Friday, 11 November 2016

Attitude adjustment

Much has been said of the problems which have seen Nottingham Forest become entangled in, on the face of it, a relegation scrap this season. Owner Fawaz Al Hasawi's mismanagement of the club and Philippe Montanier's unfamiliarity with Championship football have been key contributors.

But one problem – just as important – has gone relatively unheralded so far; the attitude of the players.
Aside from a few exceptions – the likes of Ben Osborn and the rest of our younger players in particular – Forest's playing staff have demonstrated a severe lack of commitment, professionalism and discipline this season.
When I talk about discipline, I don’t only mean they pick up a lot of bookings (they do, by the way) – I’m talking about the commitment to do their job properly without cutting corners, I’m talking about them taking the easy way out, avoiding responsibility. Scrimshanking their way through games.

Cheating the fans.
This is a team, I suggest, that is not struggling due to a lack of skill or confidence. The expansive, assured way they are playing their football when in possession betrays this. They have proven in spells that, playing the attractive, attacking brand of football preferred by Montanier, they have the ability to succeed at this level.
Under the Frenchman, Forest often start well and  manage to get themselves in front. But this is a competitive league, and you cannot afford to rest on your laurels.
Whether, after starting well, they think the job is done and get complacent we can only speculate, but one thing is certain – when opponents come back at them they fold. This season, after going behind, our opponents have equalised on 73.3% of occasions.
And worryingly, once behind, Forest hardly ever get back into a game, only equalising on 27.3% of occasions.
The Reds have thrown away 17 points from winning positions, and rescued just 4 points from being behind.
Other teams are reacting to the ebb and flow of the game better than Forest – they have demonstrated the commitment and discipline to keep doing the right things when things are not going to plan. Forest, on the other hand, fall apart because they lack this attitude, and stop doing the basics needed to compete at this level.

They start sitting deeper and deeper. Even against QPR's ten men this was evident, as they invited Rangers forward. This is common when teams lack discipline. They naturally drift back towards their goalkeeper to make life easier, as they then have, in theory, less space to defend. It’s not what the manager would want, but it feels safer.
Against QPR this allowed our opponents more time on the ball in our half and to get a lot of crosses into the box – which was a recipe for disaster considering Forest aren’t very good at defending crosses. To compound the danger, Forest also gave away a lot of set-pieces around their penalty area.

Almost ironically considering the above point, Forest's lack of commitment has also manifested itself into an over-use of the offside trap. I don’t think I can remember as many hands up signalling the linesmen as this season.
For this to happen so regularly, for me, shows a lack of commitment. It seems almost automatic; why bother running back if that nice man with the flag will do my job for me? It's the easy way out.

We've also seen a habit of not tracking runners - even in the penalty area. It could be argued that Montanier is playing an attacking brand of football, and in some cases - especially in midfield - he might not want his attackers tracking back, but there has to be some balance to this. Players still have the responsibility to make decisions on the pitch when, to not do so, leaves gaping holes in your defence. This bad habit has been rife this season.
Marking appears to be viewed as optional. The Cardiff goals are both good, if different, examples of Forest not having the discipline or commitment to mark opponents in goal-scoring positions.
Aron Gunnarsson scored Cardiff’s first; unmarked on the edge of Forest’s six yard box. His marker was Thomas Lam – this was a complete physical mismatch, and the Icelander brushed Lam aside. However, this area of the pitch should have been vigorously defended regardless of Lam. There has to be somebody attacking the ball, when it comes into that area.
Cardiff’s second was a comedy of errors. Armand Traore received the brunt of the criticism for giving the ball away near the corner flag, but the more worrying aspect was the lack of positional discipline shown by the other Forest defenders.
When defending, you should have an overload, or at least even numbers – but on this occasion (see diagram) there are two Cardiff players being marked by Eric Lichaj – his Forest colleagues don't have the discipline or commitment to be in position. They were assuming, and hoping, Traore would clear his lines so that they wouldn't have to work to get into position.
Note the difference in attitude of the Cardiff players; it appears a lost cause, but they are chasing it anyway. They are showing commitment, discipline, desire – all those words you have a right to expect as a bare minimum from professional footballers.

These are not isolated examples - Forest have been leaving attackers unmarked all season - look back at the goals we've conceded.
The next problem is the routinely lazy implementation of Montanier's conditional pressing system. Forest have spent periods of several games standing off and allowing opposition players to receive the ball and turn in dangerous areas – and even get their head up and pick out passes into the penalty area.
The first Reading goal was a good example. Many fans have picked up on the goalkeeping error, Vladimir Stojkovic should have done better, but the initial effort was allowed to be made by Pajtim Kasami, who failed to close down the shooter with any vigour or effort. He was resting on his laurels - in position but doing the bare minimum.

The amount of cards Forest pick up, silly free kicks given away and petulance displayed, especially towards the end of games, is another symptom of their poor attitude.

It is self evident that bookings and sendings off damage your chances whenever they are in a match, but the majority of Forest's come late. 64.4% of the cards picked up by Forest have come in the last third of the game - this is revealing as it indicates their reaction when the going gets tough.

