Thursday, 19 December 2013

Clinical finishing - was Billy right?

After the fans had gone home from another disappointing result at The City Ground, as I mentioned in my last article, Billy Davies claimed that there wasn't that much wrong, that our problems lay in one area alone; clinical finishing. I didn't agree 100%, so have been looking into this in more detail.

A major branch of Davies' argument was that Forest are creating chances, and if true, then logically it must lead us to the conclusion that the team and tactics are capable of getting the goals to win games. Anyone there against Ipswich will remember us creating these chances, but just how many do Forest create?

If we look at the amount of attempts on goal (see left), for all the teams in the division, we can see that The Garibaldi more than hold their own. Davies' side has been creative enough to have 290 attempts on goal so far this season - the 4th most in the league.

14.5 attempts on goal, on average, is more than enough to find the net - it tends to suggest at first glance that Forest are creative enough, that the system Billy sends onto the pitch is doing it's job - only one side do significantly better in this regard.

Let's not forget Forest's league position at the moment; we are 7th and only a point off the playoffs, so it seems strange that the manager is feeling the need to justify his tactics (which is exactly what Davies was doing post Ipswich - it was a statement; "I am doing my job". If the players can't score when Blly's system has them creating so many chances... perhaps they are to blame) - but there is certainly pressure on the Scot from some quarters.

And critics could certainly argue that just because Forest are creating 14.5 chances a game - it does not necessarily mean they are good chances. What kind of attempts on goal are The Reds making? Are they good chances resultant from a classy Forest side slicing open the opposition, or are they hopeful punts at goal - in my opinion we have seen our fair share of both.

Surely a more fitting way of judging your creative goal-scoring potential is to have a look at how many attempts the team is having on target. Forest have found the target an average of 5.1 times per game, which doesn't sound many until you consider that the best average in The Championship is 5.3 (Derby). The Garibaldi have had an attempt on target 101 times this season; the 4th best amount in total. 34.8% of Forest's attempts on goal have been on target this season - again, this is up there with the best.

Out if interest, I re-played the season so far, awarding a win to the team who had the most attempts on target in that game; a draw if they were equal - the results were interesting (see right). Under this system, Forest are right up there vying for automatic promotion in 3rd place.

In analysing this we have to be careful, but as a starting point it's good evidence that the chances Forest create are decent ones - if we are regularly having more chances on target than our opponents, there cannot be too much wrong.

What it says about the players having these chances is debatable - are they doing well to get the shot on target? Should they be doing enough to beat the keeper? More on this below.

Looking at the other teams is also interesting - look at Reading! Not only do they fail to create (they have the second worst amount of attempts per game in the league) but they also regularly have less attempts on target than their opponents - they are down in 22nd in our fictional On Target League. How then, in reality, are they above Forest, when Forest are so much more creative, and trouble goalkeepers more often? How? Because when they get the chance, Reading score.

We've followed a trail of attempts, and attempts on target - now we get to the goals. We know Forest can create, and when they get the chance they can hit the target - but what percentage of those attempts on target are counting?

Here we have finally unearthed the problem; Forest have, for a promotion-hunting side, a diabolical success rate in scoring, considering the amount of times they are making the keeper work. Only 28.7% of their shots on target go in - meaning that, to score the same amount of goals as promotion-rivals Reading, Forest have needed to hit the target an extra 25 times.

Forest are up near the top statistically in every test I ran - except the one that matters - actually making the net bulge. Is this the clinical finishing problem Billy alluded to? It's all very well hitting the target, but if it's easy for the goalkeeper, he's going to save it.

However, I don't believe it to be that simple; surely there has to be some element of luck involved here - take a closer look at the table, left. Do Millwall really possess the league's most clinical finishers? I think Liam Trotter is a good player, and I've long admired Jermaine Easter's effort... but really..?

I think this is another debatable, unprovable question - either players from Millwall, Derby, Leeds and Reading have suddenly turned into world-class finishers and are picking their spot like Roberto Baggio, while the Forest players are merely lashing it blindly towards goal, or there has been a lot of luck involved here.

I would also point to some of the goalkeeping displays Forest have come up against this season. I remember watching the Watford game end, happy that no other keeper could possibly play as well as Manuel Almunia did against us - but they have. Wayne Henessey pulled off another great performance helping Yeovil beat us. Turnbull, Gerken (see picture below, click to enlarge), Heaton, Gilks - they have all had above average games against The Reds. I would suggest that few teams have come up against so many goalkeepers in top form as Forest.

I set out to explore the comments of Billy Davies, that 90% of Forest's play was working well, and that it was solely down to clinical finishing, with the pre-conceived notion that I disagreed with him. From watching the last dozen or so games I judged (and probably still do) that there was plenty of other areas for improvement - but it's difficult to argue with Davies because if there's one thing these statistics prove it's that he's right in what he's saying; Forest create enough chances - therefore the system is working, as is the team in every area except one; clinical finishing.

More ambiguous is what this all says about those players missing the chances. They are not missing the target - they have hit the target over a hundred times this season - it's just that they have had to do so more times than their rivals. Should they be taking a steadier aim and picking out the top corner, leaving the goalkeeper no chance? Do you think Craig Bryson (8 league goals) at Derby is? No I don't either. I think he's just shambling them towards goal and they happen to go in. I don't think this kind of player, or many of the others playing for the more 'clinical' sides in The Championship, are any more clinical than the likes of Simon Cox or Darius Henderson. I think luck has played a huge role so far this season.

Unlucky or not, there have certainly been times when the players have not helped themselves. Several free-headers against Ipswich did not even threaten the keeper. We have missed penalty after penalty and blown many one-on-ones - the Forest players do need to be more clinical - but hopefully, together with my other articles of Forest's attacking merits, I've added to the debate as to whether our teeth are sharp enough coming forward.
Unlucky or wasteful? It's debatable. I think the only thing I've proven here is the one thing I wasn't expecting to; that Billy was right, that Forest are dong enough in everything except scoring. Thanks for reading - comments encouraged, especially if you disagree. COYR!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Forest 0 Ipswich 0

Forest are still searching for that lovin’ feelin’ at The City Ground after failing to score for only the second time this season against Ipswich. It was a disappointing afternoon for a few reasons, but Mick McCarthy’s men were always going to be difficult to beat.

Ipswich included Luke Chambers and David McGoldrick, both of whom have been playing well. “McGoal-drought,” as some Forest fans labelled him, has been scoring regularly; feeding off the hard work of the Ipswich midfield and strike partner Darryl Murphy as Town have tended to play quite direct during the games I’ve seen. Chambers is in the familiar situation of being played out of position at right-back, which is something Forest perhaps should have capitalised on more.

