NOTTINGHAM Forest legend Viv Anderson has backed ‘moaner’ Martin O’Neill to bring the spirit of Cloughie back to the City Ground.
O’Neill, 66, replaced Aitor Karanka in January, four decades after tasting European glory as part of Brian Clough’s all-conquering side.
Full-back Anderson shared the right-flank with the Northern Irishman in those days – and still remembers the non-stop gripes.
“Martin used to moan at me all the time because the ball was always down the other side with John Robertson,” laughs Anderson, who made 430 appearances in a glittering ten-year stint with his hometown club.
“John was a wonderful player, one of the best I’ve ever seen. But that didn’t bother Martin. It would be ‘We haven’t had a bloody kick over here Viv, what’s going on?’. I’d say ‘I know, I know’ – but as a defender I was more than happy!
“He was always frustrated that the genius on the other side was getting all the ball and we were standing there catching cold. Even now, I can still hear him shouting ‘Switch it! Switch it!”
That belligerence was a trait shared by Clough – and according to Anderson, it isn’t the only likeness.
“Martin is like Cloughie,” adds Anderson. “The outspokenness. The man-management skills. And that slight aloofness.
“You never saw Cloughie until matchday. You wouldn’t see him for days, then he’d turn up out of nowhere.
“You never knew from one minute to the next what he was going to say, what he was going to do, what his team selection would be.
“Sometimes he’d walk past you in the corridor and completely blank you. You’d think ‘What have I done? Was I bad in training? Have I dressed the wrong way?’ He always kept you guessing.
“It meant that every time you did something, you did it to your maximum because you never knew what was going on in his head.
“Martin isn’t that extreme of course, but he’s definitely got that same enigmatic quality as a manager.”
Like every Forest fan who remembers those glory days, Anderson has watched the club’s fall from grace with growing dismay.
It is now 20 years since the Reds last played in the top-flight, and rarely has there been any concerted push for a return.
Three top six finishes. No play-off finals. Two relegations. Three owners and 18 permanent managers.
Theirs is a tale of flux and false dawns, but Anderson has backed his old pal to finally lay a solid foundation.
O’Neill won promotion to the Premier League with Leicester in the 90s, led Celtic to three Scottish titles and, most recently, took the Republic of Ireland into the last 16 of Euro 2016.
He was aided in that task by Roy Keane, another Forest legend who is now his assistant at the City Ground.
“If anybody knows how to get out of that division, it’s Martin,” he said. “I can’t think of anybody better to get them going in the right direction.
“Roy Keane is a good appointment as well. He’s another one who knows what the club is all about.
“It seemed a strange combination at the time – their personalities are from completely opposite ends of the spectrum. But it works. They got performances out of the Irish that nobody could have imagined.
“It’s a bit like Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, isn’t it? Good cop, bad cop – only the other way round.
“The way I look at it, there was no use going for a man on the make. They need stability – somebody they can hang their hat on, who will stick around for a number of years.
“I know Martin has said he’ll give himself 18 months. But if he does a decent job, he will stay a lot longer than that. And, if it doesn’t happen in 18 months, then you’ve got to presume that Roy will take over and move it forward.
“Then you’ve got some continuity instead of dropping everything and starting again, which is what they’ve done for the last 20 years.
“He’s given himself a short time frame but if they back him and give him the finances he needs, there’s no better person for me.”
So far, O’Neill has won just two of his six games in charge, with Forest entering the weekend two places and six points shy of sixth-placed Bristol City.
Sandwiched between them are Derby County, who arrive for tomorrow night’s East Midlands derby nursing an FA Cup exit, dodgy form and doubts over their faltering play-off push. Does Anderson see an opportunity for O’Neill to kick-start his reign?
“They’ve got every chance,” he says. “Forest are coming into the game in good spirits. Martin’s got a bit of momentum. And Derby are coming off the back of a demoralising defeat at home to Millwall.
“Derbies are always tight affairs. It doesn’t matter if it’s Liverpool against Everton or Blackburn against Burnley, they’re always decided on small margins.
“I can’t remember this game ever being 4-0, 5-0, anything like that. It’ll be a little bit of magic, a last-minute goal. Something like that.
“Then it’s all about momentum, isn’t it? You look where Forest were a month ago – 11th, 12th, something like that.
“You put a couple of wins together and you’d be very surprised where it takes you. At this moment in time, I think anybody up to about 12th or 13th has a chance of getting into the play-offs – and with Martin, Forest have a great chance.”
CHRIS DUNLAVY / Photo: PA Images