Thursday, 27 February 2014

Are Forest too negative when ahead?

Last week Billy Davies issued a prickly rebuttal of suggestions that his Forest team were losing points through sitting on leads – from being, to use a dirty word, negative.

The Reds have lost 17 points from winning positions this season. If Davies’ side were able to kill off these games they would be top of the league with 72 points – this is perhaps an unreasonable expectation, but Forest have lost by far the most points from winning positions of all the promotion candidates (see right. The figure in brackets is the amount of games in which the team has been winning at some stage - Forest's have done so often, but this does not account for the discrepancy in lost points).

This is because, for a side so high in the table, The Garibaldi struggle to hold onto a lead – our opponents have equalised on 46.2% of the occasions Forest have led. Again, comparison with our rivals is concerning (see left).

Conversely, they are excellent at taking the lead, doing so on 26 occasions, and are the second best team in The Championship at getting back into a game, equalising on 66.6% of occasions after falling behind.

The question must be asked; what do Forest do differently once they have gotten themselves in front? The situation they find themselves in drastically alters the likelihood of scoring or conceding – it is no wonder some fans are wondering whether a change in mentality is causing these habits.

Do Forest come out of attack-mode when they have something to lose? Or do these statistics reflect an adventurous but young team playing attractive, expansive and speculative football?
Having established that Forest are good at getting themselves in front, but mediocre at staying there, we need to inspect closely where these points have been dropped. This has occurred in 8 games this season (see left, minutes of last conceded goal included). You will note that apart from the Wigan defeat, Forest have been the victim of second-half equalisers in all of these games.

Upon closer examination, it is difficult to credibly suggest that any of these goals conceded were directly caused by Forest being negative or sitting on their lead – in fact in some cases there is a stronger argument to say they were being too attacking.

Watford was a good end-to-end game in which Forest were pushing hard for a second goal – indeed Forest had 4 efforts on goal in-between half-time and The Hornets' 54th minute equaliser.

Forest didn’t have much time to be defensive before Wigan equalised, it would be harsh to say they were sitting on this 8th minute lead.

Charlton were all over Forest, going all-out for their deserved equaliser. The Reds were defending – and had only 3 attempts in the 47 minutes leading up to the equaliser – this is perhaps the most negative of all the dropped points.
The Bournemouth equaliser was not caused by trying to hold onto the lead, tactical issues allowed The Cherries to out-number Forest’s defenders (see right, all diagrams on Forest Boffin can be enlarged when clicked).

Reading and Bolton both equalised late in the game from free-kicks poorly defended. Home teams are always going to earn set-plays when chasing the game, but these two goals were easily avoided and caused by a lack of concentration, not negative play.

Forest were caught out against Blackpool trying to begin a counter-attack; being too adventurous, if Forest had sat on this lead instead of pushing forward they would have won.

Finally, Leicester equalised from a clumsily conceded penalty. In between taking the lead and Leicester’s equaliser, Forest had 7 attempts on goal – more than The Foxes, carving out some good chances. They were not sitting on this lead, indeed they were pushing hard to kill off the game.

There have been other late capitulations this season; If Raddy Majewski let the ball trickle out of play against Sheffield United, Forest might still be in the cup; instead he retrieved it in the hope of hitting The Blades with a counter-attack – Forest were trying to go 2-0 up rather than being satisfied with 1-0. Jordan Obita’s goal for Reading at The City Ground is another example - Forest were caught out while pressing forward.

Therefore, there is little or no evidence to show that Forest have dropped points from being negative or attempting to hold onto a lead, but are Forest even doing badly in the latter stages of games?

Rather than losing out due to being overly protective of what they have, Forest are actually strong finishers – only Derby have scored more goals in the latter stages, and only Brighton, Derby and Leicester have conceded less (see enlargeable chart, left. Stats courtesy of

The period in which Forest are at their most vulnerable is actually the beginning of a game; they have conceded 12 goals in the first 30 minutes – only 3 teams have done worse.

The above statistics do not tally with the idea that Forest are not positive enough at the end of games, they end games well scoring a high amount of goals. One team that are relatively poor towards the end of a game is QPR. It is notable that Harry Redknapp makes a lot of negative substitutions with the hope of defending what he has – they suffer because of this in the last period of games.

This brings us nicely to substitutions; if Billy Davies is trying to defend a lead, if he’s not being positive towards the end of games, it will show in the changes he makes.
Analysing this season’s substitutions – of which there have been 94 so far – implies that Davies actually tends towards positive changes, replacing a player with a more offensive one on 25.5% of occasions, compared to making changes which will tighten things up on only 9.6% of occasions (see left).

We can see that the manager’s attitude to subs changes depending on the situation at the time however – two thirds of the negative changes are made with Forest in a winning position, but he is still more likely to make an attacking change in this situation than a defensive one.
We also see Billy tries to turn draws into victories rather than settling for what he has; 50% of all attacking substitutions are made from drawing positions, a disproportionately high amount.

So we see that Billy Davies uses his substitutions not to tighten things up, he actually changes things to make Forest more threatening going forward. This is reflected in a high amount of goals scored by The Reds towards the end of games.

