Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Preview: Forest v Leicester

Forest welcome Leicester City to The City Ground as the season reaches a frantic climax. At Forest Boffin, we're in a state of ambivalence: there is dread at seeing rekindled hope kicked into touch by the boots of David Nugent, tinged with excitement at the glittering hope of Forest overcoming the odds and somehow making the playoffs after all. At one stage it appeared Billy would have secured those extra games before now - while disappointed this was not to be, we must not forget that after the first two thirds of this season, anything from here on is a bonus.

Leicester come into this final game on abysmal form. After magnificent start to a season full of promise, they have faltered since the end of January, winning only two of their seventeen games (in all competitions). Canvassing their fans has been more difficult than usual as they have been mostly tight lipped - I have even been accused of being Natalie Jackson spying for Billy - a lighthearted accusation, but one possibly indicative of the nervous and guarded demeanour of, perhaps, both sets of fans.

Despite having stumbled, it is important to remember The Foxes are still aiming for promotion, and are doing so on merit. Their players have not become poor overnight and will be more than capable of coming to The City Ground and taking all three points. Their seems to be issues with confidence at Leicester - if Forest give them a reason to be confident we may struggle - their results after scoring first (see charts, right) confirm this danger.
However, weakness has crept into Nigel Pearson's team. They have had a very inconsistent season, both in their quality and playing style. Their average possession has varied enormously, rising gradually while they are doing well but dropping alarmingly while losing. Since January their possession has fell gradually from over 60% to 46.33% (Leicester's average possession over the last 6 games). This may be a confidence issue, or it may be another disastrous tactical alteration from one of our promotion rivals. One knowledgeable fan claimed "lately we've gone a bit hoofball" - it's possible Pearson has changed their approach to utilise their strength up front in Chris Wood, or perhaps The Foxes don't want the ball when the going gets tough so are going long - either way this surrendering of possession has been a woeful development for them. Their results after conceding the first goal are poor (see charts above) - they lose in over 70% of these games - suggesting mental weakness.
One striking aspect of Leicester's season is the effect on their results the more free kicks they are awarded: they do worse the more times they are fouled (see clickable chart, right). They score more goals and pick up more points if they are not being fouled by their opponents. Assuming the referees are getting these decisions right (!) and Leicester are in fact being fouled, it suggests they can be bullied out of the game. Some of their fans refer to them playing some good football "when they have the ball" - I would theorise that this is only the case when they are allowed time and space on the ball, but when denied this and hustled, their young, physically and mentally weak side can't cope and so start knocking the ball long. This is the theory - an obstacle to which is that they have people in their team such as Big Wes Morgan and Lloyd Dyer - physically strong men who it would be hard to imagine being bullied, however I have been told that Leicester "are a very young side and haven't got many players with physical presence," suggesting there may be something in the theory.
This theory led Forest Boffin to inspecting Forest's statistics in this regard. Like most teams in the division, there is no negative correlation between The Garibaldi's 'fouls awarded' stats and results or goals scored - it is unique in this extent to Leicester. However, Forest's stats in regard to fouls committed are interesting (see left). Since Billy Davis has arrived, Forest are fouling on average 12.5 times per game, more than any other team in the division. This nasty streak instilled by Davies has made Forest more combative, competitive and has possibly been a reason for The Reds conceding less goals. Another side effect has been that opponents don't tend to like being kicked and react - there has been a marked increase in red cards for those playing against us. This new dirty side to Forest's game can only bode well in a game against a team who do worse when fouled
But despite Leicester's faults and Forest's revival under Billy Davies, the Key Battle(s) on Saturday won't be under our influence, they will be played out miles away in Bolton and London, for even if The Trickies win they are relying on others to help them reach the playoffs. Crystal Palace face The Posh at Selhurst Park, which may be the biggest chance of an upset considering both team's form. Peterborough have lost only once in their last ten games and are fighting for Championship survival, but realistically Palace need just a point and will be heavy favourites to claim their playoff place. Bolton are against a Blackpool side with nothing to play for - indeed they have a manager who has promised to improve on their league position next season - Blackpool could finish anywhere between 10th or 20th - while Forest Boffin is not suggesting The Seasiders would lose on purpose, a loss would certainly make Ince's target more achievable and so defeat wouldn't be the end of the world.
A win for Forest is essential therefor, but their goal difference and goals scored are worse than their rivals. A 1-0 victory for Bolton would see Forest needing to beat Leicester by 5 goals. Leicester have not conceded more than two goals in any single Championship match all season. Should Bolton only draw, it would turn Saturday's game between The Foxes and The Garibaldi into a straight shootout for the playoffs with a point being no good to either team - expect fireworks come 2 o'clock if Bolton are drawing!
Which all makes for a very exciting and nervous Saturday afternoon. Under the right conditions, Leicester are clearly a very good side full of quality, however their failings have been exposed and it seems Forest should be taking the three points. Will it be enough? The odds are against either us or Leicester having a chance, however this is The Championship, and anything can happen - hopefully the God of Chaos in charge of this division hasn't finished. Whatever happens, Forest fans have been treated to unexpected hope since Billy's return - will it feel even worse than before if the dream is snatched away? It's been a roller-coaster, hopefully there is yet another twist or turn ahead.
Thanks for reading, and COYR!

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