Monday, 16 December 2013

Forest 0 Ipswich 0

Forest are still searching for that lovin’ feelin’ at The City Ground after failing to score for only the second time this season against Ipswich. It was a disappointing afternoon for a few reasons, but Mick McCarthy’s men were always going to be difficult to beat.

Ipswich included Luke Chambers and David McGoldrick, both of whom have been playing well. “McGoal-drought,” as some Forest fans labelled him, has been scoring regularly; feeding off the hard work of the Ipswich midfield and strike partner Darryl Murphy as Town have tended to play quite direct during the games I’ve seen. Chambers is in the familiar situation of being played out of position at right-back, which is something Forest perhaps should have capitalised on more.

The Reds continued to employ a 4-2-3-1 system, with Nathan Chalobah replacing Gonzalo Jara. The system is probably Billy Davies’ reaction to the problems in defensive midfield; teams were finding too much space in front of Forest’s central defenders, causing havoc – but since deploying an extra man in this area, Davies appears to have solved this issue. The extra man had to come from somewhere though, and Forest have consequently been playing with just one striker (see left, all diagrams on Forest Boffin can be enlarged if clicked).

And Forest struggled once again to keep the ball in their opponent’s half, with Ipswich working very hard to eliminate space and opportunities for Forest to pass the ball forward – they also broke the game up, resulting in a jittery start to the game devoid of any real quality. The Tractor Boys themselves look short on creativity, preferring to gain territory through long balls played up to the strikers, where Murphy would fight for the ball with McGoldrick feeding off of scraps.

Initially Ipswich were not pressing as high up the pitch as other teams have at The City Ground, instead anchoring their midifleders in an attempt to deny space in their half. This allowed Forest a foothold in the game, as the wide-men Abdoun and Mackie stretched out Town, and Forest found room to play good football – especially down the left.

Then Ipswich goalkeeper Dean Gerken sent Cox tumbling in the box. From my seat in The Trent End it looked a clear penalty, and throughout the game I thought the (reasonably poor) referee had got this important decision wrong. Upon viewing the replay I see I was right – but for the wrong reason; it was a cynical dive by the Forest man, who was already falling when he deliberately collided with the keeper. Cox let himself down here, but the referee let Ipswich down by not sending Cox off, who was already on a booking. Regular readers will know that I am this player's number 1 fan; hopefully we'll see less of this in the future as he's good enough to succeed without this kind of thing.

Forest continued to look the better team but Ipswich were an organised defensive unit, and after McCarthy adjusted to press further up the pitch it became more difficult for The Reds to come forward with the ball. The hard work and positional discipline of players like Hyam and Tunnicliffe forced Forest to play longer balls than they wanted – which were bread and butter for the defenders, who only had to contend with Simon Cox.

We again get back to Forest only playing one up front, at home. I'm aware that football is evolving, and with the ball men should be getting up there to join him; indeed our midfield often do get high up the pitch - but they are not strikers and do it piecemeal. It is much better to have men ahead of the ball already, so as to have someone to pass to straight away when you gain possession, in my opinion.

Worse still, in my experience, one up front becomes none up front, because an intelligent, pro-active footballer like Simon Cox, will go hunting for the ball - because he's so outnumbered up front this is bound to be further down the pitch - and again Cox was having to come deeper and deeper for the ball against Ipswich (see left for just one example), reducing our ability to come forward with the ball. It's a good idea away from home, but at The City Ground, with defensively capable teams like Ipswich happy to sit back and occupy their own half?

The Tractor Boys’ tactics required Forest’s midfield to force their way into the game, to make themselves available and move the ball quickly – but it was all too slow, and the Ipswich defensive banks were able to get bodies in the way. Going into the second half Forest were still creating chances, but Ipswich were looking ominously solid and sticking at their task well.

Andy Reid was the sponsors’ Man of the Match. It’s fair to say he was effective in patches and created good chances, but overall he suffered in the same manner as Raddy Majewski did against Reading – and for the same reasons; he became outnumbered and starved of opportunities to make positive passes.

The difference in the second half was that the ball was not getting to the wingers quite as fast – possibly because Ipswich were giving Forest’s defensive 6 less time on the ball – and they proved less able to beat their men and put balls into the box. Mackie was frozen completely out of the game.

Then we come to the enigma that is Djamel Abdoun. This player clearly has a lot of skill on the ball, and with Luke Chambers playing at right back, it should have been ideal for a tricky winger to exploit this rare defensive weakness – we all know Chambers is not suited to this position. Abdoun had an exciting first half, providing multiple dangerous crosses, but capitulated when the going got tough in the second period, showing all the grit and determination of a stick of candy-floss – repeatedly falling over instead of persisting to get past Chambers. The Algerian has frustrated me, because he is clearly good enough for us to expect better.

This is beginning to sound harsh, Forest were rarely threatened. Ipswich have a direct but effective way of attacking which was expertly handled by Hobbs and Lascelles in particular, who were very strong aerially. Lansbury and Chalobah also did a disciplined job in stopping anything coming down the middle of the pitch.

And despite being shackled by Ipswich’s defending, Forest continued to create chances into the second half – chances which they were unlucky not to put away, with Cox in particular being denied by a fantastic save by Gerken. Ipswich did a good job of breaking up Forest’s rhythm, and started coming into the game themselves towards the end as the crowd became more and more frustrated. It is no surprise that McCarthy’s side have now gone 6 games unbeaten away from home; they are difficult to beat.

Billy Davies said after the match that 90% of our play was fine and that it was basically all down to poor finishing. I didn’t see it exactly like that myself – I thought we could have been more efficient and urgent in getting the ball moving positively, and struggled because of how well Ipswich defended space – I thought with more options ahead of the ball, we’d have found it easier, and I thought our attacking players subsequently struggled to get into the game.

However, as Davies points out, we were clearly the better team, looked solid defensively and created enough chances to win, sending a plethora of balls into the Ipswich box which were just not converted.

Shuffling down the stairs leading out of the stadium, I could hear more grumbles than is usual, but there are plenty of positives to consider; The Garibaldi are not quite clicking, they clearly have several gears into which they could go up, and are still lurking ominously just outside the playoffs. It’s all very well for armchair critics like myself to criticise them for not moving the ball efficiently enough, or for only playing one striker, but it's a difficult business and Forest win more often than they lose.

Thanks for reading, thanks (again) to the Ipswich fans on TWTD forum for their welcome, and information (this is probably the most helpful and knowledgeable opposition fan forum I’ve come across in writing these articles), and COYR! Feedback welcome, below and here, on City Ground Faithful.

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