoke City absolutely lost their fighting spirit. Just eight minutes into the second half, like icing on the cake, David Johnson gave the Forest team a five-goal lead.
At this time, Tang En's opponents brought on a very unfamiliar number and face. In fact, Tang En found everyone looked unfamiliar. The difference was that some of the people's names he had more or less heard of. This time, even the name of the player being brought on sounded very unfamiliar—Kris Commons.
He might be the only trouble that Stoke City brought to the Forest team. Once on the field, Commons was very active in the wing. With his breakthroughs and crosses, Michael Dawson no longer dared to press on with his attacks as he wished. In the left wing where Commons' main attack was, the Forest right back, Thompson, was disoriented by his breaks. If the Stoke City strikers had not lost the heart to continue fighting long before, perhaps they might have scored.
Seeing the danger, Tang En made an adjustment. He replaced Williams and brought on Cash, who had played remarkably in the match with Wimbledon. He used Cash's outstanding offense to suppress Commons' assists. Sure enough, Commons soon had to give up attacking and shift to defending.
The crisis lifted, and the match was back in Forest's hands. The remainder of the time was no longer spent in suspense.
In the 85th minute, Eoin Jess used a direct free kick to set the score at 6:0 for the team. The City Ground Stadium went into a frenzy.
The fans had rarely seen such a gratifying match in the past few years, and Twain had regained their former respect and confidence. This match also struck Stoke City into the relegation abyss. They only had 28 points at the end of the 33rd match. Their ranking was the second lowest. Before this match, they were still the fourth lowest in rank. The English Football League Championship rule was that the three lowest ranking teams be relegated to League Two.
After the encouraging hugs and celebration with the players, Tang En stood on the sidelines. He was not as excited as the first victory. He knew that the three consecutive victories were only a start, far from over.
Stoke City's players hurried away with their heads lowered. Tang En noticed the young player brought on in the second half, number 24, Commons. He was biting his lip and seemed to have tears in his eyes. He wondered if the kid was playing on behalf of his team for the first time. Perhaps this defeat would leave him with an indelible memory. But it might have been a good thing for him to experience failure.
The kid was quite good. It was a pity he was not on the Forest team... Andy Reid lacked a good enough assist. In case of a bad condition, or injury, who was going to strike first in the Forest team's left midfield?
When March came around, the spring air grew more and more pronounced. Nottingham Forest seemed to revive from the cold winter. New branches grew out of tree trunks, and soft buds sprouted from the branches. Their progress continued to march on.
On March 1st, the Forest team's away match challenge was with Watford. Before this match, Watford was ranked eighth in the league. They only had a three-point gap away from the Forest team. After this match, the Forest team continued to strengthen their fifth position in the league, while Watford slipped to the twelfth in the league.
It was 1:0! The Forest team chalked up a valuable three points in the away match, though the process did not seem quite convincing. Because the home team dominated from the beginning to the end of the match, it was like the replay of Forest's previous match with Stoke City. But Tang En's battle plan issued to the team before this match was for them to defend to the last and then look for opportunities to counterattack. Andy Reid succeeded in the 68th minute, kicking a long ball that silenced the Vicarage Road Stadium.
In this match, the Forest team had four shots at the goal in total, two of which were shot within the goal area, and one scored goal. The rest of the time they were confined within their own half of the field, struggling to defend against their opponents' offensive.
John Motson, who was in charge of the broadcast commentary, had said more than once during the match, "Is this still the Forest team that had the winning streak and wiped Stoke City clean with six goals in the last match?"
After Reid scored a goal, Tang En's face still looked grim. Walker and Bowyer were also worried that the opponents would breakthrough the team's goalmouth at any time. Luckily, their defense, led by Dawson, managed to resist all the attacks, and luck helped a little, too. In the end, Forest team, which was heavily criticized by Motson, won their fourth consecutive win.
No matter how battered they were on the field, the players were at least able to unwind on their way back to Nottingham.