This last third of the game is the period when Forest also let in a disproportionate amount of goals - 58.6%. When our opponents are giving it a final push to get back into or seal the game, throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at us, Forest are losing their heads.
It’s clear The Reds are bereft of leadership on the pitch. Chris Cohen is the club captain – he’s a nice lad, but is he nasty enough to knock a few heads together?
Vice-captain Henri Lansbury has a lot of influence – he is a forceful character, but not the man, I would argue, to inspire discipline, commitment or professionalism in the players around him, since at times he lacks all three of these qualities himself.
It’s not as if we’ve been watching a team of school-kids – although, as Colin Fray so brilliantly said after the Cardiff game, they are doing the kind of things you see 12-13 year-olds doing. This is an experienced team – the players that started against QPR on Saturday had made 2123 appearances between them.
If it takes more than 2000 games worth of experience before somebody thinks ‘we can’t allow free headers in the six-yard box’ or ‘I can’t let him have the ball there unchallenged’ then there is something wrong, and it’s not the manager’s tactics.
Head coach Philippe Montanier has been widely criticised for his tactical shortcomings this season, and I don’t totally absolve him of responsibility for the current mess either. But there is a big difference between the manager not having the knowledge or experience to do manage in The Championship, and the players deliberately not doing their job.
Is the manager instructing his players to get sent off, or argue over penalty-taking responsibilities, or give free kicks away in stupid positions, or delay kick-off in stoppage time when your team is 2-1 down by ambling petulantly back to your own half?
Are we to believe Montainer wants the players to not bother with such basics as marking? Is he a fan of letting the ball bounce rather than heading it away, or not tracking back, or dropping off rather than maintaining your defensive line, or appealing for offside because you can’t be bothered to chase your man?
Is he telling them to take their foot off the gas when Forest are winning? To only do the bare minimum and hope for the best? Somehow I don’t think he is.
In a few weeks a new manager will come in, and we’ll see at least a brief upturn in performances and results. But it will still be largely the same players, and they will still have this unprofessionalism in them, this lack of discipline lurking under the surface, waiting to reappear.
Don’t forget, we’ve still got certain players at the club who were not putting 100% in for Stuart Pearce. It’s in their arsenal; you cannot rely on these players.
You cannot teach heart. Dedication. Professionalism. The willingness to take responsibility. Discipline.
But if these players don't find some of the above from somewhere, we'll be playing in League 1 next season, whoever the next manager is.
Thanks for reading, and extra special thanks to everybody who has sent messages asking for the return of this blog. I don't know how often I'll be posting, but I intend to back up the above criticism in more detail, as I don't feel I've had the space or time to elaborate as much as I wanted.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, it was nice to be writing again, if a little difficult at first. I appreciate all the kind messages while I've been inactive.

  2. Spot on, the petulance of the Pearce days has resurfaced. Need leaders, desperately. Welcome back!

    1. Cheers Adam! It has, hasn't it. I'd love to see what would happen if Pearce was their captain...

  3. Excellent article. You are right about many of our players.This season has been very frustrating. Perhaps we need a manager that instills discipline and desire. P.M. seems a great chap but maybe he needs to get tougher with his squad.
    Thanks again Boffin for your blog. U Redsss

    1. Thanks mate.

      I don't know about players needing a manager to instill discipline though pal - I don't need my manager at work to motivate me to do my job - and I earn a lot less than 20k per week!

      I know what you're saying - the to pick them up when they're down, and motivate them in a way, but it don't need Mr Motivator to give them a pep talk for them to know they need to mark people in the 6 yard box! It's stuff they are choosing not to do, presumably because they can't be bothered.

      Blame can't be passed onto the manager for stuff like that - they have to take some responsibility. As far as I can see anyway. Don't let them off the hook mate you deserve better!

  4. Thanks, Boffin. Good to hear from you again.
    I wonder if you think this is at least in part a symptom of there being a relatively high number of loan players - whilst the best of the home grown talent is sold off?

    1. Thanks mate.

      You've actually hit upon something I do think is a factor (I cut a paragraph on loans) - but I didn't want to be seen as singling them out. And it's not just them to be fair.

      Loans are risky - it depends on the mentality of the player. We've had some right duds on loan.

      Perhaps the thing that made me most angry in the last few years was us playing loans last season, when we knew we were safe, instead of giving the likes of Burke and Grant more minutes.

  5. Excellent article and happy to see you posting again. Individual mistakes I can understand and an unease about the rotation policy I can empathize with but Laziness I can't abide. This core of Players since Pearce has had an attitude that breeds sloppiness. There are Sloppy because they are lazy and as you rightly point out, they are lazy because they look for the easy way out. It should be a point of horror that this side wont have the chance to keep a clean sheet at home until December (and I doubt they will against Newcastle)
    We understand injuries, not being paid, being in the press for the wrong reasons, new managers, new players, takeovers etc. But none of these things stop you tackling, heading, pressing and clearing your lines

    1. Thanks buddy.

      That's exactly how I feel - the club has a million and one things wrong with it, but none of it stops the players doing the basic things that they've been doing since they were 10.

      I wanted to put in a section about whether the unprofessionalism had dripped down from Fawaz, but thinking about it, a) I don't think it's an excuse - they are supposed to be professionals, and b) Fawaz doesn't know what he's doing. I think the players do but they aren't doing it - and that's worse.

  6. You've been missed. A brilliant (if depressing) read.

    1. Thanks, but don't get too down, just have another beer.

  7. Welcome back boffin, you've been missed, hope all is well. As ever a spot-on analysis they really do need to employ you and you can sort them out for us!

    1. Cheers pal.

      Employ me! My Mrs could sort them out - she can sort anybody out!

      On a serious note it's easy pointing out something that's wrong, but a lot harder actually getting it right. I've obviously not played to that level so it's easy for me to have a pop I suppose.

  8. Great article, good to see you back. Please keep writing your blog. Take care,

  9. Thanks for reading! The blog was only ever intended as 6 months worth of wider-writing practice, and only lasted longer than that because people seemed to like it. I'll do my best.

  10. Welcome back Boff. I've missed your analysis. Its spot on as usual.