Forest only made one change from their dominant game against Burnley with Dan Harding replacing the injured Chris Cohen. Retaining the 4-2-3-1 system, Billy Davies planned on his two ball-playing defensive midfielders passing the ball out to a front four of Raddy Majewski, Jamie Mackie, Jamie Paterson and Simon Cox (see right, all diagrams on Forest Boffin can be enlarged if clicked), building possession as they did against The Clarets, but it didn’t pan out like that as Reading’s tactics initially triumphed in every aspect of play.
The Reds’ main problem was in possession, with Reading playing an energetic pressing game, harrying the ball. Forest are a possession team, particularly at home where they average 56%, preferring to play their way forward rather than going direct – but this is exactly what The Royals forced them to do as they gave Forest no time on the ball. This led to the catastrophic failure in Forest’s tactics in the first half; the poor performance of Raddy Majewski.
I champion this player more than anybody – in my opinion, many Forest fans under-appreciate him because they don’t notice the low impact, but nevertheless essential, role he plays. Reading totally neutralised Majewski, they targeted this position as the fulcrum of The Reds’ ability to come forward with the ball, firstly by pressing as deep as they did, limiting the quality, and quantity of balls being played into this area, secondly crowding and bullying the little Pole, and thirdly by eliminating options to pass to through man-marking. Majewski failed to find space and proved too lightweight, unable to swashbuckle his way through this challenge – often the man helping us keep the ball as it comes forward, his ineffectiveness limited our possession.
In mitigation, conditions were very difficult for Raddy. Passes to this area were rushed and inaccurate because of Reading’s pressing game. Also, the three midfielders were too far apart – Paterson and Mackie were not coming closer to Majewski to make it easier; along with Forest only having one man up front, this freed an extra man to help mark him – he was often outnumbered.
I feel that, considering the kind of player he is, feeding off of scraps, outnumbered and with little support, Majewski was never going to succeed under these conditions. This game highlighted very profoundly both the limitations of this player, and the importance of being able to keep the ball when attacking.
So The Garibaldi couldn’t keep the ball – but what happened when they didn’t have it? Nigel Adkins is very interesting in that he always (when his teams play Forest, anyway) has his players use every inch of width on the pitch – Reading were up to this again, stretching out Forest. This seemed to confuse some of the Forest players positionally, and caused some worry for me in The Trent End – from my position I could see huge distances appearing between members of the back four, which is obviously a big no-no. At one stage the centre-backs had the entire penalty box in-between them. Considering the positional uncertainty, Forest’s defenders did remarkably well to only concede two goals in the first half.
But this did come into play in the goals, particularly the first. Even when taking a corner, Reading were stretching Forest out – notice how when they take the corner short, only Raddy Majewski goes out to meet them; normally this is a two man job, but Reading have positioned men over a very wide area, causing indecision amongst Forest’s defenders whether to leave men unattended or stay. Raddy is the only spare man.
Reading isolate Gonzalo Jara on the opposite wing seconds later (see above, click to enlarge) – Forest are so stretched that when the ball comes out here Jara has absolutely no support; this is exactly what Reading wanted, and McCleary manages to beat the unsupported Chilean, skipping into the box and crossing for the goal. It is also significant that the player nearest to McCleary when he makes the cross is Raddy Majewski – from defending on one wing, he has had to follow the ball all the way to the other wing to try and stop the opposite winger (see right). This may be a sign that the positioning of Reading’s attackers is causing indecision amongst Forest’s defence.
By the time Forest managed to string together a few attacks they were already 2-0 down, but after 40 minutes The Reds did manage to pull a goal back out of nothing – some good pressing by Majewski and a spritely run by Mackie was probably their only real success of the first half, Cox was on hand to knock in Mackie's cross and Forest were unbelievably back in the game.
At half time Billy brought off Majewski, and the similarly ineffective Jamie Paterson, who aside from an exciting run at the Reading defence, had done little. On came the experience of Andy Reid, and strength of Darius Henderson in an attempt to be better able to keep the ball in Reading's half. If Davies had allowed himself to be outmanoeuvred tactically by Adkins initially, he reversed it for the second period, as his changes proved effective immediately.
Forest went two up front, which gave them not only an extra man to battle for the direct balls, but also the correct personnel to do so. More of a presence up front, Henderson and Cox found success straight away in linking up and winning possession high up the pitch. This also effected the mentality of the Reading players – the knowledge that Forest were more able to fight for the ball in their half made them more reluctant to press as high themselves, therefore they put less pressure on the Forest defenders when on the ball, therefore Forest had more time to pass it out from the back, rather than hoofing it when under pressure.
The presence of Reid was helping the forwards as well, and the trio linked up superbly for Forest’s equaliser. The goal is exactly what Simon Cox is all about – he’s great at keeping the ball in nasty areas, holding it until a team-mate can run into an even better position, then playing them in, this is exactly what happened as twinkle-toes Henderson danced his way into the Reading penalty area, slotting the ball home for a deserved goal.
Forest’s strikers have taken a lot of stick in the past year; I have maintained that they are good enough, and they are beginning to repay that faith by scoring more regularly. To be fair to Cox and Henderson in particular – their goal-scoring record isn’t particularly poor this season. When you take into account how long they are on the pitch, they compare well with the majority of The Championship’s forwards (see right). Henderson’s goal made him the 10th ‘most lethal’ striker in the league; Cox’s moved him up to 13th spot. Both have scored more regularly, in terms of how long it has taken them to score, than our hypothetical panacea Charlie Austin, at QPR.
But back at The City Ground Forest had Reading on the ropes. Credit has to go to Billy Davies for the turnaround, and the manager’s alterations gave them the chance to win the game. Jamie Mackie in particular missed two glorious opportunities, once striking the post when clean through, and also beating the keeper but seeing his shot blocked by a defender.
This game was an emotional roller-coaster, and just as you thought Forest were going to complete the job it all fell apart in the 74th minute. Jordan Obita found space in the Forest box, his deflected shot finding the net and undoing all the good work.
The final twenty minutes saw Reading give an exhibition of professionalism, with Forest continuing to press while held at arms length. They fouled when they had to (we saw Chris Gunter return to The City Ground with a red card, stopping Cox from running clear into the penalty area), fell over when they had to, and wasted a lot of time – all things we Trickie Trees have seen Billy Davies bring to Forest when seeing out a game – The Royals did a good job.
There are plenty of positives to be taken from this game. When on top, Forest looked far more dangerous than Reading – they should, playing at home, however in my opinion we’re not seeing the same level of cogent, efficient passing from our opponents as we see from Forest when they are in full flow. Our strikers are playing well, and again proved how effective they can be at this level. Our manager once again showed he has an eye for reversing tactical problems.
You would have to say Forest were unfortunate to lose. Their injury depleted team, after making a shrewd tactical adjustment, bossed a good Reading side, and the one-win-in-six home record does not tell the full story. When at full strength Forest will be a real force this season.
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