Friday, 21 February 2014

Forest 2 Leicester 2

The year: 1990 (ish). The place: a training pitch just off Quarry Lane, Field Mill, Mansfield.

"Boffin, come here." To be honest this guy scared me, but I wandered over. "Listen, if there's one thing I want you to remember from tonight, it's this: when under pressure defending long or high balls, never let the ball bounce. Now get lost."

This adolescent memory has been bouncing around my head all night, but what ought to be remembered is an exciting game of football between two highly motivated sides. Leicester set up as we thought they would in our preview, and were clearly up for this game, starting brightly.

The Foxes played one of the more stylish brands of football we've seen away sides use at The City Ground - in fact only QPR, Derby and Blackpool have out-passed them this season, although they were prepared to send it long when necessary; an ability which has sometimes been lacking from Forest.

The Reds' as expected deployed Reid and Jara deep in midfield with the intention that they run the game, picking out Majewski in the centre, as well as Mackie and Paterson on either flank.

It was Paterson who proved Forest's biggest threat initially. Beforehand, I suggested that our wingers might be able to creep in behind Leicester's full-backs; this was not the case as both were quite disciplined, however another suspicion was more accurate, as de Laet in particular was left unsupported at times by his winger, and was given a torrid time by Paterson.

The young Scottish winger is a worry; if Forest fail to earn promotion this season he will surely attract the attention of Premiership clubs. Rapidly improving, he's now consistently dangerous and has become our next biggest threat behind Andy Reid.

Tactically there isn't too much to be said about the game; both managers stuck to their guns as the two sets of players tried desperately to find a breakthrough. There was a lot of effort put into closing down opponents, and Leicester perhaps looked the closest to causing a failure in Forest's passing game, but to their credit the likes of Jara, Reid and Majewski persevered. Under pressure, both teams gave away and won back the ball frequently, and both teams looked capable of edging in front. It was a good, competitive game.

Being so evenly matched, and under such a high tempo, individual error was the most likely cause of the first goal, and it came in the Forest defence. I always shudder when defenders allow the ball to bounce at it plummets downwards, and here Collins and Lascelles did just that, under pressure. Darlow - not at fault whatsoever (unless he called for the ball? But even then the defenders should have taken the responsibility themselves) could only punch the ball on the edge of his box, it fell kindly to Jamie Vardy, 1-0 to Leicester.

Forest then went through a very shaky period with the players feeding off of the crowd's frustration, allowing Leicester to assert themselves. A feature of Billy Davies sides is that they prioritise defending and do so as a team (see this in action, right. All diagrams on Forest Boffin are enlargeable when clicked). This has invited criticism in the past - pulling all your players behind the ball means you struggle to go forward - but this was a key phase of the game where it was vital not to concede again; a good example of this kind of mentality keeping Forest alive.

The period of desperate defending saw Leicester in total domination and vexed the crowd, but inevitably Forest came out of it towards the end of the first half and scored from a corner, and with both sides going for it Jamie Mackie then earned a penalty. Billy Davies has since complained that it was a blatant sending off - I've watched it several times and cannot make up my mind - but Andy Reid was never going to waste the spot-kick and Forest found themselves in front!

The second half was characterised by attackers from both teams asserting themselves and individual errors from the majority of players. The game was being played at a high pace, and as the night went on we could see that Leicester were slightly fitter - although as Billy Davies will tell you, they had an extra 10 days rest beforehand. Reid, Fox and Cox all came off because Davies though they needed a break.

The Forest central defence continued to look uncomfortable. It is my opinion that Collins has done superbly when called upon this season - and to be fair he did a lot of good work against Leicester, but he didn't quite command the area in front of goal like Jack Hobbs does. Lascelles also suffered from Hobbs' absence; Collins wasn't ordering him around as much, I think the youngster still needs someone to organise and reassure him to be at his best. This area of the pitch continued to be a weak-spot for Forest.

Twice  more in the second half the defence allowed bombs from Wes Morgan to bounce in front of the penalty area, resulting in Jamie Vardy almost getting in on goal (see left), and inviting Leicester onto us shortly before their equaliser. I think our defenders take more risks because of Forest's play your way out of trouble style - for example, you'll also see them getting into trouble passing the ball around when they should hoof it. It's nice to see Forest trying to play the game in the right way, but there is a time and a place - the bouncing ball situation occurred an amazing 3 times, it should have been knocked into row Z. I suppose people would only moan if the defenders just start hoofing the ball away.

Then came two debatable refereeing decisions. Firstly Paul Konchesky's red card, for what looked an over-aggressive challenge on Jamie Mackie. I was surprised to see a red card to be honest - and video replay suggests this to be slightly harsh, but it was on the cusp between yellow and red, and if Konchesky has gone in with both feet off the ground (it's impossible to see on the replay) he deserved to go.

This event galvanised the Leicester players and they came at Forest like a whirlwind, and I always thought their equaliser was likely. It came from the penalty spot, Jamie Paterson - so brilliant coming forward, clumsily pushed into Danny Drinkwater from behind. Drinkwater, perhaps 3 stone heavier than the lightweight Pato, went tumbling a little easy, but it was definitely a foul so Forest can have no complaints.

Kevin Phillips took the penalty. I love watching Phillips play - but not against Forest because he's superb. I'm a big fan of intelligent movement, which is why I admire Simon Cox, but Phillips is on a higher level; he was making life very awkward for The Reds and spraying around some clever passes - but was denied for the penalty by a superb save by Darlow.

Unfortunately Leicester gobbled up the rebound and scored a deserved equaliser. Another of Billy Davies' gripes was some possible encroachment by Leicester players during the penalty, but this complaint is invalid as it happens during every spot-kick, even Forest's. We all know Davies is part manager-part politician (just like most managers to be fair) - he is always ready with reasons as to why things didn't go perfectly, and I don't begrudge him this, as there are plenty of folks gunning for him; he needs to fight his corner more than the average manager.

This was a fantastic game because both sides were highly motivated to get three points, and both managers had solid tactics. They were quite evenly matched, and playing at a very high tempo, so it was inevitable that both sides would make a high amount of individual errors. Forest passed it around better, and got around the back of Leicester a few times, while Nigel Pearson's side pushed Forest back and were threatening enough to cause errors.

I thought Leicester were the best team I've seen Forest play this season, but this bothers me, because I wonder what difference the injured players would have made; in my opinion we would have beaten them quite comfortably with a full side.

Well played Forest - but we'll see whether a draw was enough on Saturday against Burnley. Lose and The Garibaldi will trail second place by 8 points. Although a difficult proposition, Billy perhaps needed to beat Leicester, but it was not to be.

Thanks for reading, let me know what you think if you've time, and thanks to www.whoscored.com for statistical help.

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