With the first legs of play-off semi-finals coming up this Thursday and Friday, Seat Pitch takes a look at the four teams involved…
Billy Davies always said there would be “twists and turns” before the season ended and he couldn’t have been more right. After dropping out of the play-off places, a run of five wins in six games saw Forest confirm their place in the play-offs against Swansea.
Form: Forest come in to the play-offs as the form side in the division — five wins in the past six games — something few fans would have predicted given our disastrous run which saw us drop out of the top six before finally securing our place on the last day of the season.
Formation: Billy Davies is favouring the midfield diamond at the moment which, aside from the Norwich game, has seen 15 points from the last 18 available. The game against Crystal Palace saw a more balanced midfield with Guy Moussi in front of the back four, Paul Anderson wide on the right and Chris Cohen on the left giving Lewis McGugan the ability to impose himself on games at the point of the diamond.
How to beat them: Sloppy goals have been our Achilles’ Heel this season but when Forest have form and confidence it’s difficult to find a weak point. The left-back position is still problematic but Chris Gunter, Joel Lynch, Julian Bennett and Chris Cohen can all play there.
Verdict: Entirely depends on which Forest team turn up. Hopefully last season’s disappointment can spur them on.
Form: Exactly the same as the other two teams in the play-offs — three wins, two draws and a loss in the past six games. Swansea are strong at home having only lost three games at the Liberty Stadium all season (and conceded just 11) but aren’t so good on their travels with 11 losses and just three draws. Swansea struggled for goals last season with just 40 in 46 games and, although they’ve scored 69 this term (the same as Forest), they’ve been reliant on Sinclair’s 19 league goals from the left-wing. None of their strikers have managed double figures.
Formation: Brendan Rodgers has continued with the 4-5-1 formation introduced during the Roberto Martinez era — although the additions of Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer means it is often 4-3-3 in attack.
Aggregate score this season: 5-4 (3-1 at the City Ground, 2-3 at the Liberty Stadium).
How to beat them: Blocking balls to the front men and out-muscling the midfield have proved fruitful in combating their fluid passing game.
Verdict: Tellingly, Swansea top the table of performances against other clubs in the top half of the division. Strong at home but they don’t draw many and the first game at the City Ground could prove crucial.
Form: Reading stormed in to the play-off places in the late stages of the season with an exception run of form — almost at Forest’s expense. With 11 points from 18 available they’ve managed to maintain momentum in the past six games and rested several key players in the last game against Derby.
Formation: Brian McDermott favours a 4-2-3-1 formation but has switched more recently to 4-4-2 when Shane Long and Noel Hunt are both playing — with 33 goals between them this season. Long is the obvious threat with 21 league goals but the quick counter attacks often lead to goals.
Aggregate score this season: 4-5 (1-1 at the Madejski Stadium, 3-4 at the City Ground).
How to beat them: Take care of Long — if you can — but if the supply from the wingers Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff is cut out then there’s a chance.
Verdict: Reading don’t lose many games (just nine this season) and, behind Norwich, they have the second best form in the division in 2011.
Form: Second place has been up for grabs for months and Cardiff could well have taken it if they’d managed to beat Middlesbrough on 2 May. Instead they lost 3-0 and slipped to fourth with the 1-1 draw against Burnley, the pressure of expectation for promotion becoming something of a burden.
Formation: A straight and rigid 4-4-2 for Dave Jones although he has dabbled with 4-2-3-1. Critics argue there’s no plan B when it’s not working out which might account for recent results.
Aggregate score this season: 4-1 (2-1 at the City Ground, 2-0 at the Cardiff City Stadium)
How to beat them: Well, we’ve done it twice this season… but that’s obviously not enough. Dominate the midfield, press for possession, force mistakes and assign someone to keep Craig Bellamy in his backpocket.
Verdict: With players like Bellamy, Jay Bothroyd and Peter Whittingham it’s impossible to tell. Very easy to say they’re bottling it but very difficult to cope with another last-minute Bellamy goal.