Monday, 24 March 2014

Derby match report

I write this report fully aware that only the self-flagellistic will wish to read; this is more of a historical document - a grisly account of disaster, so that future Forest fans - those with a morbid curiosity - can look back with distaste.

The Reds fielded virtually a second string side - but the players who filled in have all proven that they can perform at this level. And the system - considering how the goals went in, should have helped them too; Billy deployed his 4-2-3-1 formation, which became a 4-5-1 when under pressure. There should have been very little space in the Forest half.

The Rams played what looked to me like a 4-3-3, the key to which was the hard work of their three central midfielders, Bryson, Thorne and Hendricks, and the two wide forwards, Bamford, but especially Ward, who were instructed to press the Forest defenders when on the ball.

The warning signs were there early on. Forest sat too deep, saturating their third of the pitch with red shirts - even to the extent that one of Derby's centre-backs could bring the ball to the position in my diagram, below-right (click to enlarge).

I believe this shot is very important, as it shows a tactical defect which led to Forest being 2-0 behind. Derby are getting men in wide positions asking an awkward question of the Forest line of midfielders - who should press the ball? It shouldn't be a problem, because although our opponents have pushed forward two defenders to complicate matters, we still have five in midfield - but the spare man is Greening, a defensive midfielder, whose job is to defend the centre-backs; he is reluctant to come out of the line to press.

Normally, the attacking midfielder would press Keogh, but Paterson has the right-back, Wisdom, to contend with, so does not. Majewski is watching his own man - so nobody goes to the Derby centre-back on the ball - who is then able to take his time in picking out an accurate pass. Would he have done it so well if rushed? He's not Lionel Messi, so probably not.

This was an early hint that Forest were thus too rigid in their defensive shape - the other worrying thing about this passage of play is that they continued to be rigid with the ball in amongst them, as they did not get to the man on the ball very quickly once the pass was made.

There was another warning sign immediately prior to the goal, with the Derby left-back Forsyth able to run unchallenged to the edge of the Forest box, and play in another unhurried pass. Defensively, Forest were sitting ducks; too deep and not putting pressure on the ball - the Derby goal did not come out of nowhere.

This inability to press the ball, and unwillingness - or even confusion - in getting stuck in when Derby are moving through the rigid formation, was instrumental in both of Derby's first goals.

The lead up to their opener was poor (see left). Forest sit deep and saturate the middle of the pitch. Again, it is a defensive midfielder, Moussi, who finds himself closest to the threat, but is unsure of whether to press the ball because, in a perfect world, this should be the winger's job. The winger, Mackie, is guarding a 3 square foot 'danger zone' in the centre of the pitch - this area is superbly defended at least! Derby simply go around the Forest midfield - which ought to be impossible because there are five of them, but they just don't seem interested in pressing the ball, or more likely are too confused over who should be doing so - there is no organisation or initiative shown whatsoever - a word to those who used to deride Paul McKenna - this is what happens when you don't have someone like him in the side!

The Rams find it very easy to just pass their way through the, well... friendly defenders, causing panic and confusion, which eventually leads to the goal, but would have been stopped earlier if the midfield were organised enough to press Bryson at the point illustrated above.

To be fair, Forest were still in the game and playing some decent football when coming forward. Greening was once more very accurate with his passing, and the midfield trio of Paterson, Majewski and Mackie were putting in a lot of effort and trying to play passing, possession football.
Indeed, Forest had more of the ball in the first half, but Derby defended well. Quite rightly, they were deliberately rough in challenging the three Forest creative players, who are very lightweight. But it would be wrong to say Derby were playing unfairly - they played in the spirit of an important match, working very hard to put Forest under pressure and rough them up in this crucial phase of the game - doing everything the Forest defenders were not. In the circumstances Paterson, Mackie, and especially Majewski did well and were carving out half-chances.

But The Rams defended resolutely and took their chance when it came, once more playing it easily through the defence, who make no challenge as the ball is passed around, and through, their penalty area. Bryson then runs straight past Moussi - apparently unaware of the dangerous space in front of him, and slots in.