The Reds continued to employ a 4-2-3-1 system, with Nathan Chalobah replacing Gonzalo Jara. The system is probably Billy Davies’ reaction to the problems in defensive midfield; teams were finding too much space in front of Forest’s central defenders, causing havoc – but since deploying an extra man in this area, Davies appears to have solved this issue. The extra man had to come from somewhere though, and Forest have consequently been playing with just one striker (see left, all diagrams on Forest Boffin can be enlarged if clicked).

And Forest struggled once again to keep the ball in their opponent’s half, with Ipswich working very hard to eliminate space and opportunities for Forest to pass the ball forward – they also broke the game up, resulting in a jittery start to the game devoid of any real quality. The Tractor Boys themselves look short on creativity, preferring to gain territory through long balls played up to the strikers, where Murphy would fight for the ball with McGoldrick feeding off of scraps.

Initially Ipswich were not pressing as high up the pitch as other teams have at The City Ground, instead anchoring their midifleders in an attempt to deny space in their half. This allowed Forest a foothold in the game, as the wide-men Abdoun and Mackie stretched out Town, and Forest found room to play good football – especially down the left.

Then Ipswich goalkeeper Dean Gerken sent Cox tumbling in the box. From my seat in The Trent End it looked a clear penalty, and throughout the game I thought the (reasonably poor) referee had got this important decision wrong. Upon viewing the replay I see I was right – but for the wrong reason; it was a cynical dive by the Forest man, who was already falling when he deliberately collided with the keeper. Cox let himself down here, but the referee let Ipswich down by not sending Cox off, who was already on a booking. Regular readers will know that I am this player's number 1 fan; hopefully we'll see less of this in the future as he's good enough to succeed without this kind of thing.

Forest continued to look the better team but Ipswich were an organised defensive unit, and after McCarthy adjusted to press further up the pitch it became more difficult for The Reds to come forward with the ball. The hard work and positional discipline of players like Hyam and Tunnicliffe forced Forest to play longer balls than they wanted – which were bread and butter for the defenders, who only had to contend with Simon Cox.

We again get back to Forest only playing one up front, at home. I'm aware that football is evolving, and with the ball men should be getting up there to join him; indeed our midfield often do get high up the pitch - but they are not strikers and do it piecemeal. It is much better to have men ahead of the ball already, so as to have someone to pass to straight away when you gain possession, in my opinion.

Worse still, in my experience, one up front becomes none up front, because an intelligent, pro-active footballer like Simon Cox, will go hunting for the ball - because he's so outnumbered up front this is bound to be further down the pitch - and again Cox was having to come deeper and deeper for the ball against Ipswich (see left for just one example), reducing our ability to come forward with the ball. It's a good idea away from home, but at The City Ground, with defensively capable teams like Ipswich happy to sit back and occupy their own half?

The Tractor Boys’ tactics required Forest’s midfield to force their way into the game, to make themselves available and move the ball quickly – but it was all too slow, and the Ipswich defensive banks were able to get bodies in the way. Going into the second half Forest were still creating chances, but Ipswich were looking ominously solid and sticking at their task well.

Andy Reid was the sponsors’ Man of the Match. It’s fair to say he was effective in patches and created good chances, but overall he suffered in the same manner as Raddy Majewski did against Reading – and for the same reasons; he became outnumbered and starved of opportunities to make positive passes.

The difference in the second half was that the ball was not getting to the wingers quite as fast – possibly because Ipswich were giving Forest’s defensive 6 less time on the ball – and they proved less able to beat their men and put balls into the box. Mackie was frozen completely out of the game.

Then we come to the enigma that is Djamel Abdoun. This player clearly has a lot of skill on the ball, and with Luke Chambers playing at right back, it should have been ideal for a tricky winger to exploit this rare defensive weakness – we all know Chambers is not suited to this position. Abdoun had an exciting first half, providing multiple dangerous crosses, but capitulated when the going got tough in the second period, showing all the grit and determination of a stick of candy-floss – repeatedly falling over instead of persisting to get past Chambers. The Algerian has frustrated me, because he is clearly good enough for us to expect better.

This is beginning to sound harsh, Forest were rarely threatened. Ipswich have a direct but effective way of attacking which was expertly handled by Hobbs and Lascelles in particular, who were very strong aerially. Lansbury and Chalobah also did a disciplined job in stopping anything coming down the middle of the pitch.

And despite being shackled by Ipswich’s defending, Forest continued to create chances into the second half – chances which they were unlucky not to put away, with Cox in particular being denied by a fantastic save by Gerken. Ipswich did a good job of breaking up Forest’s rhythm, and started coming into the game themselves towards the end as the crowd became more and more frustrated. It is no surprise that McCarthy’s side have now gone 6 games unbeaten away from home; they are difficult to beat.

Billy Davies said after the match that 90% of our play was fine and that it was basically all down to poor finishing. I didn’t see it exactly like that myself – I thought we could have been more efficient and urgent in getting the ball moving positively, and struggled because of how well Ipswich defended space – I thought with more options ahead of the ball, we’d have found it easier, and I thought our attacking players subsequently struggled to get into the game.

However, as Davies points out, we were clearly the better team, looked solid defensively and created enough chances to win, sending a plethora of balls into the Ipswich box which were just not converted.

Shuffling down the stairs leading out of the stadium, I could hear more grumbles than is usual, but there are plenty of positives to consider; The Garibaldi are not quite clicking, they clearly have several gears into which they could go up, and are still lurking ominously just outside the playoffs. It’s all very well for armchair critics like myself to criticise them for not moving the ball efficiently enough, or for only playing one striker, but it's a difficult business and Forest win more often than they lose.

Thanks for reading, thanks (again) to the Ipswich fans on TWTD forum for their welcome, and information (this is probably the most helpful and knowledgeable opposition fan forum I’ve come across in writing these articles), and COYR! Feedback welcome, below and here, on City Ground Faithful.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Stat Attack: The strikers (again).

A recurring bone of contention since Billy Davies returned to Forest has been anxiety over the quality of our strikers; you will often hear fans musing that what Forest need is a 20 goal a season goal-scorer – it is apparent that Davies himself has been attempting to bring such a player in.

Simon Cox in particular has been under pressure concerning the amount of goals he scores at Forest – and at first glance, neither he nor Henderson (Forest’s only two real options up front) score enough goals – they are on 5 goals each after 19 league games – in comparison, Ross McCormack has netted 15 already for Leeds United.

