When Lewis McGugan was excluded from the matchday squad initially against Peterborough, many felt perplexed, considering the substitute bewilderness that was present in the 1-0 loss to Bristol City, when four players on the bench that day were defensive players.
This confusion continued, as McGugan was put through his paces by the Forest fitness coach at London Road, as the other players were doing the team warm-up. It indicated McGugan was in Cotterill’s thoughts, but hadn’t done enough to grab a place on the bench.
This changed though, when Moussi pulled out of the match, after tweaking a muscle in the warm-up. Rather than opting to replace Moussi with a player originally named on the bench, Cotterill chose to pluck McGugan from the outside, who had in no way prepared for a match, having just been put through a gruelling fitness session. For McGugan, it was a huge chance for him to show his worth, and to prove to Cotterill he’s worth bringing back in.
For McGugan throughout his career, it’s always been his attitude that has held him back. When Cotterill, post-match at London Road, was asked about McGugan’s recent disappearance, he said, “None of them are ever in the cold, unless they choose to be. I don’t treat the players not starting any differently, to the players that do start. The way they talk back to me is up to them”.
This, despite being overlooked by the majority, sums up not just McGugan, but many of the other players this season.
The decision from Cotterill to throw McGugan in, proved to be a brilliant one. McGugan looked sharp in the early stages, causing Peterborough a whole host of problems, showing a positive attitude, and was so close to opening the scoring, only to hit the inside of the post. McGugan continued to be a threat until the 2nd half, when Forest went down to 10 men, but McGugan’s fitness caught up with him. He was withdrawn to allow Forest to be more defensively set up, introducing Scott Wootton.
McGugan can rightly feel he justified Cotterill’s move to throw him in, and will be seeking another start against Blackpool, to show he can be consistent. One thing McGugan has not been in his Forest career however, is consistent.
This season has summed up McGugan’s career so far. When McClaren came in, McGugan must’ve quickly impressed, because McClaren was eager to give him whatever he wanted, if it thought it would make McGugan play. Soon after McClaren’s arrival, McGugan was handed the No10 shirt. This might’ve been a minor incident to some, but the fact the shirt was given to McGugan on a plate, was a cause for concern. It demonstrated to us all McClaren was prepared to give him anything he wanted, if it meant getting performances back. After this, he was constantly lauded by McClaren, and it appeared as if McGugan was the man McClaren wanted to build the rest of the Forest team around.
McClaren’s reign saw lacklustre performances from the No.10, who at some points, acted like a spolit child. He continued his tradition of not trying to win the ball back when he’d lost it, which was a lot of the time, by not working for the team, it showed he just wanted it laid on a plate. The approach taken to him off the field, was starting to be mirrored on it. This was a man who expected it all to fall into place, for him to score the goals and be the one publically raved about; McClaren failed to show McGugan he had to work for his rewards. One of McClaren’s big mistakes.
When travelling to Coventry after McClaren had departed from the club, I remember reading the newspaper, and a quote from McGugan stuck out. “We Won’t Let The New Manager Down” he declared. At that point I remarked, “Alright Lewis, I’ll quote you on that when you’ve just lost the ball, and you’re leisurely waddling back to regain possession”. And that was Lewis working hard. Okay, maybe a little harsh.
Cotterill did come in, and made the same mistake as McClaren. He talked about McGugan being the main man. He hailed him, commenting that he was extremely gifted, and was ready to give McGugan a vital role in the team. Like in the McClaren era, McGugan failed to deliver, and was criticised for his inconsistency by Cotterill, and his latest appearance against Peterborough was one of very few since Christmas.
Forest now have a big dilemma on their hands. They’ve let many contracts run down this season, and many players have hit form and are expected to leave disappointly on a free at the end of the current campaign. With McGugan’s deal ending next summer, now may be the perfect time to offload him and cash in. Forest could gamble by retaining him, but McGugan has shown time and time again, that once he’s in his comfort zone, he can very rapidly lose concentration, and not look a patch of the player he is when he’s on form.
Cotterill could have players in mind that he knows he could rely on every week, leaving McGugan surplus to requirements. With many teams such as West Ham, Birmingham, Villa and Fulham allegedly showing interest in the last few years, the summer might be the perfect time for McGugan to get a fresh start. In Nottingham, he’s very much in his comfort zone, where he feels loved, put him in London, or anywhere else, and with the right management, he could feel like he has to work to feel loved and appreciated.
Whilst he’s shown he can do it in patches, it’ll be interesting to see how Cotterill views it, and whether he’ll give McGugan another chance. If McGugan does get an opportunity, and doesn’t take it, he could well be questioning himself in 10 years time, about what could have been, if he’d maximised his potential when those in charge showed faith.