Monday, 25 August 2014

Forest 4 Reading 0

Forest strolled to an easy victory against Reading on Saturday, holding onto their early lead at the top of The Championship. It was another game where Stuart Pearce tinkered with his tactics at half-time; again this brought a favourable result.

Forest began with a 4-4-2 and continued with a settled side. The front men and wingers were instructed to press the ball high up the pitch, but on the whole the team did this slightly more conservatively than they did against Bournemouth, and got the balance about right.

Chris Cohen and Andy Reid were doing the donkey work in the middle, as The Reds looked to build here, and then pass the ball into wide areas, where the wingers and full-backs would find space to cross the ball; this has been the focus of Forest's attacking play so far this season, a fact ignored by Reading.

Reading's system was a little more difficult to define; I've heard it described as a 4-4-2, Pearce himself called it a 4-1-4-1; personally it looked like a misshapen five man midfield to me, with Simon Cox on his own up front.

This game was won - and lost - in midfield, an area where Reading had an extra man but struggled due to the quality of the men wearing garibaldi red, and a severe tactical problem.

As usual Forest were trying to involve the central midfielders as much as possible, particularly Andy Reid, but in the first half it was a reasonably even contest in this area of the pitch.

To achieve this parity Reading were having to contract their formation to outnumber the Forest midfielders through sheer density of players. We see this quite often at The City Ground; visitors focus on defending the vital central areas - but I didn't expect it of Nigel Adkins as his teams usually have a lot of width.

Reading's priority of defending the central areas left a lot of room on their flanks, and this was their undoing. I was delighted with the Reading manager; his scouts would have warned him that Forest look to do damage from this area, but he ignored this threat, meaning whenever Forest were able to get the ball out wide they could do as they pleased.

The best example of this was during the build up to the first goal (see left, click to enlarge). Chris Burke was allowed to run nonchalantly for around 50 yards, unchallenged, until very close to the Reading penalty box - at no stage did any Reading player seem bothered.

Forest scored from the ensuing pressure: even when Burke received the ball again in a dangerous position, the Reading players still gave him all the space he needed to make an unpressured cross, Michail Antonio headed in for 1-0.

The attitude of the two managers was key; Adkins had watched his team struggling to cope with the Forest midfield, especially out wide. His front six players were lackadaisical in tracking back, and being nullified for the most part coming forward; yet he thought that Reading were "maybe the better team in the first half."

After the game he laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of the men beaten in the air when defending crosses at the far post, and didn't seem aware of (or won't admit to) the tactical problem his side had in leaving too much space for these crosses to be created in the first place. Other than errors in defending the far post, Adkins stated: "tactically we were fine."

Conversely, Pearce's team were shading things. 1-0 up, they were working hard, playing well and had a distinct advantage in wide areas, yet the Forest manager was unhappy with the first half and changed things, reverting to a 4-2-3-1 to give Forest equality of numbers in midfield.

The effect this had was to give The Reds more grit in midfield, but this did not diminish their advantage on the flanks, in fact it exacerbated Reading's problems as they tried harder to win the ball in the middle, neglecting wide areas further and further.

Their midfielders were reminding me of the Forest midfield away at Bournemouth last season, in that they were prepared - seemingly with the blessing of their manager who just blamed the full-backs so he didn't have to take any responsibility - to leave defending to the defensive players (see the second goal, above, and the third goal, right). Reading were always doomed with this attitude.

For the hard-working Forest players, this was ultimately an easy victory - far simpler than beating a Blackpool side in total disarray. Pearce's men concentrated on attacking the cruelly exposed Reading full-backs, and did so efficiently, never having to get out of second gear.

The pleasing aspect of this game was that, unlike our opponents, it was a team performance. There were many occasions where the likes of Antonio, Reid, Assombalonga and Fryatt proved willing to track back deep into their own half and support the Forest full-backs. Pearce has got his players working very hard to nullify their opponents with sheer hard work.

The manager's tactical acumen has been ridiculed in the past, but this is another example of him making a shrewd adjustment to outmanoeuvre the man in the other dugout.

Forest are top of the league, and while it's good to be there, in my opinion this does not necessarily reflect where the team are in terms of ability - yet. They have earned a slightly fortunate victory (but one they deserved because of their effort nonetheless) against Bournemouth, and two wins against sides incapable of putting up much of a fight. Like Blackpool on the opening day, I don't see it as much of an achievement beating this Reading side who had such glaring problems. I think 90% of teams at this level, and a good few below, would have beaten The Royals.

That's not to take anything away from Forest; the players work-rate was first class (this was the biggest difference between the two sides), they had perhaps a bit too much technical quality for Reading on this occasion, and far superior tactics.

We'll see better from The Garibaldi this season - they have a lot of quality still to bring into the team, and they will improve as they play with one another for longer, but they are beginning to look like a side capable of winning The Championship.
Thanks for reading, thanks to for statistical help, and COYR!


  1. Two articles in three days Boffin. You are inspired (perhaps by the encouraging results). Difficult to see how to fit in Wilson, Hobbs, Lascelles, Vaughan and Lansbury into this side. What are problem (but we will get injuries). This is the third summer in a row that Fawaz Al Hasawi has spent considerable money on the team (albeit with a claw back on Darlow and Lascelles this Summer). He is certainly committed. This year's money seems well spent (at this early stage). Interested in your take on Antonio, Fryatt and Assombalonga after 5 games. Also is Fryatt still a 20 goal player in your opinion? Great article, very interesting.

  2. Cheers for taking the time to read and comment - appreciated. I did somewhat exert myself haha!

    Our squad is exceptionally strong as you allude to. We brought on Lichaj and Paterson on Saturday; both looked as good as anything in the Reading side, and both would be assets to any team in this league. But they are struggling to get a game at Forest - shows you the strength in depth.

    Wilson, Hobbs, Vaughan and Lansbury would all get into any team in this league if fit - Wilson and Vaughan in particular. All these players have fitness problems though so it's great their 'back-up' (questionable) players are doing so well.

    I'll keep my powder mostly dry on Antonio, Fryatt and Assombalonga, except to say that they are all better than I expected. I don't see Antonio keeping Paterson out of the side all season, though he's had a great start and is what we need against teams struggling a bit. I think Assombalonga isn't merely a goal-scorer, he can do everything you would want except defend set-plays and at only 21 will go on to play at the very top - I fear we're a stepping stone with this lad.

    Fryatt isn't the out and out striker I thought - or at least he's not being played as one. He's very clever and IMO has been as impressive as anyone. He's drifting back into the midfield and being very effective. How he's being played I'm not sure he'll get 20, but it will be well into double figures.

    I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment, cheers. A bigger test tonight at Huddersfield away, it will be interesting how Forest come through this one.

  3. Huddersfield was successful even with seven changes. Antonio, Assombalonga and Fryatt also seem to be doing very well-from what I can see down under. I thought Pearce was harsh with some of the players he let go (Derbyshire, Mackie) but you can't argue with the results or the replacements. Any comment on Fawaz??. I find your stuff really worth reading.

  4. I think Fawaz has done a good, enthusiastic and honest job, punctuated by a series of massive gaffes.

    I also think that any criticism of Fawaz and Co. must be done with the following question in mind; what would have happened if they didn't buy Forest? Unfortunately I can't answer that, but as I feel it possible that we would have been by far worse off without them, I would be uncomfortable giving them any negative criticism whatsoever.

    However many times Fawaz blunders - we need to remember the good he's done at Forest. Would you have a go at someone who's picked you up hitchhiking on a rainy day, and then taken a wrong turn? I think it's a good analogy.

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment pal.