This goal is too easy and makes Derby look like Barcelona - their forward, Martin, sets up the goal, and has far too much time to make the pass. Many will blame Moussi - and he was highly at fault for not tracking Bryson, but the defenders should have been snapping at the heels of the attackers beforehand - like Derby were doing (see the diagram of their defending, above).

The first half must have frustrated Billy Davies - when on the ball Forest were doing ok, but the two first goals were tantamount to negligence by his players when defending, by not pressing the ball, and refusing to make tackles.

Forest then became desperate, and were cut to pieces on the counter attack. Ex Forest man Bamford set up Derby's third with an astute piece of play, notable for an equally naïve piece of defending from the experienced Forest right-back, Jara. Three-nil.

The fourth goal was more abject defending, following good movement off the ball by Derby players. Again, the midfield are far too slow to react, allowing their opponents to find space in front of the defence (see left if you've not had enough punishment).

I've got to mention the away support - if only the players showed as much spirit, they continued to sing throughout, and were the only positive thing from the game from a Forest point of view. I'm not suggesting the players were not trying - they were it's clear, but they lacked the grit and endeavour you would expect in a Derby game.

The fifth goal was a penalty, Darlow screaming out of goal to clatter into Bamford - the sad thing about it was that Darlow's error was the first challenge of merit associated with any of the five Derby goals since the botched stab at the ball by Danny Collins leading up to their first.

But as poor as Forest were, in defence, and in attack where (especially in the second half) there was some particularly lacklustre efforts, it has to be noted that Derby were superb. They looked up for it, played with endeavour, defended hard, and looked a different class.

Billy Davies has taken a hiding in the press (no change there) and from many fans. Forget about injuries - we all know it wouldn't have happened were the seven or eight players missing on the pitch, but the performance was too woeful for this excuse - the players are good enough to do a better job than they did. It is up to the manager to motivate his players, and to ensure they know what is required.

But you could also argue that Jonathan Greening and Guy Moussi should know better - because I don't think Davies instructed them to allow opposition players to stroll past them into empty space, or not to make challenges for the ball. Some of the defending was criminal; Mackie, Greening, Jara, Moussi, Fox, Collins - these are seasoned players who know how to press the ball and get stuck in. Why didn't they?

I'm going to stop now. Well done if you've made it this far. There is far more to talk about, but the defensive shortcomings, which led to this massacre, were too numerous and important to allow space for much else.
I would point out that Forest fans need to keep the faith - we need to look at the bigger picture; if Forest get their act together (they will - they have players returning and will only - can only - get stronger) they could, with luck, sneak into the playoffs. Negativity from the fans will not help, positivity will - even through gritted teeth.

Edit - Billy Davies has been sacked as I write - massive news, and a disappointment to me, but will still leave the following passage in. On going to Twitter to post this I see Neil Warnock has incredibly taken over! Personally I'm shocked, but will put my feelings to one side and get behind the new manager. Will stick my neck out and say I'm gutted to be honest. Back to the article...

I can't see Davies still being at The City Ground in a week - I think he should be, we're used to far far worse managers, but his detractors are becoming more and more vocal. It's such a shame that Forest's injury problems, and their subsequent inability to compensate for them, looks likely to end King Billy's second reign, especially since we looked so good 8 weeks ago.

In my opinion, sacking Davies at this stage of the season will end our play-off hopes and set Forest back another year at least - hopefully Fawaz will have the foresight to recognise this, hopefully he's not lost the plot like some Forest fans have - which is understandable after losing 5-0 to Derby, but some of the name-calling and abuse towards Davies, the most successful Forest manager this century, has been childish at best.

He does nothing to help himself though - I was praying he would abandon his media-exile after the game and offer some shred of an apology to the fans. By retreating into his bunker he has given yet more ammo to those using him as target practise.

Thanks for reading - in fact, well done! Thanks to Charlie at for his thoughts on the game, who has been a gentleman about it. And COYR, put this behind us against Charlton tomorrow.

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