Thursday, 24 October 2013

Preview: Yeovil v Forest

After a draw against “minnows” Bournemouth, Forest travel down to Somerset to face bottom of the table Yeovil this weekend. Our opponents are struggling badly, and are a much smaller team with far inferior resources, so this should be an easy day out? Or is it that simple?

This is The Championship, and thus there are no easy games of course – as proven recently (but we’ll get to that later). However, the merest peek at Yeovil’s record this season should give Forest confidence; our opponents have not won at home this season – indeed they have only scored one goal. Overall, they have gone 11 league games without winning, and their manager is already chopping and changing the team, dropping fans favourites and publicly stating his players are not good enough to stay in the division. On paper, I have never seen such an easy place for Forest to go and collect three points.

It is interesting to draw a comparison between the goal-scoring exploits of Forest, and Yeovil, who are yet to score a goal from open play at home this season. Questions have been asked of The Garibaldi in front of goal, but at least they are scoring – it is when you look at Yeovil’s success, particularly at home, that you see a side really struggling to hit the net, despite creating chances (see stats, left, which are enlargeable if clicked). Yeovil have had 80 attempts on goal at home so far - more than their opponents, who have had 66 attempts, yet they have still floundered.

It is this lack of goals that has cost The Glovers, who have otherwise been doing well. Luck has played a big role in their league position – they have actually outplayed many of the teams that have beaten them, coming up against some great goalkeeping displays and some terrible luck at both ends of the pitch. There are definite flaws in Yeovil’s game, but for some reason the majority of opponents were unable to exploit their weaknesses, instead relying on good fortune. I don’t remember watching such an unlucky team, away or home, where they have won just 1 point out of 18 despite only Derby really deserving to beat them.

Yeovil are a brave team who work very hard, and can pass the ball around surprisingly, but Forest won’t have to rely on being as lucky as the likes of QPR and Reading, because there are gaping holes in the Town's defence waiting to be exploited. It is difficult to explain why the above, former Premiership teams, struggled against The Glovers – perhaps they underestimated them? Forest must not.

The obvious problem for Yeovil is that they leave a lot of space in wide areas, particularly in their own half. They play with a standard back four but often the wide defenders, particularly the left back, gets dragged out of position, or is just absent in the first place. Their regular left-back is club captain Jamie McAllister and has just returned from a lay-off. He is coming to the end of his career and has looked off the pace so far this season.

Yeovil’s defensive priorities don’t help this problem; they saturate the middle of the pitch with players when defending, apparently happy to ignore space on their flanks unless there is an imminent threat. Their players instinctively clog up the centre as if traumatised by past events in what is clearly a deliberate tactic.

I believe I have found the source of this trauma in the earlier home game against Derby. The Rams gave Yeovil an absolute mauling in the centre of the pitch, passing their way through at will as the Yeovil defenders, although reasonably positioned, struggled to anticipate and zero in on the clever movement and technique of the Derby players. There were similar problems against Birmingham in the cup.

The exposal of his defenders’ shortcomings probably prompted Gary Johnson to condense their defensive shape to allow less space in this crucial central area – since then, Yeovil have played very narrow, their defenders reluctant to press into wide areas until they absolutely have to. Their safety in numbers has worked to a certain extent so far, in that it has not been exploited fully, however both goals conceded at Ipswich were direct results of leaving space in deep wide positions (see diagrams, above).

When the full-backs are forced to defend in wide positions, the rest of the team often remain in their central fortress. This is catastrophic as it leaves a big gap in the defensive line ideal for attackers to run into, a gap which wouldn’t be there if the defence shuffled across to meet the danger as they should when the ball is threatening them from a wide area of the pitch. A good example of this hurting them was the goal conceded against Reading (see diagram, left).

Forest’s usual game-plan seems custom fit to exploit the space our opponents leave in these wide positions. Yeovil have struggled to get tackles in as their opponents have come forward with the ball, instead retreating, and concentrating on clogging up the central area around the penalty box. Forest’s technical players might find success in holding onto the ball, and playing in the full-backs as they advance into this wide space (see diagram, right).

