Monday, 29 December 2014

Forest 1 Birmingham City 3

Stuart Pearce's luck continued to dwindle on Sunday as Forest crashed to a disappointing 3-1 defeat at home to a one-dimensional Birmingham City side, seemingly leaving their promotion hopes hanging by a thread.

The team and system looked a little better; Robert Tesche and Henri Lansbury occupied the pivotal central-midfield roles, and while this would give rise to it's own problems, it at least allowed Michael Mancienne to escape back into the back-four, alongside Jamaal Lascelles. Full-backs Danny Fox and Eric Lichaj appeared under orders to get forward as often as possible.

Matty Fryatt and Britt Assombalonga played up front for Forest, ahead of wingers Michael Antonio and Jamie Paterson, who should have been ideally placed to attack Birmingham's full-backs due to the system our opponents use.

The Blues utilise a 4-2-3-1 formation that we are familiar with having watched Forest's own versions under Pearce and previous manager Billy Davies. This is a fluid way of playing which has come to dominate world football, because it is essentially a 4-5-1 and 4-3-3 at the same time, but Birmingham play it with more emphasis on counter-attacking and are inclined to rely on defending the central areas rather than pulling back the wide midfielders as cautiously as you sometimes see.

The weakness in this system is the area around the full-backs, and with City's style of play, which their emphasis on defending the centre in order to be able to counter-attack with their wide-men, Forest should have been able to hurt them here.

However, it was Birmingham exploiting weaknesses down the channels, not Forest. The Reds started brightly and looked better on the ball than of late, and were determined to attack, but they repeatedly over-stretched leaving themselves wide-open for a counter attack.

Pearce spoke of this threat beforehand, so he obviously warned the players of this, making the neglect in this aspect of their play baffling - it was a total lack of organisation and teamwork.

Both full-backs were pushing up simultaneously, while the wingers did not appear to be under orders to cover their full-backs when advanced - I assume Pearce would have instructed Lansbury and Tesche to provide cover should their full-back need it, something they failed to do.

The (rough) diagram of the players' average positions for the game illustrates what was happening (see left, all diagrams on Forest Boffin can be enlarged if clicked), as Demarai Grey and David Cotterill were repeatedly able to run beyond Fox and Lichaj and cause problems.

This was exacerbated by what the Forest wingers were doing; instead of making runs out wide into the areas where Birmingham's system is vulnerable, they often drifted into the centre of the pitch, which was crowded with blue shirts.

By doing so, not only did they forfeit their chance to get on the ball and hurt our opponents, but they also freed up Grey and Cotterill to go on the rampage themselves, since their own full-backs did not need help as regularly.

It must be pointed out that Forest were playing some good football in the Birmingham half. I hesitate to say they were dominating, since their position was made so precarious by how open they were at the back, but the extra men in the middle were carving out chances, particularly when Lansbury got involved.

It was all down to who would concede first, and it was Forest - after some poor defending from a free-kick (given away when caught  on the counter-attack). This stunned The Reds, and without anybody on the pitch geeing them up, they crumbled, conceded two more quick goals before half-time.

Once again the lack of leadership had ruined what was looking like a good performance. Forest continued to try and play the better football and carved out multiple chances, but when Birmingham sprang forward they created the better opportunities.

The defenders got a lot of stick, particularly Danny Fox. In defence of the left-back, he was Forest's 'go-to' man when coming forward, seemingly expected to create openings from deep. But he was often left with no options. Lansbury - supposedly one of the top midfielders in the league -  was point-blank refusing to take the responsibility to get Forest moving forward himself, and spent most of the second half pointing at other, less gifted players. He simply does not want the ball at times, which is frustrating because he was excellent when on the attack.

Paterson was also disappointing; I would have thought a player presented with a rare opportunity would have been desperately trying to find space to get on the ball, but he offered little in the way of an outlet down the wing for Fox. The left-back was forced to play long, hopeful balls, only four of which found their target, or try more tricky threaded-through passes which were often intercepted.

The more experienced Forest midfielders were shown up when Ben Osborn came on; the youngster wanted the ball and was positive, getting Forest moving forward without as much reliance on direct-play from defenders. He made a big difference.

This was a game in which Forest created the more chances, and looked dominant for long periods, but they were at constant risk of being caught on the counter-attack.

The statistics tell a story too - only 2 of Forest's 26 attempts were on target as they tried again and again to force their way through the packed middle of the pitch, while Birmingham sat back, content to pick them off on the break and create meaningful openings. Because of the type of chances the two teams were creating, you would have to say the right team won.

It was an improvement however, from the last home game - despite the worse result. Pearce's men were having the better of things for long periods, missed some good chances and were only - as it happened - undone by the sloppy defending of two set-pieces, and a freak ricochet from a Karl Darlow save. Again the question is, can Pearce sort things out in time for a promotion push?
Thanks for reading, and keep the faith - Psycho deserves his current support.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for reading.

      Can't argue with that until you've said why? What good would it do?