However, McCormack has been on the pitch for each one of the 1811 minutes of Leeds’ season so far. As far as goals scored are concerned, a fairer reflection is gained when we ask how long does it take, on average, a player to score a goal when they are on the pitch?

Looking at the stats for The Championship’s forwards, McCormack still has the best goal-scoring record – however when we compare the Forest attackers with the rest of the division, it begins to explode the myth that they are below par goal-scorers. In total, 67 forwards have played 500 or more minutes of league football (I have excluded players such as Jamie Mackie, and the likes of Josh King at Blackburn for example, who are often labelled as forwards but have been played in midfield roles) – Simon Cox has scored the 14th most regularly out of 67 – Darius Henderson has done even better, coming in at 11th best.

It is tempting to imagine how lethal Forest would be with an out and out goal-scorer in the team – fans salivate at the thought of Jordan Rhodes or Charlie Austin in the side, but the fact is that, taking into account the time they have spent on the pitch, Henderson has scored just as often as Rhodes, and both he and Cox have scored more often that Austin.

This is not to take anything away from Rhodes or Austin – they are both superior goal-scorers to our two players, however neither add as much to their team's general game-play – this is fine if they are banging in loads more goals to make up for it, but as the stats prove, they are not. Anybody lusting to have such out and out goal-poachers instead of Cox or Henderson, should be very cautious and ask whether, with such luxury players in the side, Forest would be creating the chances in the first place.

We also need to take into account the regularity that a striker gets games. You will often hear professionals claim that players – and strikers in particular – need a run of games to get into their stride. For the first time this season Simon Cox has started more than three games in a row, during this streak he has started scoring goals – coincidence?

A more detailed examination reveals that Forest’s forwards have not been enjoying as many extended runs in their team, as compared with the other players in our league of top strikers. The players in our top 20 (including the Forest pair) have made 265 starts between them; 88.7% of these starts have come as part of an extended run of 4 or more games. In comparison, only 50% of Cox and Henderson’s starts have come as part of this extended run in the team – the other half of their games have come in dribs and drabs.

Looking at when each striker has been scoring their goals, the overwhelming majority of goals have come when they have been in these extended run of games – in fact the only players who have been able to buck the trend have been Henderson, substitute king Adam Le Fondre and Matt Smith (Leeds United).

The disjointed appearances of Cox and Henderson, although not necessarily bad for the team, cannot fail to damage their own personal goal tallies.

But there is yet another mitigation factor to consider; the amount of goals scored by Forest’s midfielders. The Garibaldi have a real goal-threat from deeper in their team, with Henri Lansbury and Andy Reid being especially dangerous from deep areas of the pitch. If Forest’s midfielders are scoring goal after goal, there is consequently less goals to go around the strikers – once a team scores they often adjust their mentality accordingly. When Lansbury knocks in a rocket from 30 yards to get the goal Forest crave, they will automatically take their foot off the gas to take less risks and will create less chances.

Tactical matters make it even more difficult for the strikers to score regularly. Anybody who has watched Forest will know the way they attack tends to spread the chances around the team more than, say, a counter-attacking team or a more direct team would. Forest under Billy Davies are a possession-hording team when playing in their element, they like to set up camp in the opposition half and will begin to do so by keeping possession in wide areas – but since they have often had little width in the midfield the forwards have been asked to get out wide and help keep the ball. Cox in particular is adept at spinning off to either flank and linking up with other players, holding the ball until the second wave of attack arrives – this naturally requires Cox et al to run away from the area of the pitch where they are more likely to score (see diagrams, left, and below. Click to enlarge).

These tactics, as well as the midfielder’s eye for goal, have resulted in a significant goal-threat from those playing behind the strikers – indeed, no team in The Championship have scored more goals from the midfield. Leeds have forwards occupying number 1 and 3 positions in our table of goal-scorers above – their midfielders have managed only 5 goals, compared to the 13 scored by Reid & Co. at Forest.

All this goes towards showing that Forest’s strikers score plenty of goals when you take everything into consideration – but it does not show what else they’re doing for the team. I’ve touched on the way they help build up play by helping keep possession in the opposition’s half, and could write another two lengthy articles showing the technicalities of how Cox and Henderson do this – there isn’t room here. But how effective are they in helping the team overall? Even discounting their goals, what effect do they have on the team?

Cox is one of Forest’s more creative players and it is reflected in his stats. Aside from Raddy Majewski, Forest score significantly more often with him on the pitch than any other player; goals fly in 7 minutes faster with the Irishman on the pitch than the team average (see stats, left). This is doubtless down to his ability to keep the ball in dangerous areas and create for others – he gets more than his fair share of assists too.

Henderson does not have this positive effect on goals scored overall (but nor does he have a negative effect) – the interesting thing with him is that he has such a positive effect of the amount of goals we concede – with him on the pitch this season, Forest have been 18% less likely to let in a goal. The Red's have let in a goal, on average, around every 82 minutes of play – with Henderson on the pitch this amount drops to a goal every 101 minutes. Over a theoretical season (i.e. if Henderson had the same effect while playing every minute of Forest's season), this difference is worth almost ten goals.

This effect on Forest’s defensive capabilities is certainly down to the outlet which Henderson provides. He is strong and fights for the ball – when under pressure, with Henderson on the pitch they can clear their lines and the ball isn’t forced to come straight back because he’s good at holding it up.

These snippets are just a casual glance at how Cox and Henderson have a positive effect without scoring goals - there is more to their game than merely a goal threat. They are team players and do things the likes of Rhodes or Austin don't, players who will always score more regularly, but not that much more regularly as make up for the good work that Cox and Henderson do aside from scoring. Our strikers help the team in other ways, but as I've shown above, their lack of goals has been exaggerated.

In fact, over a theoretical season, if they continued scoring at the same rate, and played the whole of a season – as many of their rivals will – Henderson would score 26 goals and Cox 24 goals (see right). If they were allowed a run in the side, which they have not been allowed so far, this return would be likely to rise even further. “Twenty goal a season” striker? We have two in the side already.

I realise the theoretical season statistic isn't exactly an exact, scientific perfection, however it does go some way to highlight how regularly they are actually scoring.

The fact is, both Simon Cox, and Darius Henderson, are scoring plenty of goals - and would score even more if given a run in the side, and even more still if Forest's tactics let them off the leash - that's not a dig at Billy's system (I like how Forest try to play), merely an observation of how it effects the goal-tallies of these two players in particular.

