Nottingham Forest add Matt Mills and Jamie Ward for Championship challenge
Nottingham Forest ended 2014/15 in mid-table mediocrity after their promotion push tailed off spectacularly during the second third of the season. Former Reds striker Dougie Freedman swiftly replaced City Ground icon Stuart Pearce, and has now made two clever captures without spending a penny in transfer fees.
Coral make Forest 11/2 Championship promotion chances, meaning eight other sides are more fancied to figure in the desperate scrap to get back into the Premier League. This price reflects season upon season of disappointment for the East Midlands outfit.
To land one-time Southampton academy product Matt Mills following his release from Bolton Wanderers, where Freedman coached him previously, and Northern Ireland winger Jamie Ward, who was kicked to the curb by the Reds’ bitter rivals Derby County, both for nothing are real transfer coups.
What these additions give Forest are two prime talents and healthy competition for places in key areas of defence and attack. Mills, 28, has done the rounds, snapped up by Manchester City while still a youngster, but rose to prominence at Doncaster Rovers.
A spell with Reading followed and then a big money move to the Reds’ other local rivals Leicester City materialised. Unable to address Wanderers’ decline during three seasons there, Mills is nonetheless hugely experienced at this level with over 230 Championship appearances.
That’s more than other centre back options Jack Hobbs, Michael Mancienne and Kelvin Wilson, though they happen to have plenty themselves. Freedman is also fortunate to have plentiful wide options in Reds ranks.
Ward, 29, has averaged around a goal every five games from the flanks in 200 outings at this level. Competing with this former Ram who has to do more than most to win Forest fans over are fellow proven performers Michail Antonio and Chris Burke, plus the increasingly marginalised Jamie Paterson.
This level of strength in depth across two key areas are the envy of many a club. Championship title odds of 22/1 reflect the fact that record signing Britt Assombalonga is set miss most of 2015 recovering from a serious knee injury.
Reds understudy strikers Dexter Blackstock and Matty Fryatt both have checkered fitness records themselves, so it’s this central spearhead where Forest could be weakest for the upcoming campaign.