Billy likes to fight his corner and has picked up on an area of concern expressed by some fans (it seems clear to me that he pays close attention to social-media and fans forums), but just as in the past where I have tried to debunk his arguments (see "Clinical finishing: was Billy right?"), Davies’ logic is sound; there is no evidence that Forest lose points because they are trying to hold onto a lead, or being otherwise negative in their approach.

The Reds are certainly better at getting themselves in front, and coming from behind, than they are at defending a lead, but this is not because they are switching to a more defensive or negative ethos, it is perhaps more down to, as Davies says, naivety from some of the younger players, in both switching off, and taking risks when they should perhaps be more cautious.

It’s disappointing that Forest have let so many leads slip this season; 17 points is a lot to drop, however we’ve seen that it’s difficult to argue, having looked specifically at the games in question, that we’ve lost out because of trying to sit on these leads. The substitutions Forest have made have tended to be quite attacking – and Forest have performed well in the final stages of games.

If Billy Davies can find a way to kill off opponents he’ll perhaps have the final piece in the jigsaw – but the solution isn’t to be more positive, because Forest are already one of the more audacious sides in The Championship.
Thanks for reading, thanks to for statistical help, let me know what you think, and COYR!

* Note on attacking/defensive substitutions: This is sometimes a subjective issue, I've based these judgements not only on the normal position of the players being changed, but also my experience of how attacking or defensive they are, and changes to the system the change has made, and other re-shuffling that occurs within the team as a result of the sub. For example, on several occasions the defensive midfielder has come off for a full-back (defender), and Cohen has gone into midfield - I have not considered this as a negative (defensive) substitution, merely a re-shuffle, as Cohen can play in midfield. It's a subjective issue, but I'm confident of most if not all of my judgements.


  1. Really enjoy reading these articles whilst eating lunch at work - thanks!

    Just a minor point, you seem to skim over the specific matches where we've dropped points, preferring to look at the season overall so far.

    Personally I'd have liked a more in depth look at the games where we've dropped the 17 points - what subs were made in those games and what the stats suggested before/after we've gone in front.

    6 of the 8 games were away from home, which I'm sure has an impact on the point you're making, but I'd be interested to see stats on number of shots, corners, long/short passes, tackles won/lost, defensive headers won/lost etc from those 8 games to see if we went more negative after we went in front.

    Thanks though, keep up the good work!

    1. Glad you like them - don't get crumbs in the keyboard!

      Yeah I know what you mean re: skimming over, I prioritised just showing how the actual goal was conceded mostly - but did point out once or twice how the game was going, including how many efforts we were making. Once again the Space and Time Demon was sat on my shoulder. There was so many stats to cram into this, so many areas of investigation I had to summarise a lot of it. I could write an article or more just about the substitutions alone.

      I may post the subs for those games for ya when I've time - I've got that info. I don't think any pattern stood out but can't remember.

      Plus unfortunately I've only collected stats about shots/corners/possession etc for the entire games - not sure where I could get them, but it would certainly be nice to know the things looking back.

      Thanks for the input, I'm trying to improve at this so any areas which could have made the articles any better are always most welcome.

      Cheers Stuart!

  2. Very good article again! Always thought that we don't tend to sit back even though some fans think we do. This article proves this point.

  3. Cheers Batto - I didn't think we were THAT negative either, certainly not as bad as I hear people shouting from the stands, or see on the web sometimes. Like the one about Forest not having a cutting edge, this criticism is just plain wrong.

    There was another stat that I forgot to put in (bloody post-it note went AWOL) - Redknapp has brought Kranjcar off to be replaced with a defensive player more time this season than Billy has made a negative substitution OF ANY KIND. I bet when he was doing it though it was seen as good common sense.

    I didn't realise the extent of the injustice of this accusation before researching this. Forest don't generally sit back.

  4. Another great article Boff. I think in his first spell here, Billy was prone to negative substitutions to hold onto a lead (or even a draw sometimes) - especially on the road. As you rightly point out, it's nothing more than a perceived issue during this current tenure.
    I do think that negativity gets into the minds of players though & they naturally sit back & be cautious as the game enters the final stages - so as not to throw away a lead (it happens at all levels of football) and this then develops into panic when the other team applies pressure - especially in the lesser experienced (& also sometimes lesser quality) players.
    I wonder how often during a game, would Jamie Paterson be tracking back in our own penalty area in the manner he was when he allowed Danny Drinkwater to win that penalty vs Leicester? Does Paterson drop deeper to 'muck in' when we are trying to close out a game any more than when we are chasing a game? Or in the earlier stages? I don't know the answer (nor expect you to check it out) - just 'thinking out loud'.

    1. There's some good ideas for articles lurking in there Timmy - the Mrs won't be happy with you if I'm on the 'bloody computer' because of you! I'd be especially interested to see whether Billy's attitude to subs has changed since his first tenure - after all the studying of the game he did after his sacking. Difficult though - not knowing the formations we played in the games would cloud my judgement I think.

      I've a feeling that attacking players such as Pato may well drift further and further back as the game progresses - if the team are winning, it's something to watch out for, I'd like to see a heat-map of winning/losing. I'd expect this to be the same of all teams though?

      Thanks for reading pal.