The first Scene of the season's final Act sees Brighton travel to Nottingham for what's sure to be a great game. Who could have predicted how important this match would be for Forest a couple of months ago? Billy has ignited Forest's fire, and six wins in a row has seen the Garibaldi rocket above their opponents. Such form is bound to engender optimism, but The Seagulls will be no pushover.Brighton have been pushing for promotion all season and possess some truly special players at this level, but worst of all for Forest they play a system perfect for exploiting Billy's diamond formation. They pass the ball better than the average side, enjoying a lot of possession utilising the width of the pitch. Wide-men Will Buckley and Andrea Orlandi have 16 assists between them this season, with full-backs Bruno Saltor & Inigo Calderon getting forward to contribute another 9 assists - should Brighton find space in front of Cohen or Jara they will exploit it - see Key Battle section below.
Brighton's passing style is one which punishes space & positional weakness, which is reflected in their stats for games this season in which they have scored first (see left). Of the 18 times this has happened, Albion are unbeaten, winning on 15 occasions - even more impressive than Forest in this regard. This is because of how good they are at exploiting space generated by teams chasing the game - lethal. Forest are excellent at recovering from a losing position, however this is one game to avoid this situation.
Analysis of games in which Brighton have conceded first make for better reading: they are particularly poor at turning a losing position into a winning one - not managing it at all this season, in fact the last time they did this in league football was the 6th of August 2011. This not only suggests that a team playing cagey to protect a lead will frustrate them, but also that their confidence is easily knocked - that they do not react well to adversity. That, while fantastic when things are going their way, when things start to get difficult they falter.
Brighton's away form is very respectable - they are the fifth best away side in the league. I have heard a jingoistic suggestion that their Spanish-speaking contingent would not relish a wet & cold Tuesday-night in Barnsley - an assertion I would have disputed. Their passing style is ideally suited for playing away against less technical sides - sides which would "park the bus" at The Amex Stadium (thus denying the Seagulls the space they crave) will be more likely to come forward when playing at home, leaving themselves vulnerable as described above. However on closer inspection there does appear to be a correlation between Brighton's possible discomfort and their results. To put the 'Cold Tuesday-night in Barnsley' theory to the test, we compared the outcome of their away games with distance travelled from Brighton, finding surprising (to me) results (see left). The further away they travel for away games, statistically, decreases the probability of them winning. Last season's statistics were similar. Just out of interest, The City Ground is 189 miles away from Brighton.
As independent data, I would dismiss the 'distance travelled' stats as a fluke, however the strange stats do not end there. Comparing Brighton's away results with the temperature they encountered at those away grounds adds further credence to the Cold Tuesday-night in Barnsley theory - over the last two seasons Brighton have been less likely to win the colder it has been (see chart, right). When the temperature drops under 16 degrees Celsius, there is a drastic fall in their results. As vexed as I have been at our extended winter (Forest Boffin has carrots to plant!), these statistics leave me praying for more snow! Having checked the weather forecast I'm delighted to learn that the temperature in Nottingham on Saturday shouldn't rise higher than 4 degrees.
While it may be clutching at straws hoping for Jack Frost's assistance, we at Forest Boffin believe the above does tell us something about Brighton - it suggests that they play very well when they have things all their own way, but when their confidence is knocked, or teams make it awkward for them by not obligingly presenting them with space to play in, or if they have made an uncomfortable trip, or even if they're feeling a bit chilly, it suggests they might not always pull their sleeves up and fight through it.
Brighton's past record also suggests that when the going gets tough they may drop away - when we played them this time last season they were 4th, imploding under the strain of a promotion hunt and plumetting to 10th. We realise this is a different season, but comparison of this season's form (see clickable chart, right) shows Brighton to have spookily copied last year almost exactly. This may be a freakish coincidence, or it may betray something about Gus Poyet's training methods, the player's mental states at various times through the season, fitness, ability to handle pressure - who knows? The only thing for sure is that if Brighton's form continues to mimic last season's, they will fall back into mid-table.
Both teams have selection problems for this game - Brighton have only one striker currently available (but a very impressive one in Leonardo Ulloa), although I'm aware they may have a loan lined up. Forest themselves will give a fitness test to Henri Lansbury, who has been excellent for the past few games, with Lewis McGugan looking to step in. For this particular game, Forest Boffin concludes this would be of huge detriment to Forest, as McGugan does not track back as much as Landbury - this may increase the space in which Brighton's wingers thrive.
The area in front of Forest's fullbacks will be the key battle-ground in this match. As mentionned above, Brighton are fantastic at finding space in this area of the pitch, they have tricky wingers such as Orlandi and Buckley, their passing style enables their team-mates to find them regularly, and they are supported by attacking full-backs - probably Inigo Calderon and Wayne Bridge on Saturday. Shutting Brighton down in this area will be where the game is won or lost - although Forest are at home and will be looking to rampage forward, we have already seen how Brighton benefit from teams leaving space as they advance. It will be essential for Forest's wide midfielders to assist Cohen and Jara (see diagram below).
Brighton usually look to find space on the flanks and push their full-backs forward to help. The key-battle in this match will be Will Buckley vs Chris Cohen. Buckley will be trying to supply ammo to the head of Leonardo Ulloa, and may find space in front of Cohen to put in crosses - Forest's diamond formation is especially vulnerable to this (see our article Diamonds are a goal's best friend). Our left sided midfielder must come to Cohen's aid, otherwise we may see Guedioura abandoning his proper position in front of the box to help his full back - leaving empty space in an even more dangerous position, for Brighton's other midfielders to exploit.
This is sure to be an entertaining match for the neutral, and yet to avoid what will seem like disappointment Forest need to extend their winning streak to what would be an amazing 7 matches! Brighton are an excellent side, peppered with brilliance, led by a clever manager in Gus Poyet and, in the opinion of Forest Boffin, ideally suited to dismantle Forest's defence. And yet, The Seagulls do have a weakness, they are - for whatever reason - inconsistent away from home, either a whirlwind or damp squib - dependant on the weather it seems... arguably they don't perform when uncomfortable, but more obvious is the fact that they are a different team when allowed to build confidence. Forest must not allow them to do that, they must congest the areas infront of our full backs - and I'd even go as far as to suggest turning off the hot water to their dressing room!
Thanks for reading and COYR!