Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Performance assessments 2014/15: The defence

Last season was a strange one defensively - Forest probably have the most quality in this area of the pitch since their promotion to The Championship, yet these players have struggled to consistently measure up to their predecessors.

It would be wrong not to mention the circumstances which saw players in this area of the pitch underperform. 2014/15 was another tumultuous season; two managers arrived with contrasting defensive styles, and each were unable to make up their mind what their best starting XI were.

Forest used 40 (forty!) distinct defensive line-ups, the most common of which (Fox-Lascelles-Collins-Lichaj) only appeared together on 5 occasions, clocking up just 453 minutes together. This inconsistency hardly seems conducive to a settled, organised defence.

Eric Lichaj: 7.5/10

Full-back Lichaj - released by Aston Villa last summer - proved himself a good defender at this level. It was refreshing to see such an aggressive player in the Forest shirt. I get the impression that there aren't many wingers who enjoyed playing against him.

His versatility was also an asset - although when playing on the left he was a little predictable when coming forward (due to him being right-footed), something he did adventurously all season; Lichaj contributed to 6 goals, which is a decent amount for a defender.

My area of concern with Lichaj was his slump in form and confidence under Stuart Pearce - the American appeared confused as Pearce tried to implement a modern, high-pressing defensive style and was often caught out of position (the Fulham away game is a great example of this).

When Dougie Freedman arrived and made things simpler defensively by switching to a less ambitious, conditional pressing style, Lichaj excelled and was probably Forest's best player under the new manager.

I see Lichaj as capable of Premier League football, however to stay there he will need to demonstrate the positional awareness and concentration needed for more complicated pressing systems - perhaps this is why he had to take a step down?

Dan Harding: 6.5/10

Harding has been wrongly singled out as a problem over the past few years. He is not the best player in the league by a long way, but has proven himself competent at this level, and will never go missing.

Statistically Harding was one of Forest's better players last season - The Reds earned more points, scored more goals, and conceded less, with him in the team, but now is probably the right time for him to move on - I'm sure he'll find another Championship club and we'll see him again soon.

Michael Mancienne: 6.5/10

Mancienne arrived on big money from European giants Hamburger SV last summer, and his start at The City Ground was highly impressive. As Forest began the season well, The Machine - as he was known in Germany - did a good job in tidying things up at the back, using his pace and intelligence to intercept problems.

And there is no doubt he is a good defender - as highlighted by perhaps the greatest central defender ever to wear the Garibaldi, Des Walker, who called the acquisition of Mancienne a stroke of genius.

In fact, I think he is such a good player that we should demand more than he gave last season. I thought that when the going got tough, Mancienne shrank a little - perhaps happy for others to take responsibility. I did not see the leadership or confidence I expected from this high-profile player.

Kelvin Wilson: 5.5/10

It was another frustrating season for Wilson, who managed a little more game-time but struggled to recapture the sparkle we know he is capable of. And while statistics are absolute proof of nothing, the team performed considerably worse last season when he was included.

There were flashes of the irrepressible central defender who won himself a move to Celtic all those years ago - the man who bullied forwards and was calm with the ball at his feet - but for every good game there were instances of victimhood - the home game against Blackburn a good example; Wilson and Mancienne were tyrannized mercilessly by Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede.

Wilson is capable of being the best centre-back in The Championship - it is time to prove it.

Danny Fox 7/10 - I look in detail at Fox here.

Jamaal Lascelles 6.5/10

There is no doubt that academy product Lascelles - back on loan after his big move to Newcastle United - is progressing nicely - he looked no worse than any of the more seasoned central defenders last season.

There were times where his decision making could have been better - particularly when it was safe to step forward and make a tackle instead of backing off - but the Forest defence was not an ideal place to be learning the game last season - not because it was under pressure, but because of the disorganisation and panic which swept through it at times.

And there were signs of him learning to read the game better, and having the confidence to deal with problems - especially during the periods when the central midfield area was being badly defended - it was often the youngster taking decisive action.

Jack Hobbs 6.5/10

Hobbs was the rock around which the formidable Forest defence was built at the start of the season. Leading a group of defenders who needed to be organised enough to keep up with Stuart Pearce's high-pressing system, his injury was damaging, because without Hobbs the Forest defenders tended to drop off a little, allowing space in between them and the midfield.

This is another player (like Andy Reid and Chris Cohen) who is good enough to get Forest where they want to be, but seems destined to spent a lot of time injured, which prompts the question; can we afford to rely on him?

Danny Collins 7.5/10

Overlooked by Stuart Pearce, Collins was reintroduced by Dougie Freedman at the expense of Kelvin Wilson, and his return coincided with a remarkable upturn in form, during which the 34 year-old proved he could still do a good job at this level.

Not to take any credit from Collins, but he was included at a time when Freedman introduced a more defensive and cautious ethos - Forest were concentrating on protecting their centre-backs, so their job was a lot easier than under Pearce (read my tactical review of this period here).

Nevertheless, Collins displayed the determination and gumption his more illustrious counterparts had been lacking, and his partnership with Hobbs, Fox and Lichaj appeared the most balanced of any back-four we saw in 2014/15. He was unlucky to lose his place to the suck-it-and-see policy employed by both managers last season, where they appeared to base their selection habits on the result of the previous game, picking the same team if they had won, and making seemingly random changes when they lost.

Todd Kane (6/10) and Jack Hunt (7/10)

Both loanee right-backs signed by Stuart Pearce were brought in for their prowess when crossing the half-way line, rather than their defensive capabilities. Hunt in particular struck up a good partnership with Chris Burke, and was dangerous when allowed to attack his opposite full-back, notching three assists in his time at The City Ground.

Kane did this less often - perhaps because The Reds were doing worse generally at the time - but showed real touches of class and looks like he'll turn out the better player, but neither could match the defensive grit of Lichaj, and were only included when the American was injured, or playing at left-back.

Thanks for reading, and let me know if you agree with my assessments. There will be a more detailed look at Danny Fox later this week, followed by a look at the midfielders.
And let me know if you don't understand the stats - are they clear enough?


  1. Glad to see your blog is active again. I enjoyed reading your analysis of the Forest Matches and players.


    Bradley Grant aka bgmineralman

    1. Thanks for being good enough to say so Bradley - glad I've got time again for the old girl.

  2. Good to see you back and your stuff is high quality and interesting-although from my distant standpoint I think you over-rate, and make too many excuses for, Stuart Pearce. But then, as a player, he is a total legend.

    1. Thanks matey it means a lot that people find this blog interesting. And you don't need to qualify your opinion by saying it's distant when it differs to mine - it's all about opinions that's what makes football so great and yours is as valid as mine.

      I'm probably too soft in general and also I'm aware that, as long as a manager/player is putting the effort in, I probably subconsciously look for reasons why they're failing. But I do think when we get to this level, everybody involved has talent and could be successful under the right circumstances.

      I could go on but I'll be here all day. Thanks for reading.

  3. I still can't really understand why we shipped so many goals towards the end of the season, given the players we had available. I am sure you're right that the lack of consistency over the season can't have helped. I suppose that the margins are very slim between success and failure anywhere on the pitch and, in the absence of a great deal of motivation, maybe fractions of seconds of hesitation, slight losses of concentration made a difference ...

  4. Always enjoy your blogs, Boffin. Glad to see you're back.