It was just under a year ago that Steve Cooper guided Swansea City to the Championship play-off final. They may have lost to Brentford but when it was revealed that the Welshman had mutually agreed to part ways with the Swans, after growing unsettled due to disagreements regarding his style of play, he was never going to be short of interested clubs who saw his potential to build a promotion-chasing side.
Cooper’s wait to get back in the dugout didn’t last long and he made his Championship return in September by replacing Chris Hughton at Nottingham Forest, with the club rock bottom of the table. Forest were still suffering from the inevitable hangover of their overachieving 2019-20 season under Sabri Lamouchi, in which they ended up missing out on the play-offs on goal difference on the final day. Last season the squad was brought back down to reality and it felt that it would take a while for the supporters to dream about a return to the Premier League, where they haven’t featured since 1999.
After a poor start to this campaign under Chris Hughton, Cooper inherited a team which had lost six out of their first seven league matches. The 42-year-old, it’s safe to say, has exceeded expectations, He has transformed a team devoid of ideas into one of the strongest forces in the division and over the course of the season they have rocketed up the table, claiming 19 wins and nine draws from Cooper’s 33 league games in charge.
He immediately moulded the squad into his preferred shape which is built with three centre-halves, and captain Joe Worrall has been his commanding leader on the field, while Scott McKenna has also been resolute. His skills to nurture and bring the best out of young players is renowned following his work as the England Under-17’s boss in which he guided a team featuring Phil Foden to World Cup glory. So far at Forest, he has helped talents like Brennan Johnson, plus loanees Djed Spence and James Garner to flourish. It didn’t take long for Cooper to unite the dressing room and since he stepped through the doors at the City Ground, Forest have never looked back.
They have been in the promotion picture for months and after their thumping 4-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion they have equalled their best points tally (70) over the last 11 years (2019-20) and Cooper’s men still have five games left to play.
They are in the best form in the division with four wins from their last five and they are the reason that Fulham’s promotion party keeps getting pushed back. Many believe that Forest can go on and snatch the second automatic promotion spot from under the nose of Scott Parker and Bournemouth. Seven points separate the two sides and the pair still have to meet at the Vitality Stadium in the penultimate game of the season.
The momentum is on their side and it would just be the icing on the cake for Cooper to snatch second. For now at least, his side would be the favourites to win the gargantuan £150 million spectacle that is the play-off final, which is testament to the sensational job that Cooper has done in the East Midlands for the last seven months.
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