The Nottingham Forest defence has changed drastically since the arrival of Aitor Karanka and one of the main reasons for this is clear – the goalkeeper.
Costel Pantilimon joined the Reds on loan for the rest of the season in January, from Watford, and has brought a new quality to the side they have always been lacking.
The 6’8” goalkeeper is a giant of the Forest side and has already cemented himself in the faithful’s hearts with ease.
The former Manchester City shot stopper has played a massive part in reshaping Forest’s back four as he’s become the leader they’ve always needed.
It’s no secret that the Reds’ defence has struggled for the better part of this Championship season and have desperately lacked a leader to hold and boss them about and have seen different partnership varieties at the back as a result.
But since the arrival of seven new January signings the defence has had a new makeover and Karanka has finally been able to settle for a regular back four.
Left back, Danny Fox, and loan signing, Tobias Figueiredo, have made a surprising solid partnership at centre back and out of favour full back, Tendayi Darikwa, has rightfully claimed a starting position back as his own.
The side has kept a season best of two consecutive clean sheets and have contributed heavily to the run of six games unbeaten.
The defence has become much more organised over the recent six fixtures and a majority of the thanks can be made to one man, Pantilimon.
The 31-year-old clearly knows the English game well, having already spent seven years playing in it, and sitting at the very end of the pitch he has the best pitch side view to see what is unfolding in front of him.
The Romanian’s voice beckons over the City Ground and is constantly shouting out instructions and demands to his defenders in front of him.
Jordan Smith, who was the regular goalkeeper between the sticks for the Reds in the first half of the campaign never portrayed the same traits and leadership qualities that Pantilimon has in his short tenure.
Age and experience may play a part against academy graduate Smith, but natural leadership isn’t and, in a time where the Forest defence is lacking a captain amongst the back four the most, a bossy goalkeeper is needed.
With Pantilimon’s stay only being a temporary one, Smith’s chance to earn back the starting spot will come again but if he’s to reach the heights of the current number one, learning and adopting his leadership traits will help him.
The side have struggled to appoint a permanent and reliable captain over the recent seasons but have finally found that filled that job role in another January signing, Ben Watson.
Watson, like Pantilimon, is always barking orders at his team mates and praising them when deserved however sitting in the central defence midfield position his view is only on what’s in front of him rather than behind.
Watson’s attention can’t always be focused on what’s happening behind his back but the man in goal can, confirming even further that Pantilimon’s influence is crucial.
Pantilimon has also reassured and eased the fans worries about the amount of goals their team were conceding. The shot stopper has already earned three clean sheets for his new side and pulled of an impressive penalty save against Hull City last month. He was also heavily praised for his heroics to earn his team a point against arch rivals Derby County last Sunday.
Fans can easily rely on the 31-year-old to protect his goal and it’s no surprise that they are begging for his transfer to be made permanently in the summer.