Yeovil seem adequately geared up to defend against teams trying to pass their way through them, but struggle when the ball is played into wide areas and crossed, or when the ball is in one wide area, and is switched forcing a transition to defending against the opposite wing – they are slow to respond to this manoeuvring, I can see Forest causing havoc when crossing the ball, both by the full-backs, and the wide midfielders making secondary runs into these areas.

This might also be a good game for Billy’s much lamented use of the strikers. As the likes of Simon Cox drift wide to keep possession in the wide areas, if Yeovil fail to shuffle across the space in their back line will be exploited by the likes of Raddy Majewski (see diagram, left) – his love of drifting into this very area has already been documented in previous articles..

Billy’s team selection will be interesting. In defence, Kelvin Wilson will return, but more revealing will be the choice of right-back, with Eric Lichaj available again. I have a gut feeling Billy will give Gonzalo Jara another game – this selection may well indicate whether Davies sees Jara as a squad player, or as back-up for Lichaj – if the latter is the case I expect to see Jara push for a move (which would be a shame) to boost his claim in the Chilean World Cup squad.

Nathan Chalobah should return in midfield, but the suspension of Henri Lansbury gives Billy the chance to try another combination ahead of him. Having scouted Yeovil, we will surely stick with our diamond system with overlapping full-backs. I would like to see Majewski retain his place at it’s tip, because this area of the pitch will be congested by the Yeovil players, we need someone playing here who can move the ball on efficiently, and also he may find success in any space around Yeovil's back four. I’d like to see Djamel Abdoun in place of Lansbury, with the extra space out wide he might have room to produce something spectacular.

Forest’s forwards took a lot of stick after they failed to put away Bournemouth – I cannot see Billy dropping them after their particularly poor performance, primarily because of the effect this might have on their morale. Davies has publicly backed them this week, and on paper this appears to be the ideal game for them to pick up some confidence

A trip to the smallest club in the league cannot, in light of recent events, be allowed to pass without mentioning the expectations, sometimes verging on arrogance, of a section of Forest fans. It is important for modern Tricky Trees not to live in the past and think we’re automatically better than any of our opponents – we are all in this league on merit. It was with shock and, perhaps even a sense of shame, that I read last week’s article in the Nottingham Post – admittedly scribed by a fan but prima facie representational of us all as a club. This episode should serve as an example that, even forgetting the vulgarity of belittling the traditionally less successful, such haughtiness is highly counter-productive. The article was mentioned by Bournemouth staff, before and after the game, cited as a motivating factor for their players. Despite the possibility of it being somewhat tongue-in-cheek, goal-scorer Marc Pugh took it seriously and rammed it down our collective throats, and the over-reaction to not beating Bournemouth perhaps suggests that some fans agreed with the article's general sentiment.

 Over expectation is a two edged sword; it spurs on our opponents and weighs down our own players. I try not to get involved in political debate, however I see this as such a big factor for Forest that it becomes almost tangible and detrimental to the performance of the team, and thus I deem it a tactical issue – one which we can affect from the stands. We have no divine right to beat Bournemouth, or Yeovil for that matter, and no right to look down on them until we have earned it with points at the end of the season. The team, and the fans, need to respect other teams or it will come back to bite us.

But I digress. Despite this being The Championship, a league where anything can happen, this certainly is a game there for the taking, but Forest have to merit their victory by playing better than the majority of teams who have gotten lucky against Yeovil, because The Glovers are due some fortune. Forest are good enough to remove luck from the equation, especially against a team with weaknesses that seem (to me) tailored to suit Forest’s strengths. Yeovil will have scouted Forest and should be wary of allowing space in wide areas, because of Forest’s tactic of pushing forward the full-backs, and also their focus on getting in more crosses, but if Gary Johnson’s side play as they have been doing, I can see Forest having a field day. Both teams have faced questions of their goal-scoring prowess, this will be a reasonably open game so one way or another those questions will probably be answered on Saturday.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this game, either below, or preferably on City Ground Faithful forum, here. Safe journey if you’re going, and COYR!

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