March 5th was another away match. At the Priestfield Stadium, the Forest team brilliantly defeated Gillingham 4:1. Forest's performance continued to amaze everyone. This was an away match as well, and their performance was completely different from the previous match. Once the match started, they went charging in and respectively scored goals at the ninth, 19th, 48th, and 52nd minutes. Four players scored four goals, and they were respectively, David Johnson, Marlon Harewood, Andy Reid, and Gareth Williams.
The home team only scored a consolation goal at the 82nd minute.
The Forest team's morale surged with their five-match winning streak, even though their ranking dropped to seventh. Due to one less match previously and the other teams' outstanding performances, it did not affect Forest's mood. Nowadays, everyone believed that at the end of the season the team would be able to compete in the playoffs. If their luck became better, they might also be directly promoted to the Premier League.
Photographs of Twain directing the matches and participating in the post-match press conferences appeared in various newspapers and magazines, and he was also rated the best manager of the English Football League Championship in February. Almost all of England now knew that the Forest team had a top-notch manager who had been knocked out by one of his players.
It was the first personal honor that Tang En had received, holding the champagne at the technical area in City Ground. He asked the Evening Post reporter who was there to interview to take his picture.
He fulfilled his agreement with the Evening Post president and accepted their interview at the most appropriate moment.
In charge of the interview with Twain was the Evening Post leading reporter, James Robson, and the photographer who came along with him was an old "acquaintance" of Twain's—Pierce Brosnan, that delicate and refined intern reporter. Apparently, he came to learn from Robson and to gain experience. He was not leading the interview.
In addition to being about the recent five-match winning streak, the interview's biggest focus was on why the former Tony Twain and the current Tony Twain were so different.
With regards to this question, Tang En had already done some preparations. He called Professor Constantine in advance, who had not appeared for some time, to come to City Ground. Several people sat in the technical area and listened to this old chap, renowned in the British academia world, mitigate the mysterious rumor about Twain's condition.
James Robson and the others listened to a lot of interesting stories, from India, America, Spain, and even distant African countries... but did not receive the best answer to "what caused Tony Twain to change so much." Later, the reporter could only attribute everything on "the mysterious natural phenomenon that science cannot explain at this time" and "the impact of the accident."
When Tang En saw the other person jotting down all these in the little notebook, he was rather satisfied. He'd gone looking for Constantine to safeguard against this in the first place. It was just that he did not expect to have found an expert authority whose words actually carried some weight. Tang En knew this from the way the three reporters looked at the old chap when he had introduced Constantine to them just now.
The interview was a great success, and Tang En felt pleased. With all the recent wonderful occurrences, the Chairman was also delighted with the team's performance and had repeatedly promised him that he would still be the team's manager next season. He was more determined than ever to be a football manager.
After he'd sent off the three reporters, he returned to the stadium with Constantine.
Tang En stood on the sidelines of the grassy green field and looked around the empty red stands. There were three cleaners sweeping the stands, and turf-maintenance workers in the distance trimming the turf to keep it flat. They were preparing for the Forest team's next home match against Grimsby Town.
The sunshine was nice and comfortably warm on the skin.
"Professor. Do you know?"
"My previous wish... was just to be a young team manager like Paul, who was passionate about grooming young footballers."
The professor sat behind Twain in the technical area and crossed his legs to get a taste of being a manager.
"Some people may not necessarily find out what they truly excel at, what they really like to do, what they truthfully should do in the entirety of their lives. I'm a lot luckier than those people." Tang En turned around and looked back at Constantine looking around, smiled and asked, "How does it feel?"
"Ah... The view is not as good as up in the stands." Constantine shrugged. "I don't quite understand how sitting here can allow you to see the overall view. When I was sitting in the box a few matches ago, there were spots which I couldn't see as well."
"In fact, there will be blind angles no matter what when we are using our eyes to see." Tang En pointed to his head. "The manager's overall view is here. If he's smart enough, there will be no blind angles here. Just like you hold all those complicated formulas and data in your mind."
Constantine squinted for a moment at Twain, standing in the sun, and then nodded. "Tony, you certainly are the right person to be seated here." He stood up and conceded the manager's seat.
Looking at the rows of seats in front of him, Tang En smiled. "Yes. I like this seat. I was born to be seated here."