Monday, 7 April 2014

Preview: Forest v Sheffield Wednesday

As the play-offs look to be slipping from Forest's grasp they welcome Sheffield Wednesday side to The City Ground this week. The Reds face a tougher side than the one they beat 1-0 earlier in the season - but there are weaknesses to be exploited. We're about to see what Gary Brazil is made of.

The Owls have injury problems with both centre-backs (who have been impressive) out, necessitating a reshuffle which may also interfere with their midfield - I expect either Kieren Lee, or more likely Liam Palmer to be hauled back into the defence. Both have been playing well in midfield according to Wednesday fans.

They will probably play with an attacking 4-5-1. Before viewing Wednesday I expected them to be a tough defensive unit, but they are more positive than I envisaged, and the wide midfielders are more forwards than wing-backs in my opinion. More on this shortly.

It's difficult to say how Forest caretaker Brazil will set his team up, but the most important factor will be the return (or not) of injured players - Henri Lansbury and Kelvin Wilson in particular should come back in. I expect The Reds will play in a traditional 4-4-2.

Brazil's tactics for this game will be key. Previously Forest have played far too direct, culminating in a bizarre decision to play Jamie Mackie up front, virtually alone, against Millwall. A similar error was made against Charlton. I worry that Brazil, rather than changing they style of play, will again opt to keep things simple and merely change the personnel, bringing in Darius Henderson.

I have been an advocate of Henderson, but this is not the game to be getting into a battle of strength and aerial ability against the opposition, because they have, in my opinion, a glaring defensive weakness which would be better exploited by smaller, trickier forwards.

It is my contention that The Owls struggle badly at defending attacks down their flanks, because those wide midfielders I mentioned earlier often fail to track back, offering little support to their full-backs which causes a multitude of problems (see below for examples of this against Leicester. All diagrams on Forest Boffin are enlargeable when clicked).
This is a common defensive vulnerability in The Championship, but our opponents have been particularly weak in this area - at least recently. Their surprisingly positive nature has left a lot of room in front of either full-back, both at home and away - the midfielders seem not to think it is their job to defend.

This gives the full-backs difficult decisions to make - it pins them in-between responsibilities. It's actually been interesting to observe how different Wednesday players have taken different approaches to being abandoned in this fashion, for example left-back Jeremy Helan tended to stick to his defensive shape, ceding a lot of space out on the flank, against Wigan (see right).

While Lewis Buxton seems to try to do both jobs, and has been subsequently dragged too far away from his proper defensive position. This leaves gaps in more dangerous areas, which are not as likely to be exploited, but once they are this is a bigger problem - as happened against Doncaster, which cost Wednesday a goal (see left).

In a similar fashion to the problems Forest were encountering earlier in the season, the defenders' lack of help (in this case, Wednesdays' full-backs) has been forcing them out of position, resulting in attackers being able to exploit the gaps. A particular problem has been short passes being played in behind the defence, in-between the full-back and central defender.

Gray sets his team up to be very strong in the centre of the pitch - the three central midfielders cover this area excellently and work very hard, but the gaps in front of their full-backs is a real Achilles Heel and has been exploited by every team I have watched them face.

Forest must take advantage of this - or at least set themselves up to do so. At some stage The Owls will learn their lesson and be more defensive in this respect, but for Forest not to go for this will be criminal. This is why I think Cox and Mackie should play, and Brazil should abandon his more direct approach. This kind of opponent is tailor-made for the cleverness of Simon Cox, either making runs in behind Wednesday himself, or dropping deep to slide in another, quicker player, Jamie Mackie would fit the bill, or even an overlapping midfielder in the shape of Paterson.

Wednesday have allowed teams to thread men in behind them on a consistent basis, relying on their goalkeeper to get them out of trouble. If Forest can get men making runs behind them, they will have opportunities, but they must be found by accurate passing rather than hopeful punts forward.

I have made a lot of this particular weakness that I believe The Owls have (actually I have been reserved and could have written an entire article or two illustrating this) because it is quite pronounced, but overall I was impressed with our opponents. They are hard-working, positive and play better football than I expected - more than Forest have been over the past three games.

They will be a threat coming forward, and because their midfielders don't all get back, will be in a position to catch Forest on the counter-attack. In particular I can foresee Michail Antonio causing problems should he play. The Wednesday fans I've asked have not mentioned him, and he's not been much more than a fringe player, but defending and backing off as they have been doing, I can see the Forest defenders being troubled by this powerful, quick and direct player. He runs straight at a defence and shoots; Gonzalo Jara beware.

But this, as with the last two home games, is another very winnable game. We still find ourselves only five points away from the play-offs, despite recent results. It is still a possible target, and with the likes of Lansbury, Reid, Wilson and Vaughan returning to fitness, it would have been very much on if they had done better in recent home games. Our rivals have been struggling too, this was the ideal time to be punishing them.

This game will be the more difficult of the three 'easy' (ha) home games. Our opponents seem to be playing with confidence, are positive, hard-working, and have been rising through the table. I believe there is a serious weakness to be exploited - but who knows how it will pan out? I'm not sure I can even name the Forest side!

One thing is for certain - another disappointment at home will see Forest continue their tumble into mid-table; it will be season over, and so this is probably the biggest game yet.
Thanks for reading, thanks to the Wednesday fans who kindly helped me in preparing this article at Owlsonline and Owlstalk, and COYR!

1 comment:

  1. Good work chap. You should give Forest a ring and ask for a job. Can't do you any harm.