  2. Replies
    1. Agree 100%, and thanks for taking the time to say so.

  3. t seems a shame that the the previous two comments aren't in the reverse order, thereby leaving the ground open for a
    "Pearce shake it all about."
    But moving swiftly on, this was one of the few games which went according to my prediction: which was that it was all about the first goal. Maybe this was blindingly obvious, but as you said, we were still in a state of stupefaction when the second went in, which was pretty much game over.
    Although I had thought that Lansbury had a bright start to the game, he disappeared after the booking / goal. I quite agree that Osborn made a significant impression, but I couldn't understand why Pearce left it until it was far too late to make any difference before bringing him on. I also wonder where Vaughan has gone. Do we have to keep him permanently in an oxygen tent in bubble wrap?
    And finally, yes, it was touching that Pearce still has the fans' support. Long may it continue.
    I am not confident that he will be able to turn things round, though.

    1. Cheers for reading as always,

      It's funny, the lad next to me said the first goal would be crucial, but I poo pooed him slightly. How wrong was I? They just crumbled, and the lack of leadership is frustrating. The likes of Wilson (didn't play on this occasion but my point stands), Mancienne, Fox, Lichaj & Lansbury should have the experience to run these games whatever the eventuality. It's not like they're kids. There should be leaders amongst them, but it appears they're all followers - a real worry.

      Osborn on the other hand doesn't need anyone telling him to be brave, or what to do. His attitude is showing the more experienced players up.

      I worry that Osborn and Vaughan are not playing - what is Pearce seeing that we aren't? I think it important we take into account that SP is in a better position to judge, and is more qualified to do so, but some of his selections scare me.

      That being said, he will always have my support; if it ever gets to the stage where I'm calling for his head, I think I know for a fact he will already have fallen on his own sword.

      I don't know if he'll turn things around this season - and with FFP promotion would be an achievement NEXT season too. BUT, we need to give him time to fail.

      Thanks for your sensible comments as always.

  4. Thanks again for your analysis, Boffin. With regards to Osborn and Vaughan, I hope that their exclusion is primarily down to fitness (I've heard it suggested that the youngster needs time to adjust to regular first team games). It seems to me that either would make a better partner for the improving Tesche than an out-of-form/disinterested Lansbury.

    Lansbury is clearly a good player going forward, but doesn't appear disciplined enough for anything other than a free role, which I don't think we can afford at present. I find myself wishing we'd gone in for Guedioura when he went to Watford, as he would certainly have given us a midfield presence as well as the technique to get us going forward, but that boat has sailed, it seems...

    Anyhow, I'm hoping that Pearce has the time - and the fans' backing - to turn it around as I think his willingness to involve youth - and to sign young players - is key to the club's progression, particularly in light of FFP. Imho, it's becoming apparent that too many recent seasons have been undermined by fitness issues, which I suspect is linked to signing players who may be proven, but whose fitness is questionable.

    Here's hoping. Thanks again, and happy new year!

  5. Lansbury, Lansbury, Lansbury - I do hope we're not seeing Lewis McGugan Syndrome here. I think it's going a bit far to say he's disinterested, but I agree with your general sentiments - he is, unless we're in an advanced position, plainly not doing very well. Does not want to take the ball off the defenders, and when he does get it, plays negative passes (as I say, unless he's in front of the opposition box, in which case he's brilliant).

    In a two man midfield I'd be playing Vaughan and Osborn - harsh on Tesche, but he's nowhere near as good as Vaughan, and a different player to Ozzy. These two have to play until Reid is back, and I'd have Tesche and Osborn filling in for the two oldies when they're tired/injured.

    You're dead right about Pearce and FFP too - but I'll keep my powder dry as I'm very close to posting an article looking at this.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment and hope you had a good New Year.

  6. Thanks for another excellent article. If only someone at the City Ground was reading them.

    I've commented before that I'm a huge Stuart Pearce fan. He will always have my full support. I'm realistic enough to recognise that Forest are stuck outside the Premier League because they haven't been run like a Premier League club for years. No one could solve that in six months, not even Stuart Pearce.

    However, there are a number of issues that Pearce needs to address.

    Play a settled system. The constant changing between 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and 3-5-2 is contributing to the defensive problems that we now have. Pearce clearly is searching for the right formula, but should pick one system and be brave with it. Given our current woes at the back, I would play 4-5-1.

    Play the right players in the right place. Michael Manciene in midfield? Michael Antonio on the left? Chris Burke on the right? It contributes to the uncertainty and insecurity throughout the side. Keep it simple and play people in their best position.

    I can't claim to be a manager but it does seem to me that uncertainty creates problems.

  7. Thanks for the comment Jon - didn't have any time for blogging in January, but if I did get around to responding earlier, I'd have said you're bang on about the settled system and his choice of players. I'd have added that he needs to stick with a settled bunch of players in those positions for a while too.

    It's not rocket surgery is it? Uncertainty of course causes problems. Look at Leicester and Burnley last season. Same team just about for the whole season. Did Burnley have significantly better players than Forest?