I would suggest Forest could do with bringing someone else in – but only as cover and competition for Henderson and Cox. In my opinion they form a vital part of a side which is already scoring enough goals to get promotion – they deserve more credit than they get, and given the chance, are good enough to fire Forest into The Premier League.

Agree or disagree? You can comment below, or at City Ground Faithful forum, here. Thanks for reading, come on Coxy & Hendo; continue to prove me right, and COYR!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Report: Forest 2 Reading 3

Forest continued their disappointing home form on Friday night, making it only one win in six games as they lost 3-2 to a sassy Reading side. It was another entertaining evening with plenty of fluctuating emotions, but as good an advert for The Championship as it was, it’s another damaging home defeat.

Forest only made one change from their dominant game against Burnley with Dan Harding replacing the injured Chris Cohen. Retaining the 4-2-3-1 system, Billy Davies planned on his two ball-playing defensive midfielders passing the ball out to a front four of Raddy Majewski, Jamie Mackie, Jamie Paterson and Simon Cox (see right, all diagrams on Forest Boffin can be enlarged if clicked), building possession as they did against The Clarets, but it didn’t pan out like that as Reading’s tactics initially triumphed in every aspect of play.
The Reds’ main problem was in possession, with Reading playing an energetic pressing game, harrying the ball. Forest are a possession team, particularly at home where they average 56%, preferring to play their way forward rather than going direct – but this is exactly what The Royals forced them to do as they gave Forest no time on the ball. This led to the catastrophic failure in Forest’s tactics in the first half; the poor performance of Raddy Majewski.
I champion this player more than anybody – in my opinion, many Forest fans under-appreciate him because they don’t notice the low impact, but nevertheless essential, role he plays. Reading totally neutralised Majewski, they targeted this position as the fulcrum of The Reds’ ability to come forward with the ball, firstly by pressing as deep as they did, limiting the quality, and quantity of balls being played into this area, secondly crowding and bullying the little Pole, and thirdly by eliminating options to pass to through man-marking. Majewski failed to find space and proved too lightweight, unable to swashbuckle his way through this challenge – often the man helping us keep the ball as it comes forward, his ineffectiveness limited our possession.

In mitigation, conditions were very difficult for Raddy. Passes to this area were rushed and inaccurate because of Reading’s pressing game. Also, the three midfielders were too far apart – Paterson and Mackie were not coming closer to Majewski to make it easier; along with Forest only having one man up front, this freed an extra man to help mark him – he was often outnumbered.
I feel that, considering the kind of player he is, feeding off of scraps, outnumbered and with little support, Majewski was never going to succeed under these conditions. This game highlighted very profoundly both the limitations of this player, and the importance of being able to keep the ball when attacking.

So The Garibaldi couldn’t keep the ball – but what happened when they didn’t have it? Nigel Adkins is very interesting in that he always (when his teams play Forest, anyway) has his players use every inch of width on the pitch – Reading were up to this again, stretching out Forest. This seemed to confuse some of the Forest players positionally, and caused some worry for me in The Trent End – from my position I could see huge distances appearing between members of the back four, which is obviously a big no-no. At one stage the centre-backs had the entire penalty box in-between them. Considering the positional uncertainty, Forest’s defenders did remarkably well to only concede two goals in the first half.
But this did come into play in the goals, particularly the first. Even when taking a corner, Reading were stretching Forest out – notice how when they take the corner short, only Raddy Majewski goes out to meet them; normally this is a two man job, but Reading have positioned men over a very wide area, causing indecision amongst Forest’s defenders whether to leave men unattended or stay. Raddy is the only spare man.
Reading isolate Gonzalo Jara on the opposite wing seconds later (see above, click to enlarge) – Forest are so stretched that when the ball comes out here Jara has absolutely no support; this is exactly what Reading wanted, and McCleary manages to beat the unsupported Chilean, skipping into the box and crossing for the goal. It is also significant that the player nearest to McCleary when he makes the cross is Raddy Majewski – from defending on one wing, he has had to follow the ball all the way to the other wing to try and stop the opposite winger (see right). This may be a sign that the positioning of Reading’s attackers is causing indecision amongst Forest’s defence.

By the time Forest managed to string together a few attacks they were already 2-0 down, but after 40 minutes The Reds did manage to pull a goal back out of nothing – some good pressing by Majewski and a spritely run by Mackie was probably their only real success of the first half, Cox was on hand to knock in Mackie's cross and Forest were unbelievably back in the game.

At half time Billy brought off Majewski, and the similarly ineffective Jamie Paterson, who aside from an exciting run at the Reading defence, had done little. On came the experience of Andy Reid, and strength of Darius Henderson in an attempt to be better able to keep the ball in Reading's half. If Davies had allowed himself to be outmanoeuvred tactically by Adkins initially, he reversed it for the second period, as his changes proved effective immediately.
Forest went two up front, which gave them not only an extra man to battle for the direct balls, but also the correct personnel to do so. More of a presence up front, Henderson and Cox found success straight away in linking up and winning possession high up the pitch. This also effected the mentality of the Reading players – the knowledge that Forest were more able to fight for the ball in their half made them more reluctant to press as high themselves, therefore they put less pressure on the Forest defenders when on the ball, therefore Forest had more time to pass it out from the back, rather than hoofing it when under pressure.

The presence of Reid was helping the forwards as well, and the trio linked up superbly for Forest’s equaliser. The goal is exactly what Simon Cox is all about – he’s great at keeping the ball in nasty areas, holding it until a team-mate can run into an even better position, then playing them in, this is exactly what happened as twinkle-toes Henderson danced his way into the Reading penalty area, slotting the ball home for a deserved goal.

Forest’s strikers have taken a lot of stick in the past year; I have maintained that they are good enough, and they are beginning to repay that faith by scoring more regularly. To be fair to Cox and Henderson in particular – their goal-scoring record isn’t particularly poor this season. When you take into account how long they are on the pitch, they compare well with the majority of The Championship’s forwards (see right). Henderson’s goal made him the 10th ‘most lethal’ striker in the league; Cox’s moved him up to 13th spot. Both have scored more regularly, in terms of how long it has taken them to score, than our hypothetical panacea Charlie Austin, at QPR.

But back at The City Ground Forest had Reading on the ropes. Credit has to go to Billy Davies for the turnaround, and the manager’s alterations gave them the chance to win the game. Jamie Mackie in particular missed two glorious opportunities, once striking the post when clean through, and also beating the keeper but seeing his shot blocked by a defender.

