Sunday, 10 March 2013

Forest's undervalued strike force.

Forest's recent good form has created plenty of talking points, one of which has been a continuation of a debate held all season long: are our strikers doing enough? The acquisition of Billy Sharp and Simon Cox served to assure Forest fans that the goalscoring puzzle was solved - they are, after all, proven strikers. Yet even during our last five games, where Forest have knocked in thirteen goals, our only complaint has been that Cox et al have (if you're only reading the score sheet) been firing blanks. Is scoring goals the be all and end all for a forward?
During our run of 5 victories, only one goal has been scored by a striker (see right), leading to some fans questioning their input, and pundits in the media are now starting to pick up on this. Forest Boffin proposes that this is far too a simplistic view on the goal contribution from our strike force. The fact is: they have played a significant role in all but two of our goals during our run of victories.
Delving only slightly deeper, we begin to see a tangible contribution emerge in the assist statistics from our run of victories (see left). Cox and Blackstock lay claim to five assists between them - this is not counting key contributions which I will come onto next. The likes of Reid, Majewski & Guedioura are counted by fans as our creative players, yet our strikers are creating as much as any of them.
However, this is only half the story: an even closer look at the goals our midfielders are scoring reveals the real area Cox and Blackstock are hurting the opposition - they are cleverly creating space for the second wave of attackers (usually Majewski & Lansbury) to exploit.
Majewski's goal against Charlton is a great example of this. If you remember, Reid passes the ball out to the left, where Raddy collects it, beats the right back, and scores. However, this goal could not have happened without the contribution of Simon Cox. As Reid is looking for an attacking pass, Cox makes a diversionary run in between the left back and left-hand central defender, forcing Charlton's other centre-back to track his run (see diagram, right). This creates a dangerous amount of space betwixt that defender (Leon Cort) and Charlton's right back - when Raddy beats his man, Cort has no time to recover and help - because Cox's run pulled him out of position. Cort had to follow Cox, because the other central defender was being threatened by Henderson. Forest caused a threat in one side of the penalty area to create space in the other, which is exploited by Forest's second wave of attack.
Another interesting goal in this respect is Majewski's goal against Sheffield Wednesday (see diagram below). Reid is battling with opposition midfielders, and upon eventually beating them them, feeds the ball to Cox. Picking the ball up on the edge of the area, Wednesday's defence should be ok - there are plenty of defenders back, Blackstock is being marked tightly - what could go wrong? This time, while Cox is causing havoc in the penalty area, tying up three defenders, Blackstock unselfishly bends his run away from space, dragging his markers with him & leaving an area devoid of defenders on the right hand side. The second wave of the attack, Majewski, exploits this space, receiving the pass for an easy tap-in. The little Pole got the plaudits, but this goal also belongs to the clever movement of Blackstock & Cox.
Forest's strikers were particularly creative during the 6-1 thrashing of Hudersfield, having a hand in every goal from open play. Forest's equaliser was flicked on by Dexter Blackstock to late arriving Lansbury, whose initial effort was blocked only for even later arriving Majewski to score. Forest's third and fifth were assists from Blackstock, Henderson scored the last goal, while Majewski's third goal, the long ranger, was only possible because the strikers were making dangerous runs towards the area, dragging the defenders away from the midfield and creating space for Majewski to exploit in explosive style.
Dragging defenders back towards their own goal has been a common theme recently, especially at home, as Forest have found themselves camped outside the opposition penalty area, stretching and probing for weakness, patiently trying to create space.
Saturday's first goal against Wolves highlights this perfectly. Forest's patient passing approach had forced Wolves to camp inside their own area, with all but one man behind the ball (see diagram, left). When Forest do this there are sometimes shouts from the crowd to stop messing around with it, but Forest are going for the patient approach. They pass and pass, from left to right & back again looking for a weakness - that weakness being space. Eventually space appeared in front of Lansbury - by the time slick Forest got the ball to him it was too late to fill the gap despite the frantic efforts of three defenders. The goal was a great finish by Lansbury, but it was a team goal. This is what Forest are trying to do when attacking: they are aiming to create space. The Lewis McGugan goal against Ipswich was a similar kind of goal. As for the attacker's contribution to these two goals, not only were they a part on the patient build up, but they were the player furthest forward causing the pressure that pinned down the opposition back lines, keeping them deep and creating space in-front of the penalty area which was exploited by long-range strikes on goal.
While Forest Boffin is not trying to detract from the contribution of our goalscoring midfielders - Majewski, Lansbury and McGugan have been instrumental in our revival - however we do feel as though the forwards are in danger of being overlooked in their hard work and creative movement, which has created most of Forest's goals during our run of victories. Time after time the forwards create space for the midfield to exploit. Only McGugan's last against Wolves, and Ward's header against Huddersfield, have not featured a big helping hand from our strike force.
Forest are playing a relatively narrow tactic, which depends on patiently keeping the ball and moving up-field, pushing the opposition back, rather than a counter attacking, wide style of play that will result in alot of through-balls for strikers to run onto, or lots of crosses for strikers to head in. In the opinion of Forest Boffin, Forest are not playing a style of football conducive for the strikers to be scoring loads and loads of goals - out game is more about not losing the ball and patiently waiting until space appears.
This has led to our strike-force perhaps being slightly overlooked, especially Blackstock (whose loss against Wolves obviously hurt the team's performance, Forest took a long time to recover from his absence), but we at Forest Boffin would like to take this opportunity to praise the guys up front, without whom Forest certainly would not have won their last five games.
Thanks for reading, and COYR! 


  1. Have just come across your blog and am very pleased I did! Like Forest's very own Zonal Marking.

    Will be interesting to see how Sharp contributes if back to fitness and given a run of games. From what I've seen, I think he has excellent movement and workrate, but others seem to think he's just a goalpoacher.

  2. Thanks, very nice of you to say!

    I think Sharp is more than a poacher too - we definetly don't play a style condusive to him scoring lots of goals, but he's good at recieving the ball to feet. It will be interesting to se shat he brings to the party as I think all of our 'strikers' bring soething different - blackstock is great at laying the ball off and creating when he's not got the ball, Cox's workrate and creativity WITH the ball is great, Hendo is a strong prescence and he's also really clever with his runs - today (Brighton) he made an absolutely world class run which created Reidy's good chance in the first half. They're all doing really well without actually scoring the goals themselves.