Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Forest 4 Blackburn 1

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.

But our opponents do not come up against a midfield as good as Forest's very often, and Reid et al were soon getting the upper hand. As Forest committed men forward, Rovers were sitting back, defending diligently but there was a lot of space appearing between their striker and midfield. The intelligent Forest midfield picked up on this, and either Reid or Vaughan were constantly dropping back into this area to pick up the ball (see right), and were doing a lot of damage by building the attack from this secure footing.

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!


  1. Excellent stuff as always. Couldn't agree more about Vaughan, his resemblance to McKenna is quite uncanny at times, but he's rather more comfortable on the ball. If he can stay fit, he has the potential to make the difference. Playing Reid deep is interesting too; it was fantastically effective against West Ham, when we was the fulcrum for everything, and as he gets older, that position makes more and more sense. Defensively speaking, he's also difficult to get round. That sounds flippant, but it's true! His width and low centre of gravity result in players playing backwards rather than trying to take him on.

    I think Mackie's been key too. There's something really old fashioned about him, he's like a Defensive Outside Right, focusing on final third regain. Teams don't expect pressure of that kind there, and against Leeds in particular, it was deadly.

    Very happy with how balanced we look, long may it continue! You Reds!

    1. Thanks for reading Laurie.

      Someone needs a lot of credit for making Reid so "difficult to get around" as you say. Remember watching him vs Notts County upon his return? He couldn't have been less interested in defending, but he's turned into an all-round player. He's got fit, learned how to defend, and retained his creativity and flair. If there's a better player in the league I'm a stick of celery.

      Mackie; what a total pain in the backside for out opponents. What good signing for us.

      Cheers for reading

  2. Great analysis...as always. I was very concerned though until Paterson converted; Blackburn were asking some serious questions and I felt that they were one of the better teams to play at our place with Cairney and Marshall quick to get up and support Gestede. Coming forward, I felt they moved the ball around well from flank to flank in order to pick out a cross. Those throw-ins too....
    Perhaps we are finally over the Guedioura problem. Much as I (like you) like Majewski, it is difficult to see where he fits into the current midfield set up. I know he brings ball retention up top to the party but he doesn't 'put in a shift' (ahem) like Reid, Lansbury or Vaughan.
    ...and let's hear it for Dan Harding too.

    1. Blackburn just wouldn't flush, would they?!?! I think they're one of the most resilient sides we've played in a while. It was so clear that we were not only better with the ball than them, but playing well, I think if we'd have played like that against most teams they'd have crumbled, but Bowyer kept on trying to find an answer and they not only stuck in there, but as you say started moving the ball around too, until Moussi came on at least. I was worried they'd equalise at 2-1 too, but always thought we'd be able to score again though.

      The Gueddy problem is gone, Davies has fixed it - as long as we can keep Vaughan fit. And yes, I agree that there isn't really a place in the side for Raddy - I kind of hope he goes to Huddersfield on loan and has a good season, get his confidence up because I think he might be more suited to the league we'll be playing in next season...

      Thanks for taking the time to comment

  3. You seem confident about promotion Boffin. Again I pose the question, how many of our players are Premier league quality versus solid Championship.
    Let me kick you off:
    Premier league standard: Lansbury, Reid, Wilson, Fox
    Quite possibly premier league standard: Darlow, Lascelles, Hobbs, Cohen
    Suggest the rest have tried and not quite succeeded (Cox, Lichaj, Jara,Mackie) or there is quite some doubt about them making what is a very big step up in standard.
    Very interested in your views???

    1. Hi pal, cheers for reading.

      To answer that question I'm going to be a bit awkward and ask how we define your question (sorry, but I am a boffin after all) - what is Premier League quality?

      James Perch left Forest and played 60 odd times for Premier League Newcastle - now does this make him P.L. quality? Because we all know he's not good enough to get into the Forest side. If Perchiniho is P.L. quality, and our current players are better - assuming you agree they are, does that automatically make them P.L. quality?

      Probably not, but let's take another of our ex-players, Grant Holt, who has had success in the P.L. - does his success make him P.L. quality? Because personally I don't think he's especially good.

      I think it's very difficult to even define the question properly, let alone answer it. We could say that a P.L. quality player is one good enough to play in the P.L. - in which case they all are - or we could say they need to play there for a certain length of time, but that doesn't take into account their success.

      The safest theory might be to say, which are good enough to play in a side that will stay up - but this doesn't take into account what other players are in their side, their manager, form - it's a minefield of a question if you think about it!

      So the short answer is, all of them are Premier League quality; there have been worse players than all of them, every single player could hack it in the right circumstances. I was going to suggest which would play well n the WRONG circumstances - but even Rooney struggles in certain circumstances so it's not a fair question either.

      Not a very short answer; sorry for the off-the-cuff rambling but at least I'm putting effort into the question.

      To try another way; which players would I retain for my regular starting 11, for a team with the ambition of staying up?

      As the finished article - Reid and Wilson definitely. Am I allowed to keep Vaughan? He'd be in there. Hobbs.

      Players I'd be happy to take a chance on, for my starting 11: Darlow & Cohen & Lansbury. And Lichaj actually.

      In fact, as I answer my question, I become more and more convinced that the majority of, if not all, could play a part in keeping Forest in the P.L. in the right circumstances - I think the most important thing would be the system, and the men in it.

      I strongly believe our current 4-2-3-1 of Darlow, Cohen, Wilson, Hobbs, Lichaj, Vaughan, Lansbury, Reid, Mackie, Paterson & Cox would keep us in the P.L.

      You say Lichaj (25), Mackie (28), Cox (26) & Jara (28) have not succeeded in the P.L. - but what is success? At what point do we say they're not good enough? I've stated their ages - they could all still get there and stay there for a good few years.

      Sorry for being awkward and anal, but as you know I like precision, and it's a difficult question. I remember watching Franny Jeffers burst onto the scene at aged 16 (ish?) - he was fabulous for Everton! Premier League class? In the right circumstances - yes. We all know how his career went.

      To reiterate my position, I think an injury free first 11, playing for Billy, with his current tactics, for every minute of the season (impossible, but it's a theory), would stay up. I even think they'd be pressing for the top half. I'm aware this might be an unpopular view, but on song, the team above is a lass above this league. Vaughan essential though - his partnership with Reid & Henri is the key.