Patient Dawson’s in for the long haul
The Post’s Forest reporter talks to the Reds’ veteran defender
WHEN he speaks to the media, Michael Dawson is a calm, composed figure. He projects an air of assured confidence.
And, when he talks about how he has had to be patient as he awaited his chance at Nottingham Forest, he almost certainly means every single word.
The veteran defender has been around long enough to understand that, for any team with promotion aspirations, a squad with significant strength in depth is a prerequisite for success.
But, while he has been around the block long enough to know how to say all the right things, beneath it all, you also get the sense the 34-yearold has been desperate to get out there on the pitch, itching to play his part.
He has often been a whirl of kinetic energy in the dugout when he has been among the substitutes; occasionally even taking on the role of unofficial cheerleader in the final moments of games, heading every ball and making every clearance, from the touchline.
But now Dawson is back out there, where it all began for him, on the City Ground pitch.
His return to the side was, initially short-lived, as he picked up an injury in the first half at Middlesbrough, following a less-thanfriendly challenge from George Friend that left him needing to be replaced.
But Dawson has since been involved against Bolton, Leeds (albeit as a substitute after Danny Fox was injured) and Sheffield United, as Forest continued their recent revival in the Championship.
And you get the impression that he is loving every minute.
“I have had to be patient, along with many other players. That is the size of the squad and you need that competition if you are going to be successful and be a force in this league,” said Dawson. “The manager and the owners have built a squad that they want to challenge for promotion.
“We are going to have injuries. Losing Foxy, who was magnificent and one of the best players we have had in the team, through a niggle, will give somebody else an opportunity.
“You have to take those opportunities and, when you win football matches, that will give the manager a headache.
“You see that we have a togetherness in the group of players. Everyone in the dressing room wants to play, of course. You want to be on that team sheet.
“But the manager can only pick 11 to start and 18 in the squad.”
Dawson says it is the fortunes of the team, rather than individuals, that is most important.
“We are all striving for the same thing and that is to ensure that, come the end of the season, we are right up there and have a chance of promotion,” he said. “You cannot do that single-handedly.
“You always have to help the players who are playing and you get on well off the field. We do have some good banter and we have a great dressing room.
“One thing you have to do, when you have not been involved – which I have not been for periods of the season – is train well and also stay focused.
“And, when you are called upon, you have to do as well as the guy who was in your position. When you get the opportunity, you make sure that you take it.”
A win and a clean sheet against Sheffield United last weekend lifted Forest back into the top six, ahead of the visit of Stoke City. But, while it feels as though there has been a change in mood following the recent upturn in form, Dawson is not getting carried away just yet.
And he says it is the players’ responsibility to ensure the mood remains positive at the City Ground.
“We are just over a third of the way into the season, there is an awful lot of football still to go and we cannot get carried away,” he said. “We were down after the Burton game, there is no hiding that. That is where, as footballers, you need to be mentally strong.
“But we get just under 30,000 people coming to the City Ground and these fans demand. They have high expectations. As players, you have to go out and give that; to fulfil that expectation. When you do that, when you perform, you get the reception you deserve.
“The atmosphere was fantastic last weekend against Sheffield United, when we were holding on for the win. And when you do win, that feeling is fantastic. But it is a long old season and we need to stick together through the thick and the thin.”
Forest’s fans played a big role in that win over United, throwing their weight behind the team in the final stages, as the Blades looked for an equaliser.
“It is a two-way thing. Fans react to what is happening on the pitch and players react to what is happening in the stands. When that place is rocking, it helps,” said Dawson.
“I look at Leeds when we were 1-0 up and you were thinking ‘wow.’ There was a point where we had a free-kick and you thought that, if we could get a goal, it would quieten them down (at Elland Road).
“But the atmosphere, when you are a home team, whether you are winning or losing, it makes a massive difference. There is no hiding that.
“It is down to the players to help generate that mood off the pitch. But the fans can make a big difference. They have been fantastic for us this season.
“It shows a real expectation and a real desire, when it comes to where we want to be. It has been a long time since we were in the Premier League.
“The atmosphere has been great. The fans turn up and have pride in their team. That all boils down to results. We all know that is the industry we are in.
“When you are winning but perhaps not playing as well, it can cover things up. But the most important thing is taking three points.”
That will be the case again this weekend, against a Potters side with promotion aspirations of their own. Dawson knows it will not be an easy game but, at the same time, he hopes to see Forest rise to the challenge again.
“Stoke have some top players. They were relegated from the Premier League last season and it takes some time to settle in to the Championship. They have not had the start they would have wanted but nor are they a million miles away,” he said.
“The table can change as quick as
We are all striving for the same thing... to ensure that, come the end of the season, we are right up there. Michael Dawson
anything. You just need to remain level headed and keep picking up points along the way.
“Leeds was a game where we went 1-0 up and I thought they were the better team on the day. Equally, we were very hard done by over the decision that happened (the Kemar Roofe handball goal).
“You dust yourselves down and you go again. That is football. You will have ups and downs through the season and we know we will have more along the way yet.
“The main thing is to enjoy the highs and, when the lows come, you dust yourselves off and go again - you try to put things right.
“We had to do that last week. But when you have a level head, when you produce performances, when you keep ticking along, it gives you a great chance.”
Michael Dawson thanks Forest fans after the final whistle in the Championship match at Bolton last month.