Forest continued their good form on Saturday, stretching their unbeaten run to 10 games with an enjoyable 4-1 victory over Blackburn. The game developed into a tactical duel between Billy Davies and Gary Bowyer, but in the end The Reds' advantage in personnel - both on and off the pitch - was clear.
Davies continues to tweak his system in an effort to get the best out of a squad with one or two holes - however this was a game in which Forest's strength in depth was apparent, as Billy named an arguably second-choice back 4 (see left. All diagrams on Forest Boffin are enlargeable when clicked) - all of which I'm sure Blackburn would love to employ. The slight tactical alteration came in the middle of the pitch, where our midfield wrecking crew of Vaughan, Reid and Lansbury, were given more freedom to swap and roam as they felt necessary.
Blackburn lined up in a 4-5-1 formation, which was functional rather than creative. Their striker was tasked to close down Forest's defenders when in possession, ahead of two hard working defensive lines of players.
When in the mood Rovers know how to stifle - and that was clearly their game-plan against Forest. Once ahead, they are the best Championship team at defending a lead; they have done so successfully on 81.8% of the occasions they have gone ahead so far - no other team can rival this. The goals they have conceded have come mainly when chasing games.
Bowyer recognised this problem and narrowed his midfield to deny Forest space. This was an example of priority defending; Forest were causing so many problems that Blackburn just looked after the most important area - the centre of the pitch, leaving space on the flanks.
Forest responded by pushing their full-backs up even more than usual to exploit the new area of empty space. With an extra target in space - mostly Gonzalo Jara - the Forest midfielders coped well with the more congested centre, and were able to push Blackburn further and further back, and because of their ability to spot and execute the passing quickly, were able to pass their way around the side of the Blackburn defence, who were competing gamely, but in survival mode during the first half.
But Forest were on top and always likely to get a breakthrough - it came from a soft penalty, poorly executed. They deserved a bit of luck though, such was their dominance. Gary Bowyer has said this cost his side the game - a strange comment when you consider the final score, but with the above statistics in consideration you see just how important the first goal is against Blackburn. Forest would still probably have scored though.
Blackburn were slightly more attacking when a goal down, but The Reds continued to have the better of things, scoring another, more deserved, penalty as Jamie Paterson was chopped down after some nice play from Cox and Reid.
Then came the Blackburn goal, and it highlighted the only real area of concern at the moment; Forest's defending of set plays. Many of their recently conceded goals have been from crosses from free-kicks and corners (Rovers added the long throw to Forest's list of woes) they have struggled to defend these.
On this occasion Forest were able to repel the first ball, but because they rarely leave anybody up front, the ball came straight back at them, eventually fired in by ex-Leicester man Marshall. I don't understand the logic in having every player in the box when defending a corner, because even if you're successful in heading the ball away, the ball will almost certainly fall to an opposition player, giving them another chance. This is what happened for the Blackburn goal.
In the second half we saw more tactical tinkering by both managers. Blackburn were instructed to get closer to the Forest midfield trio, and their hard work began to pay off. They were more attacking, and not as narrow - pushing their wide midfielders up in an attempt to keep the Forest full-backs in their own half.
Thanks to these changes, and extra effort from their players, Rovers asked some serious questions of Forest, and looked like getting back in the game, but Billy Davies kept faith in his players. The game had developed into a man-for-man contest (see right), and when Forest had the ball, it became a 'no-contest' as Reid, Vaughan and Lansbury began to once again take control. I was watching the Forest bench, and they were ready to make a sub - I think they wanted to bring off Vaughan as soon as possible, but knew a third Forest goal was almost inevitable, so left it.
When the third went in, Vaughan and Mackie were replaced by Moussi and Derbyshire. This has the effect of closing up the Forest midfield. The full backs were also told to venture forward more sparingly. Blackburn never gave up, but you can see why they concede when on the attack, leaving quite a lot of space by the end.
This was a dominant display by a Forest side playing very well at present. There are still problems to iron out - despite their superiority in personnel both on and off the pitch, it could have gone wrong at 2-1, as Blackburn managed to use their only area of superiority by repeatedly bombarding the Forest defence in the air through free-kicks, corners and long-throws. Karl Darlow deserves a lot of credit for keeping Forest in front.
Paterson and Mackie also did superbly. They were constantly running at the Rovers defence causing a lot of problems. Paterson is a particularly direct threat - he fearlessly asks questions that are difficult for defenders to answer.
But the main positive is that midfield trio of Vaughan, Reid and Lansbury. They are far too good for this level of football, and the three of them appear to have developed an understanding. It's this understanding and flexibility that Billy Davies likes to encourage ahead of all else in his midfield, he has them changing position and covering each other's duties almost telepathically.
The fans, manager and chairman have all been talking about bringing in a striker, but this game has highlighted the most important signing - David Vaughan. Forest simply must sign him, and get him as fit as they have Andy Reid. This midfield triangle will swallow up a lot of our opponents points, but it won't be a mystery what occurred. They will pass their way into The Premier League.
Thanks for reading, comments are welcome below, and here, on City Ground Faithful forum. COYR!