McClaren has frustrating start to life in second tier

Nottingham Forest 0 Barnsley 0
Click to follow
The Independent Football

At least it didn't rain. Steve McClaren's previous competitive match as a manager on British soil was a 3-2 defeat for England against Croatia at Wembley, when his attempt to preserve his carefully cantilevered quiff in a downpour earned him that "Wally with a brolly" headline.

But although the sun shone on Nottingham yesterday, the mood was gloomy after a stuttering opening to his first experience of management in the second tier of English football.

He had made an unobtrusive entrance, slipping out of the tunnel a few moments after kick-off, perhaps unsure of the reception he might get, bearing in mind that objections from fans had prompted Aston Villa to cancel an interview with the former England head coach. That was harsh for a man who had, after all, done his best to reinvent himself by winning the Dutch title with FC Twente in 2010. Heck, he had also been the first Englishman to manage in Germany's Bundesliga, with Wolfsburg, even if he was sacked halfway through his first season.

In the event, he need not have worried: the welcome was warm enough, if hardly incandescent. The problem came once the match had got under way. Forest, to put it simply, were awful. McClaren wrote in his programme notes that "we are still very much a work [in] progress", and it showed. Later in the column he promised new signings, which will be needed on this admittedly early evidence.

Jonathan Greening and George Boateng, old reliables from McClaren's days in charge of Middlesbrough, made sound debuts, as did Andy Reid on his return to a former club, but around them, on too many occasions, all was confusion. Barnsley had signed eight players during the close season but they managed to look neat and organised and it was Forest who played as if they had barely met. There were too many speculative long passes and when the ball did land at a Forest attacker's feet, any sort of cutting edge was absent.

In contrast, Barnsley passed short and accurately, tackled crispy and manufactured some promising openings, the best when Craig Davies, signed from Chesterfield, was left unmarked to head Jacob Butterfield's free-kick over the crossbar. When Forest tried to reply, they found Miles Addison, on loan to Barnsley from Derby, of all places, an immovable object in front of the Barnsley back four.

It was a bit too much for McClaren, who began to put on something of a master class in the physical expression of frustration as he paced his technical area. He punched the air, he pirouetted, he almost danced with disgust as another pass went astray.

Most of the applause at half-time was from the away end, and things did not improve for Forest or their new manager after the break as Rob Edwards came close to breaking the deadlock in Barnsley's favour, with a glancing header from a corner. McClaren clasped both hands behind his neck as an opponent was not picked up, he smacked his own head as a shot went high and wide, he turned away in despair as possession was squandered again.

He tried substitutions, to no avail, and although Lewis McGugan had a shot blocked by a scrum of defenders late on, it would have been harsh had Barnsley not rewarded Keith Hill, the new manager given a well-deserved chance in the Championship this season after many years of good work at Rochdale, with a point.

McClaren has plenty to ponder, but Nigel Doughty, the Forest chairman, has promised to back him "as far as new acquisitions are concerned".

Furthermore, as far as omens go it is worth remembering that his spell with FC Twente began with a goalless draw, albeit away from home against Sporting Lisbon in a Champions League qualifier. And that worked out pretty well in the end.