This game was an emotional roller-coaster, and just as you thought Forest were going to complete the job it all fell apart in the 74th minute. Jordan Obita found space in the Forest box, his deflected shot finding the net and undoing all the good work.
The final twenty minutes saw Reading give an exhibition of professionalism, with Forest continuing to press while held at arms length. They fouled when they had to (we saw Chris Gunter return to The City Ground with a red card, stopping Cox from running clear into the penalty area), fell over when they had to, and wasted a lot of time – all things we Trickie Trees have seen Billy Davies bring to Forest when seeing out a game – The Royals did a good job.

There are plenty of positives to be taken from this game. When on top, Forest looked far more dangerous than Reading – they should, playing at home, however in my opinion we’re not seeing the same level of cogent, efficient passing from our opponents as we see from Forest when they are in full flow. Our strikers are playing well, and again proved how effective they can be at this level. Our manager once again showed he has an eye for reversing tactical problems.

You would have to say Forest were unfortunate to lose. Their injury depleted team, after making a shrewd tactical adjustment, bossed a good Reading side, and the one-win-in-six home record does not tell the full story. When at full strength Forest will be a real force this season.

Thanks for reading, thanks to the BBC for the quick stats, you can comment below, or on City Ground Faithful forum, here, and COYR!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Report: Forest 1 Burnley 1

Forest fought their way back from a goal down to draw against an impressive Burnley side on Saturday, and were unfortunate not to take all three points in an enthralling encounter.

This was never going to be an easy game when you consider what Sean Dyche has achieved at Burnley since his appointment last October. It is the free-scoring duo of Sam Vokes and Danny Ings grabbing the headlines, but Burnley’s real strength lies in the defensive improvements Dyche has implemented, organising and installing a defensive ethos into his team in a successful effort to slash the amount of goals they were haemorrhaging – the biggest improvement has been in away games; last season saw them concede an average of 1.5 less goals in away games under Dyche than before he arrived.

So it was always going to be difficult to break Burnley down. Billy Davies opted to stay with his new 4-2-3-1 formation, but even considering The Garibaldi were missing some key players, the line-up always looked more balanced and capable going forward than on previous occasions (see left, all diagrams on Forest Boffin can be enlarged when clicked). The two Jamie’s, Mackie and Paterson, were the wide men ready to attack the channels, in front of Lansbury and Jara playing in the holding positions.

But perhaps the main difference compared with the Blackpool and Leicester games was the presence of Radoslaw Majewski and Simon Cox down the middle. Majewski in particular is beneficial because, as I've illustrated on many occasions, Forest keep the ball better in advanced areas with him in the side – so adept at moving it along efficiently, this one player alone, improves our possession by several percent on average (see stats, below).

Simon Cox is also good at keeping the ball and bringing others into play, and he was at it again against Burnley in conjunction with Majewski, as Forest were using these two players to establish possession in the opposition half and then bring the wide men into play. Because Forest were able to keep the ball and put Burnley onto the back foot, Mackie and Paterson were able to get into dangerous positions and do damage with the ball.

Forest were thus more dominant than they have been for a while, not only because they could keep the ball in the Burnley half, but also because Burnley couldn’t get going in the Forest half – because the 4-2-3-1 system was ideal for nullifying the threat of Ings and Vokes. Davies had clearly done his homework defensively; the Burnley duo like to pass their way and run through the centre – the two holding midfielders, as well as the centre-backs, denied them the space to do so. Burnley ran out of ideas and (up until their slice of luck) had resorted to direct balls that were being gobbled up easily by Jamaal Lascelles, and in particular Jack Hobbs.
But Burnley did indeed get lucky; in a rare occurrence, they found some space down their right wing, with Kieren Trippier’s cross striking the arm of Gonzalo Jara. The crowd gave referee Carl Boyeson a lot of grief when he awarded a penalty, but this really is a grey area and if it were the other way around the Forest fans would have wanted a penalty. Vokes gave Darlow no chance – 1-0 to Burnley, against the run of play.

This prompted a minor wobble as Forest looked shaky, but they soon re-established their authority. Davies had his tactics spot on for this game, he knew how disciplined Burnley are defensively, but he also knows how to put extra pressure on this kind of defending, and he did so by encouraging Forest’s full-backs Lichaj and Cohen forward even more than usual. We’ve already seen how the extra man can confuse a rigid defensive system against Huddersfield (see our first goal of the season, here) – Burnley’s defence was being stretched to the limit.

The two wingers had a good game, in particular Jamie Paterson, who provided the breakthrough. The discipline of Majewski and Cox in keeping the ball rather than taking risks helped establish a base from which Paterson in particular could express himself – he was also exploiting space which was occasionally being left when the Burnley defenders had to worry about our advancing full-backs. A constant threat he beat his man for the equaliser, crossing perfectly for Simon Cox, who bundled the ball into the net. Cox deserved his goal, but Paterson deserves the credit for a great piece of play.

Half time rescued Burnley, after which Forest had another poor period, possibly caused by a shuffle in personnel. Eric Lichaj was withdrawn due to injury, with Jara retreating to right-back and Nathan Chalobah slotting into midfield next to Lansbury. The Chelsea midfielder took a while to get into the game, giving the ball away repeatedly and being slightly off-pace positionally – this delayed Forest’s progress, but to his credit he improved and The Reds set about putting more pressure on The Turfties.

Sean Dyche knows how to organise a defence, and Burnley produced a fine defensive displays. They were using two narrow banks of four (sometimes Danny Ings was dropping back to make the outer line a bank of five) and were organised very well so that very little space appeared; Forest couldn’t really get close to their penalty area un-harassed. They also proved their tackling skills – I was particularly impressed with Trippier, Mee and Shackell.

Another aspect of The Clarets' defensive play was the role of their two forwards, Ings and Vokes. I’ve already mentioned that Ings was dropping back to help (he may as well have, because he got absolutely no change out of Hobbs and Lascelles at the other end of the pitch – kudos to the Forest defenders), but they left a man up at all times – usually the bigger, stronger of the two, Vokes. This proved significant, because upon clearing the ball, Vokes acted as an outlet, fighting valiantly for the ball, and often winning it, giving his team respite and then passing the ball wide where Burnley were springing forward in a pre-planned tactic, taking the ball back into Forest’s half and relieving the pressure even more. It was a brilliant example of team defending.

