KENNY BURNS was never backwards in coming forward when he played for Leeds and Forest in the 1980s, and his view of both clubs is equally as forthright almost 40 years on. Phil Hay reports.
Nottingham Forest come to Elland Road managerless tonight and the dismissal of Philippe Montanier last week was widely anticipated.
The Frenchman had been on a downward spiral from the day Forest beat Leeds United at the City Ground in August.
As discussions raged at regular intervals about who might replace a beleagured Montanier, Kenny Burns, the ex-Leeds and Forest player, saw few better options than Garry Monk.
Under Monk, Leeds have discovered peace and tranquillity this season. Forest and their owner, Fawaz Al-Hasawi, are being made to look like the Championship’s biggest shambles.
“Shambles is too good a word,” Burns said.
Monk and Montanier were both appointed in June, within four weeks of each other. Burns, who makes a habit of speaking his mind, thought Montanier’s selection was driven by the fact that “he was cheap”.
Monk, in comparison, cut a sensible choice, even after some choice defending condemned Leeds to a 3-1 defeat at Forest on August 27. Forest have won five games since then and are 18 points behind Leeds.
“Leeds did very well getting Monk,” Burns said. “From a Forest point of view, when the last manager (Montanier) was in trouble and people were talking about replacements, Monk was the type of guy I wanted. He’d have been my choice, not that he’d be hurrying to leave Leeds. He’s young, he’s a British coach and he’s got that squad on a roll. I like him a lot.
“Leeds are getting results no problem. Forest are more like a toy car. You wind them and they go so far before coming to a stop. I’d give them a three out of 10 or maybe four this season.
“Too many of the players aren’t good enough. Some would be better off at a club like Collingham (the non-league side based in Newark). Too often there’s been no passion, no effort and square pegs in round holes.
“I can’t say I’m not worried about relegation. You have to be.”
His assessment of a troubled club, a club which Al-Hasawi has been trying to sell without success, makes Forest sound like ideal opposition tonight.
Leeds, unusually, are heading into the game with a defeat behind them, anxious to recover quickly from Saturday’s 3-2 loss at Barnsley. This evening’s match was rearranged for a midweek kick-off at short notice to accommodate United’s FA Cup-tie at Sutton United on Sunday, and Monk and his players seemed happy with the quick turnaround after a loose performance at Oakwell.
United’s head coach has scope to refresh his line-up. Pontus Jansson is back from suspension and was always likely to start against Forest. The intensity of Saturday’s game, which told on Ronaldo Vieira and Pablo Hernandez, might offer chances to Eunan O’Kane and Stuart Dallas, both of whom gave Leeds more drive after appearing as substitutes.
O’Kane last started a game away at Liverpool in the League Cup in November, the night when a niggling groin problem got the better of him.
Forest’s season has been complicated by the loss of key players at unhelpful times. The club sold Oliver Burke to Red Bull Leipzig in August, despite Montanier predicting that the electric winger would stay at the City Ground beyond the transfer deadline, and Henri Lansbury left for Aston Villa for £2.75m last week.
Lansbury had been absent from Forest’s side prior to that move, saying he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to play.
Burns is typically scathing. “He was a big-time Charlie,” he said. “He had about four good games before that move. Good luck to him at Aston Villa but I think Forest have done well to get close to £3m for him. I doubt we’ll see much of that go back into the team though.
“It was the same when Oliver Burke was sold from under (Montanier’s) nose.”
Montanier’s sacking after seven months in charge leaves Forest in the hands of caretaker Gary Brazil, and not for the first time. A Ben Osborn strike earned them a precious 1-0 victory over Bristol City at the City Ground on Saturday but Burns believes the strength and power of Monk’s squad is likely to dictate tonight’s fixture.
“Leeds have good quality but they’re strong and physical all over the park,” Burns said.
“You’ll get a good battle between Chris Wood, Matt Mills and Jack Hobbs, but Leeds might just bully Forest out of it.
“We’ve seen that happen before although, in fairness to Gary (Brazil), he used square pegs in square holes on Saturday. And what happened? Forest won. It’s pretty simple.”
The Championship table swung against Leeds over the weekend, with the division’s top two edging further away and seventh-placed Derby County edging to within five points of them.
The significance of tonight’s rescheduled fixture is increased by the fact that it will leave every side around United with a game in hand.
Burns, a player who Forest sold to Leeds for £400,000 while Allan Clarke was managing United in 1981, believes Leeds are heading for the play-offs with Newcastle United and Brighton in control of the fight for automatic promotion.
“Those two look very strong and probably too strong,” Burns said. “I don’t see anyone catching them.
“Leeds have a fair way to go yet but I think they’ll be in the play-offs unless something goes badly wrong.
“This is one of the best Championship races for years and they’re doing very well to be right in the middle of it.
“Forest are in a totally different state. The only way I can describe their season so far is diabolical.”