Monday, 5 May 2014

Forest 1 Brighton 2

Forest once again ended the season watching their opponents celebrate on The City Ground pitch, as Brighton snatched a play-off place with an injury time winner.

Although not straightforward, the result was no surprise as Forest named a depleted side. Winger Jamie Mackie played at right-back, in what appeared to be a 4-4-2 formation, although The Reds' midfield was quite misshapen throughout; at times it looked, in practice, like a 4-1-2-1-2, but it is difficult to imagine that this is how Gary Brazil would have intended his side to shape up. I believe youngster Stephen McLaughlin should have been on the right-wing, but he played quite centrally, possibly drifting unintentionally inside, to chase play.

The heart of Forest's team was formed by David Vaughan, who took responsibility of organising the defensive efforts, and Raddy Majewski, who played in front of Vaughan, helping Forest keep the ball when moving forward.

Brighton lined up in a narrow 4-3-3, with Bolton loanee Keith Andrews sat in front of their defence. The Seagulls began the game cautiously - their rivals, Reading, faced a difficult trip to Burnley; it was possible that a draw would be enough for our opponents, so they were reluctant to give anything away.

Surprisingly, they also concentrated most of their attacks down the middle, playing direct to Leonardo Ulloa. Forwards Will Buckley and Jesse Lingard began the game in defensive mode, dropping back into the midfield.


This was a significant tactical mistake, which allowed Forest to take the initiative.  Oscar Garcia ought to have been trying to take advantage of Forest's makeshift defence - Jamie Mackie is no defender and was showing his inexperience at right-back throughout, but the Brighton manager seemingly ignored this weakness. The vulnerability was exacerbated by the fact that Mackie had very little midfield cover at times, with McLaughlin straying into more central areas (see average position diagram, right, which can be enlarged when clicked).

During Millwall's recent visit, their manager Ian Holloway immediately noticed the gap in front of Forest's right-back, and adjusted his side to take advantage, loading this area with players and pushing forward his left-back. While Millwall targeted this area vigorously, Brighton allowed Mackie to get comfortable and attacked other areas of Forest's defence. The game would have been over by half-time if Garcia were as canny as Holloway.

The initiative was handed to Forest, and David Vaughan took control of the game. No superlative is enough to describe how good a player Vaughan is at this level - since his return from injury he has been by far the best player on the pitch for every minute he's played; he was at it again, organising the midfield and breaking up attacks. Vaughan made more successful tackles than anybody (8 - the most any other player managed was 4).

He was also acting as the fulcrum when in possession, playing the ball forward as The Reds looked more decisive than their opponents. Raddy Majewski was pivotal in Forest being able to bring the ball forward without losing possession, as is usually the case when he plays.

The home side soon found themselves in front, as Brighton keeper Tomasz Kusczcak flapped away at a tame header from Matt Derbyshire. As much as Forest were the better side, they were still being cobbled together and lacked rhythm - but Brighton were not playing well at all. Reduced to playing direct balls into Ulloa, they were lucky to get back into the game.

A set piece or error was the only way our opponents were likely to score at this stage, here we saw both as Tudgay headed back into the danger area for them, and Ulloa's miss-kick squirmed luckily to Stephen Ward, who finished well. 1-1.

Even after their equaliser, Brighton seemed reluctant to press the issue, and Forest initially remained the better side. The main difference between the two sides was the midfield, with Vaughan protecting the back four and encouraging the energetic youngsters McLaughlin and Osborn. The only negative was that Forest's strikers struggled to get in behind Brighton a little more.

I should mention Ben Osborn - hopefully we will get to see much more of him next season because he's been a revelation. Not only is he hard working - a real nuisance for opposition attackers, but he looks dangerous coming forward. He knows how to make space for a shot at goal, and his crossing appears exceptional. It has been nice to watch the youngster's confidence grow too - he wanted to be involved in everything against Brighton (see 'player involvement' chart, right).

But it was Majewski and Vaughan who were running the show; it is no coincidence that when they became less pronounced Brighton took control of the game. Raddy was substituted after 76 minutes, which severely hampered Forest's ability to keep positive possession. We have seen several times this season, that removing the little Pole can leave Forest struggling to keep advanced possession, turning the game into a virtual attack vs defence in our opponents' favour. This was the case again.


I've heard and read many this season advocating shipping Majewski out - it is a constant source of frustration for myself that many supporters miss what he brings to the team. He is simply quicker to move the ball than is normal at this level - it may not be spectacular, but it's good football and it works. He may not be someone to single-handedly win Forest a game, but you need footballers like this if you are to keep the ball and use it attractively.

By this stage Vaughan was beginning to tire, leaving Forest weaker in defence as well, and he left the pitch, to a well deserved standing ovation, after 87 minutes. Forest were wobbling before his departure, now their confidence deserted them utterly as Brighton turned up the heat.

The Seagulls knew they needed another goal, and pressed hard, at last targeting the right-back position. After coming close twice, they eventually scored through Ulloa, who took adventage of a mix-up between Danny Collins and Dorus de Vries to head in, sending the Brighton fans wild.

This was not one of the best Forest sides, and although they put in a lot of effort, and one or two of them played well, I was disappointed with Brighton (if that is the right word) - they should have won this game far earlier, and were it not for a couple of defensive lapses would have struggled to get a point. I don't think they'll give Derby much trouble in the play-offs.

As for Forest - next season is going to be very enjoyable indeed, as long as they are able to field the likes of Vaughan, who is one of the best players I have ever seen at this level. Stick Reid and Lansbury into the central midfield with him, and Stuart Pearce's job should be relatively simple.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to www.whoscored.com for factual help.