Forest went close but were unable to get the winner. Billy Davies said afterwards that only one team were ever going to win the game – this is probably accurate. His team had much more of the ball, and created many more chances, but they could not dismantle the excellent Burnley defence, and in my opinion Forest’s progress was hampered by the changes Davies made – enforced or not. Djamel Abdoun replaced the influential Majewski as Davies looked for more penetration, less possession – I can see the logic but it turned put not to work as the Algerian proved ineffective. Henderson came on for Paterson and worked hard but could not find space, but the main setback was the introduction of Chalobah – not that it was his fault, but Forest were looking so supreme at the time, any change would have been a hindrance and Lichaj’s injury stalled Forest for the first ten minutes or so of the second half.

Forest outplayed and nullified the league leaders, apart from one piece of luck – that’s the chaos of football though; you don’t always get what you deserve. This was one of the most entertaining games at The City Ground for a while, one which everybody concerned can come away from happy. Some have been critical of the team recently – and it is a concern that Forest have not won any of their last three home games – but Billy appears to have them playing well again in this new system.

More of the same on Friday will surely see three points, but perhaps the most important issue of this coming week is the fitness of captain Chris Cohen, who limped off in the last few minutes with what looked like a nasty injury. Hopefully this very important player, as well as Eric Lichaj, recovers soon.

Thanks for reading, thanks to the BBC website for the quick stats, if you agree or disagree I'd like to hear from you, either in the comments section or on City Ground Faithful forum, the direct link to the relevant thread is here. COYR!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

End of term assessment: The defenders

Forest have assembled one of the strongest squads since their relegation from The Premiership. There have been mixed fortunes during various changing systems employed, but how have the players done through the first third of the season, starting with the defenders?
1. Karl Darlow - 1433 minutes played, 1.73 points per game*

Darlow continues to impress. The 23 year old has consolidated his position this season, clinging onto the goalkeeper’s jersey with a string of excellent performances. I’ve been waiting for the first real blunder from the academy graduate – I’m still waiting after 35 games and 3343 minutes of his Forest career. With a particular habit of making saves when all seems lost, Darlow seemingly has no weaknesses – if he keeps this up he’ll be in the running for Player of the Season.

This season, his minutes between goals conceded is the best of any Forest ‘keeper since the 2009/10 season (see left – all graphs and diagrams on Forest Boffin can be enlarged if clicked) – although this is primarily indicative of a team improvement, it implies that Darlow has not hampered this progress.

2. Eric Lichaj - 1261 minutes played, 1.69 points per game*

The American has made a successful start to his Forest career at right-back, forcing the talented Gonzalo Jara to look elsewhere in the team for opportunities. Although steady when defending, it is probably his all-action attributes when coming forward that has gotten him so much game-time.
A feature of Forest’s tactics this season has been the attacking nature of the full-backs, with Cohen and Lichaj getting forward to support the midfield, providing much of our width and helping to outnumber the opposing defenders by making advanced runs. This is important for Forest for a couple of reasons – firstly the midfield is often very narrow, meaning the full-backs have been providing much of the width, and secondly Forest tend to try to keep the ball when attacking, passing and probing rather than playing risky balls. This is nice to watch, but it does allow opposition teams to get men back into entrenched positions – when Forest’s full-backs burst forward it gives defenders an extra man to worry about; Lichaj and Cohen have caused a lot of problems already this season by doing this.
The downside to the full-backs getting forward so often is that it leaves massive gaps in their position, which need to be filled by covering midfielders – this hasn’t always happened, as anybody watching the Doncaster and Middlesbrough games in particular will know, where we were punished for this. Generally Forest have been very attacking so far this season – nowhere else on the pitch does this manifest itself more. As fans we want to see attacking football; we may just have to accept that we’ll leak goals as Cohen and Lichaj push forward.

8. Chris Cohen - 1433 minutes played, 1.73 points per game*

As stated above, a feature of Cohen’s play this season has been the more attacking role given to him (and Lichaj). Naturally – in my opinion – more of a midfielder, Cohen has proven very dangerous when making these forward runs, providing a further complication for defenders when they have taken up entrenched positions (the Huddersfield goal is a good example of this, see above).
But we have also seen Cohen’s continued defensive improvement. The left-back position has been a worry for years – it’s no longer a weakness, with Cohen becoming more and more tenacious. He has improved the most with his defensive decision-making – at times last season he was caught out not knowing whether to go tight or drop off, this season I’ve not seen him have this problem at all.

One thing that has helped the full-backs this season is the better cover they have been receiving, especially from Andy Reid and Henri Lansbury. Forest’s weakness last season – especially under Billy – was their vulnerability to crosses. This was caused by a poor relationship between the wide-midfielders and fullbacks, and was such a problem that other teams were targeting The Reds in this area (see the beautiful job Cardiff did on us for an example of this). Over the summer, Billy seems to have stamped out this aspect of Forest’s defending; it is no longer a major issue.

3. Dan Harding - 220 minutes played, 1 point per game*

Harding’s chances have been limited by automatic choice Chris Cohen, only getting on the pitch when the captain has been moved elsewhere as an emergency measure, but when he has played he hasn’t let Forest down. He’s good to have as back-up because of his ability to get forward into the opposition half, which Billy has been telling his full-backs to do. His presence proves Forest’s strength in depth – he’d get in most Championship sides.

25. Jack Hobbs - 1433 minutes played, 1.73 points per game*

It has been difficult to fault any of Forest’s centre-backs so far – in my opinion they have done as well as they could under sometimes difficult circumstances, Hobbs has arguably been the most solid of them. He’s a big, strong unit – the kind of player Billy Davies seems to like to partner up with a slighter, more ball-playing defender. Hobbs usually forms the last line of defence, allowing his quicker partner to venture out of line if needed, and he’s done a good job. The thing I like about him is that he keeps things simple – he’s a defender, nothing more, nothing less. You can see why he was a big part of a team promoted last season – like Wes Morgan, the only question is, is he mobile enough to make the step up into The Premier League? From his showing so far, there are far worse defenders in the top flight.

22. Kelvin Wilson - 531 minutes played, 1.83 points per game*

We’ve not squeezed as many minutes out of Wilson as we’d have liked so far – due to injury he’s only played 55 minutes in the last 9 matches. However when he has played, he’s looked his old reliable self, and it’s no surprise that Forest have done better when he's played. We’ve not had much to complain about concerning his replacements, but the sooner we have his composed influence and distribution back in the side, the better.

One thing we have seen is the defenders having to come out of the back four to cover space left in midfield. Opposition players running into this area has been our biggest issue defensively, the positive action in tackling this has left us short at the back, contributing to several goals (Bournemouth and Charlton for example). But even on these occasions, the remaining defenders have done well to re-organise themselves, filling the gaps left and covering the most dangerous areas smoothly. This is perhaps the most impressive aspect of Forest’s defending so far this season – the Cohen, Wilson, Hobbs, Lichaj defence looks particularly well organised and adept at communicating.

