Monday, 15 April 2013

Preview: Middlesbrough v Forest

As the pressure in Forest’s promotion push builds, The Garibaldi travel to play against a Middlesbrough side who’ve perhaps already buckled under the strain, falling away from the top of the table with just two wins in 17 games. It would be with the gravest of trepidation for Forest Boffin to suggest this to be the ideal game to climb back into the playoff places – so I will not. This is The Championship and anything can happen.

The Teesiders’ drop in form has been as dramatic as Forest’s recovery. Going into January they were battling for automatic promotion while playing surprisingly good football, utilising their strong forwards to bring other players into the game. However in 2013 they have won just two league games, picking up only 8 points (see clickable form-guide, below).

Forest Boffin believes this turnaround to be at least partly due to a catastrophic change in tactics. Even in December, Tony Mowbray was making worrying statements underestimating the usefulness of drawing games – nailing his colours to the mast he made it clear on several occasions that The Smoggies needed wins, not draws, and altered their tactics accordingly.
Boro became inpatient as they chased victories, gambling in games they could have drawn. It has led to Mowbray’s team drawing less than any club in the football league (only 4). While brave, this tactic has led to cagier teams picking them off as they rampage forward trying to force the issue.
This has been exacerbated when Boro concede the first goal – as they advance even more urgently leaving themselves vulnerable. Where more patient teams might have steadied the ship, knowing they have ample time to equalise, Middlesbrough have tended to come forward aggressively in the knowledge that their manager craves more than one goal, this is reflected in their results (see pie charts, left).
While falling behind obviously requires you to chase the game, it must be done in a sensible manner or you will be punished again, as Middlesbrough have proven. They have fallen behind on 30 occasions this season (usefully for us, the exact same amount of times as Forest), yet their gun-ho approach to chasing the game has not worked. Mowbray’s frankly alarming solution, in his own words, to “empty the midfield(!)” when conceding against Watford in January (with a whole half of football left to play) seems like desperation at best.

The gambling even infringes on points picked up when they score first (see pie charts, right) – although they win around the same amount of games in these circumstances as Forest, their unwillingness to settle for a draw has led to them taking greater risks having conceded an equaliser – losing on every occasion this has happened.

Taking such risks seems even odder when considering the detrimental effect on morale of losing so many games (13 this year). Where you would think they would be trying to steady the ship and just not get beaten every week, to build a little confidence, they have instead gone for broke. Their luck in front of goal has dried up almost completely – failing to score in 5 out of their last 6 games – despite more often than not having the most efforts on goal. They have looked a beaten team lacking the belief needed to score goals.

Can The Garibaldi take advantage of their opponent’s suicidal tendencies? They surely would have if Middlesbrough had anything left to play for. However, during Mowbray’s last throw of the dice on Saturday they were picked off by Brighton, despite throwing the kitchen sink at The Seasiders – with matters less urgent they may try something new.

But we still believe the key battle will be in midfield; more specifically how often the two side’s creative players can find and use space when attacking. For our opponents, Faris Haroun and Emmanuel Ledesma are a threat when allowed too much of the ball. Boro tend to get a little wider than Forest and will create chances if given space on the flanks. With the pressure now off we shouldn’t rely on their goal drought continuing – the likes of Guedioura, Lansbury and Reid will need to deny these two players space otherwise they will create chances for Scott McDonald in particular, who is capable of hurting us.
It was pleasing to see Billy Davies shrewdly rest influential players against Cardiff – Andy Reid in particular needed a break and will hopefully return to the side recharged and able to get on the ball more. If able to find space in the opponent’s half (he surely will if Boro press forward as much as they have been doing) the onus will be on Reidy to play those killer passes that have hurt so many teams on Forest’s travels. Simon Cox was also rested and will be looking to make his usual clever runs off the ball. Look out for Raddy Majewski capitalising on this in the first half, and Lewis McGugan in the second.

Our opponents are clearly a good team under certain circumstances – in our opinion they have made the same mistake Brighton did last year by subscribing to the two points dropped approach to drawing games. By chasing games too much, by blinking first, they have given their opponents an advantage as this tactic only tends to work if you’re one of the division’s stand-out teams. Middlesbrough are a good example to fans who criticise caution – statistically their approach isn’t successful: of the 20 teams in the Football League who have drawn 9 or less games this season, their average league position is 11th.

Hopefully our northern opponents will still be taking this approach because Forest under Davies have the nous to pick them off. Statistically Forest should have no problem whatever happens because of their resilience, and Middlesbrough’s gun-ho attitude. The Reds are excellent at recovering from a goal down and this should be even more evident against Middlesbrough who won’t bother to defend a lead – and once Forest equalise, which they usually do, statistics suggest they will go on to win. On the other hand, when Forest score first they have not lost at all this season; this ought to be compounded by the fact that, after conceding first, our opponents have lost oneach of the last 14 occasions!

Considering Middlesbrough’s form, if Forest deserve to reach the playoffs, they should be winning this game. The Smoggies will prove a good gauge of playoff potential as they will shortly have played Brighton, Forest and Bolton in quick succession. Brighton have just beaten them – now it’s our turn to take the test.

Thanks for reading, and COYR!

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