Monday, 10 August 2015

Brighton 1 Forest 0

Forest opened the season with a disappointing 1-0 defeat at Brighton which showed that Dougie Freedman is yet to solve the problems which proved so damaging last season.

Our opponents used a simple and traditional 4-4-2 which made good use of their wingers Kazenga Lua Lua and Solly March. As I remember, this is the system that Seagulls manager Chris Hughton routinely favours, in this case it was a good choice; Brighton do not appear particularly creative, but playing with width is a good way to exploit the narrow defensive ethos that Freedman relies on at times.

For Forest, Dexter Blackstock was the lone gunman up front. The Reds initial strategy was to defend deep and stay in shape, and hit Brighton on the break by playing direct balls to their target-man.

They played with two banks of four, in between which was stationed Michael Mancienne, who acted as an extra layer of defence for the back four.

We have seen Freedman's defensive mode before; it was used when turning around Forest's fortunes upon his arrival last season, and involves a very conservative pressing style concentrating on staying in shape and defending the centre of the pitch just in front of the goalkeeper.

This system allows the opposition to have the ball and bring it a long way into your half, before attempting to win possession and strike on the counter-attack (see right, click to enlarge).

It is simple football that does the bare-minimum - not being easy to break down. But that is riding your luck at the best of times; at some stage at this level an opposition player will come up with something special.

The narrow style of defending played into Albion's hands because their wingers were their danger-men. Lua Lua and March were allowed a lot of the ball and had multiple opportunities to take on Reds full-backs Danny Fox and Eric Lichaj.

This was because they were under instructions to stay close to the centre-backs. They would only go out to a Brighton player on the wing when they had already received the ball, instead of getting touch-tight (see example, left).

Forest did a relatively good job in defending; little space appeared through-out the game, although their tactics invited pressure. They had to defend a lot of crosses and menacing dribbles from wide positions - one of which led to the goal.

The Reds' main problem however, was a lack of creativity. Ever since the injuries of Andy Reid and Chris Cohen, both Freedman and Stuart Pearce have failed to build a central midfield which is able/willing to receive the ball from the defenders.

Against Brighton I don't think passing the ball forward through the midfield was even on the agenda - the selection of defender Mancienne as the player closest to the defence hinted at this, as well as the use of Robert Tesche, and Henri Lansbury - both of whom are extremely ball-shy in their own half.

There was subsequently no outlet in midfield - no player willing to accept the ball and get it moving forward, until David Vaughan came on, and this isn't Vaughan's strength, although he is more willing to try.

With no easy pass to a more creative player, the Forest defenders were forced into a familiar habit of playing direct balls forward themselves - passes which were easy meat for the Brighton defenders, who knew it was coming, and were outnumbering the Forest attack force, until Freedman changed the system in the second half.

Having lost the initial tactical battle, Freedman reverted to two-up-front, bringing on Tyler Walker, who impressed. With the Seagulls defenders now having two problems to deal with, Blackstock improved and began to win more aerial battles.

Now that Brighton had more defensive worries they left more space in midfield too; in the first half, with just one attacker to deal with they could push forward a full-back to help pressure the Forest midfielders, but now Lansbury and Co. found more time and space on the ball, and Forest were less reliant on long balls.

Freedmen's side consequently did much better from this point, but they were already behind and Brighton were able to concentrate on defending - and even at this point, the home side were looking just as likely to score as Forest who were having to take risks going forward.

There were a few positives to come from this defeat. Firstly, The Reds appeared organised defensively. They left too much space out wide - but this was deliberate. And while playing Mancienne in midfield from the outset is pure folly, he played a good defensive game, indicating Forest's ability to tie up the centre of the pitch if needed (hopefully late in games Dougie! Not from the start please).

Also, Tyler Walker looks the real deal. Surprisingly strong and pacey, he has that fearlessness of youth, and in my opinion is ready to play a big part this season - alongside an older, wiser attacking partner.

But perhaps best of all was Freedman's post-match comments, where he hinted at abandoning the conservative pressing system.

This negative style of football is for when you are at risk of being outclassed by your opponents - we have seen the likes of Barnsley, Huddersfield, Blackpool and Millwall use it to good effect on us at The City Ground. Freedman implemented it well last season when he needed to inject a little security and confidence by making Forest difficult to break down.

But playing in this old-fashioned, conservative style will not bring you long term success in modern football, because you are waiting for your opponents to fail - you are asking them if they can break you down... well most of them can!

Furthermore, it reduces your own effectiveness going forward; you will often need to use less creative players more suited to staying in shape defensively, and you will be getting the ball further away from the opposition goal, leaving you with more to do - inevitably leading to more direct football.

This is all exactly what happened at Brighton, and while it is a little odd that Freedman is voicing thoughts of changing his ethos only one game into the season, it is better than continuing in the same flawed fashion until Christmas.

Forest face Walsall in the cup on Tuesday - it's the perfect chance to try our a new, more positive and ambitious philosophy. I look forward to seeing what Forest come up with. Thanks for reading.


  1. Spot on summary, especially regarding Mancienne in midfield. On paper he could be a great DM, in reality, he looks lost and confused.

    1. He does doesn't he Paul. In fairness to him, he didn't get dragged around as much during this game, but he's not got the distribution for when we have the ball. I see him as a really good central defender.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. Cheers for the write-up! It's nice to know whats happening all the way on the other side of the world.
    Next 2 home games look important at this early stage.

    1. I've got one or two readers from you're half of the world - glad I can keep you guys in touch... well of what I perceive to be going on anyway. Thanks for reading. PS Absolutely need 2 wins from those games.

  3. Best match reports on Forest out there. Thanks for writing and I look forward to the next one!

  4. Insightful, as ever. It begs the question, if we wanted a midfield that was not ball-shy in our own half and linked pu the play well, who would we use? Radi was good at this but is gone. Cohen and Reid are a long way off. Perhaps this is why we need Gardner back, and Osborne fit again?

    1. It frustrates me - this should not be a question of which players to use in this role. Osborn, as you say, is the player who would do this best (out of the players we have available) - but why can't the manager just say to Lansbury "get on the ball, take it off the defenders and turn - you won't get in trouble for losing it."

      Henri is a much better player at the moment than Osborn - if only he imposes himself. But he chooses not to. Which is why I get frustrated when I see him hiding. That goes for Tesche as well. They choose not to be available, and they play easy backwards passes because they don't want to lose the ball. Osborn has the guts to try to progress our possession in the right way - I hope he doesn't have this trained out of him.

      Raddy was good at this - it's what I liked about him. He did lose the ball at times, but he was much better at moving it along quickly than any player we've had here for years. His very presence prohibited hoof-ball IMO. But he's gone now.

      Could go on about this all night. The dream scenario would be Reid and Cohen playing for the majority of the season - will we be that lucky?

      Thanks for reading.

  5. Great article- Aussie Simon. please keep them coming!!

  6. Cheers pal, will do and glad you like them.