5. Danny Collins - 435 minutes played, 2.2 points per game*

Collins has performed capably, filling in for Wilson until he too was injured. From a defensive point of view, the games in which he has featured has been The Garibaldi’s most successful – with Collins on the pitch it has taken our opponents 217.5 minutes to score a goal on average – this is up with the best defensive records in the division (see right), and far better than any other Forest player. Perhaps underappreciated by Forest fans (when asked last season, only 28.6% of fans thought Collins was good enough to be in the team), he’s given absolutely no cause for complaint in 2013/14.

16. Jamaal Lascelles - 236 minutes played, 1.33 points per game*

It’s still too early to judge Lascelles, but since breaking into the side he’s not done too much wrong, and I did note that he did a good job in keeping Blackpool’s Ricardo Fuller quiet – a good sign for such an inexperienced centre-back. The youngster looks quite good coming forward too. With Forest’s injury problems in this area, now is his big chance to prove himself.

15. Greg Halford - 525 minutes played, 1.5 points per game*

One of my favourite players, you have to fear for Greg Halford in his fight for a permanent first team place. He has stated at the start of the season he “needed to nail down [a] position” – yet he’s been played up front as much as in defence, where he is more suited. To be fair he’s done well when he’s played, but he looks destined to be a utility player, which is perhaps unfair because he’s good at this level. It will be interesting how the rest of the season pans out for Greg – it’s great for Forest to have someone like him ready to step in, but not ideal for him as he’ll be desperate for the game-time which he would get elsewhere.

18. Gonzalo Jara - 287 minutes played, 1 point per game*

More proof of The Reds’ strength in depth, Jara’s appearances this season have been dominated by tactics. As alluded to above, he has struggled to displace Eric Lichaj this season, partly because of how well the American has been doing, but more significantly Lichaj’s propensity to get forward has suited Forest’s tactics. Jara’s return to the side has also been influenced by what system Billy has employed, as the switch from his diamond formation to a 4-2-3-1 has allowed Jara an opportunity in defensive midfield. He’s not had that much game-time, but the Chilean has looked very tidy, and he’s began to look as if he can even be a creative force from this deep position. He is quite technically gifted for a defender, and has looked to have an eye for a pass too. If Davies opts to continue playing this system, expect to see a lot more of Jara in midfield.

There are some really mean defences in The Championship this season – it’s debatable whether Forest have shown themselves to be one of them yet. Individually our defensive players have performed very well, however weaknesses in our system have perhaps made it too easy for our opponents to have chances in certain games. We have been leaving too much space in defensive midfield areas, inviting disaster.
The stats back this up. We have conceded 16 goals so far – the seventh least in the league. Comparing this with past seasons would seem to suggest we’re not too leaky for a playoff space – as mentioned above, on average we’re doing better so far than our last three seasons – including the 2010/11 playoff year. Yet Billy will want to tighten up a little more – and he appears focused on this. He was clearly loathe to change from the diamond system (I base this assumption on the sheer number of players he tried to replace Guedioura with) yet he has done so, in an effort to stop space appearing in the midfield. This will effect us going forward, but cannot fail to improve our defensive record. Hopefully this will not make us too defensively balanced for the rest of the season – it will be interesting to see how Billy adapts Forest’s tactics with this in mind, and how the different personnel cope with their adjusted duties.
On the whole I think the defenders we have are more than good enough to get us promoted - I even suspect the majority would do ok at the top level. The problems Forest have encountered defensively have largely been due to space appearing in our midfield, and the (albeit rare) inability to hold onto the ball further up the pitch. The defence have played very well so far.

Thanks for reading – this is part one, I’ll look at how our attacking players have been doing very soon. You can discuss this article on City Ground Faithful forum - a direct link to the topic is here. COYR!
* Points per game only includes games where that player has played for 45 minutes or over.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Heroes & Villains: Goals conceded 12-16 & analysis

A continued look at how Forest are conceding their goals, which in turn is highlighting the main defensive problems Billy Davies is having to solve. This project is subjective, but also not set in stone; corrections, opinions & contribution are welcome.

12. Bournemouth (1-1) Marc Pugh

I think everyone in the ground half expected The Cherries to equalise, and from a tactical point of view it's a revealing goal, exposing a recurring problem for Forest. The Garibaldi were under significant pressure, due to not being able to keep possession up the pitch, but they are caught out because of the gap in front of their back four.

As the ball comes into this unguarded area, Kelvin Wilson comes out to deal with the problem. I've struggled to fault Forest's defence at all so far this season, and here, again, they are doing their job. Wilson advances to stop Bournemouth striker Tokelo Rantie being able to just turn and have a free shot on goal. This leaves a gap in the defensive line, which the remaining defenders have to deal with - they do this apparently automatically, a sign that they are very well organised. As a result of this, the defensive line is much shorter as the play comes closer to the Forest goal (see diagrams, right. All diagrams on Forest Boffin are enlargeable when clicked).

This shorter defensive line obviously cannot cover every dangerous position - so it is positioned in the most dangerous area, the area just in front of goal, but in this instance it leaves more space where the right back would normally be covering - but because Wilson is out of the defensive line, Jara has re-organised himself to become an emergency centre-back... there is no right back. Wilson's challenge results in the ball squirming into this area, where Pugh is waiting; he gleefully slots the ball under Karl Darlow and runs to join in with the corybantic Bournemouth celebrations.

I've been asked why the defence had to contract to fill the space Wilson left - why not just mark their men? It was 4 on 4 after all? The answer to this is that the main objective of the defenders is to protect the goal - if the goal is being threatened in the manner it was, by an aggressive runner surging dangerously towards it, you need more than 1 on 1 defending, there needs to be a contingency in case Rantie gets past Wilson. The main threat is the ball, if the defenders had merely each picked up a man, they may have been dragged off anywhere - then maybe another Bournemouth player could make a secondary run into this now empty space - there is simply not time to telepathically ensure every attacker is covered, so the defenders instead defend the most dangerous area - in front of Karl Darlow's goal. There just aren't enough of them in this instance.

This goal is caused by Forest's lack of midfield cover, forcing Wilson to come out of the defence and try to deal with the problem himself. This is Forest's biggest problem, I've a theory that I'll be able to link the vast majority of conceded goals back to this defect at the moment, and once sorted it will give Forest a footing to express themselves as they were before the departure of Adlene Guedioura.

Players out of position: The midfield!
Players beaten for skill: None.
Goalkeeping error: None.

13. Yeovil (0-1) Ed Upson

Ed Upson's deflected volley came out of the blue, preceding Forest's worst defeat of the season so far. Being hyper-critical, you could point out that it's a shot from the dangerous area in front of the penalty box, however there is a defender able to get in a block - unfortunately the ball spins off at a totally unintentional angle, ricocheting past Karl Darlow, who is wrong-footed.

The ball falls for Upson, who hits it first time, from an errant defensive header from CHris Cohen - defending a throw in. It's not the best header, but harsh to blame the goal on him. Just unlucky in my opinion.

Players out of position: None really.
Players beaten for skill: Cohen could have done better with his header, but harsh.
Goalkeeping error: None.

14. Yeovil (0-2) Ed Upson

Upson's second goal is more worrisome - again one of our opponents is able to exploit the space that frequently appears in front of our defence (see left). The ball falls to the Yeovil midfielder and he takes the invitation to run towards the Forest goal - unopposed - and gets a shot off at long range before any Forest defender can get close.

The problem here is one of position - Forest are simply not defending the area in front of their defence. Gonzalo Jara is playing in defensive midfield, you would suggest the responsibility is his - the Chilean is chasing the ball elsewhere. This problem has been a common theme, and prompts changes from Billy Davies in the next match, his patience finally running out.

Poor old Darlow once again has next to no chance.

Players out of position: Jara.
Players beaten for skill: None.
Goalkeeping error: None.

15. Yeovil (1-3) Byron Webster

A rare goal conceded from a corner, Webster is able to get away from his marker, flashing a header onto the inside of the Forest goalpost which is judged to have crossed the line. It's impossible to tell who was marking him, as there are two Yeovil players bunched with two Forest markers in the same space - I think it's possibly Henderson who loses him - but I can't be sure.

Forest don't let in too many from set pieces - this goal does not concern me.

Players out of position: None.
Players beaten for skill: Possibly Henderson - impossible to tell.
Goalkeeping error: None.

16. Blackpool (0-1) Scott Dobbie

Dobbie's goal should not have counted, because old-boy Nathan Tyson was stood offside, however three are a couple of mistakes in there by Forest - nothing major though. Blackpool were finally putting us under a little pressure - we were unable to keep possession out of our own third (anywhere on the pitch actually) so it was slightly akin to a defence v attack situation - The Seasiders really ought to have been able to get a goal at some stage. So the main defensive problem here is not the errors in defending, more Blackpool's cumulative ability to constantly put our defence under pressure, after Abdoun's red card.

The ball is played high into the area, and a Blackpool player is able to nod down to Tyson far too easily, who battles for the ball which squirms to Dobbie, who knocks it past Darlow (again not at fault). Eric Lichaj has the chance to clear during this mêlée, but misses his kick.

Players out of position: None.
Players beaten for skill: Cohen is marking the man who knocks it down. Lichaj could possibly do better.
Goalkeeping error: None.

We're around one third through the season, and the nature of the goals against Forest is, in my opinion, telling a story about the evolving weaknesses of the team. I personally break down the season into three loose but distinct tactical phases:

  • Diamond system with Guedioura (games 1-5)
  • Diamond system post Guedioura (games 6-13)
  • 4-2-3-1 system (games 14 & 15)
Unfortunately these three tactical phases are of dissimilar timeframes, but I believe they still help to paint a picture of what has been going wrong (not that I think all that much has been - but this is an exploration of why Forest concede goals).

Our most successful period defensively was the first phase - with Guedioura playing at the base of the diamond. I've spoken extensively about the tactical implications of losing him here and here, so I'll just summarise here how the goals we've been conceding backs this up. My contention that without Guedioura there has been too much space appearing in front of our defence, bears itself out here; undefended space in front of the defence accounted for no goals in phase 1, however they contribute to 6 out of the 12 goals during phase 2. I must point out this is a subjective issue, however I can back this up, and have done in the preceding Heroes & Villains posts.

In my opinion, this has been our biggest weakness, and it is also the reason that Billy Davies has dropped the diamond formation for our last two games. It is noteworthy that this space has not been appearing with any regularity in these two games - the two defensive midfielders - and indeed the rest of the team - have been defending this area jealously.

I have a test of whether the defence, and system, is doing it's job defensively - it is not a perfect test of whether the defence is working, more a personal test of whether I am happy with the defending, and it is as follows: have the opposition been able to score without beating a forest player for skill? - or to put it another way, were they able to score because Forest players allowed him an unacceptable amount of space, or because they weren't doing their job? I don't mind seeing a defender bamboozled by a great bit of skill - I just don't like to see our opponents jobs made easy.

And tellingly, during phase 1 (with Guedioura), none of the three goals were scored without a Forest player being beaten for skill - I was happy. Even the Wigan goals I was content with - the Wigan players swash-buckled their way through challenges and deserved their goals. However, during phase 2, 50% of our goals failed my test - and I was being generous (I let Forest off for the Middlesbrough goals because they were pushing forward to get a goal and were hit on the counter-attack).

Although yet unproven, I expect the number of goals that fails my test to drop again, if we continue to play two defensive midfielders, because I think this problem all stems from the lack of organisation, or understanding, in this area of the pitch. Our defensive problems are due mainly to the loss of Guedioura, in my opinion.

The amount of goals we're conceding through set-pieces has dropped - this is due, in my opinion, to our opponents being able to get through into scoring positions with out a Forest player being able to get close enough to foul them. At times, we have been powder-puff in front of our defence - they've been getting through this area too easily.

A side issue that we need to keep our eye on is that a couple of our goals (against Brighton and Blackpool) have been contributed to by Chris Cohen not asserting himself in the air, allowing his man to make easy knock-downs, leading to goals - but this is a small issue compared to the major one.

This article was always going to be critical by it's very nature - I'd like to reaffirm my trust in the Forest management at this point. Every team will concede goals - I'm not having a go, merely discussing them, because they're interesting and help paint a picture of what's happening on the pitch. I find it reassuring that Billy Davies has changed the system. I would personally prefer to see us make the diamond system work, but if it can't be done yet (it clearly took a lot of work over the summer for the players to form the necessary understanding), at least it shows Billy is addressing our most serious tactical problem.

Thanks for reading, well done if you're still awake, and COYR!
Feel free to get in touch if you disagree or want to discuss, here, on City Ground Faithful forum. You can read the two preceding articles which look in detail at our goals conceded here, and here.