Nottingham Forest’s solid start to the season has been based on a fluid, swift passing midfield quartet. Peter Blackburn takes a look at the 2-2 away draw at Bolton Wanderers.

During Paul Hart’s reign at Nottingham Forest, the Reds became known for a brand of football that paid tribute to the style pioneered by the late Brian Clough at the club.

Hart’s team were fully confident of putting a foot on the ball and taking responsibility with a more expansive pass or an extra touch rather than a simple chipped ball forward – an easy route out so often taken at this level and the sort of option choice that often mars British football.

Fast forward several years and Sean O’Driscoll is at the helm at Nottingham Forest. Like Hart, a man famed for his philosophy, he offers an attractive style underpinned by a simple but quite brilliant thought process – the desire to educate players to make better choices, to understand the game and to think like the best footballer they can be.

The comparisons between O’Driscoll and Hart have more depth than a simple philosophy however and during Forest’s recent 2-2 draw away at Bolton the echoes became even more prominent as Forest employed the diamond formation – a system synonymous with Paul Hart’s reign at the club.


For large parts of Friday night’s game at the Reebok Stadium, Forest’s system and personnel allowed near domination against a side full of Premier League quality. With a wealth of talent in central midfield positions, the diamond formation offers the perfect solution to the Reds’ needs and provides a platform for a talented squad to perform to their optimum without the rigmarole of players attempting to fill positions that simply don’t suit their game. Too many managers would have struggled to think outside the traditional 4-4-2 box with this Forest side and we would see the likes of McGugan or Majewski forced out wide occupying a position they have no desire to do so nor the skills to be genuinely effective.

Just three league games into the 2012/13 season and Forest have effectively staked a claim to be the next side with a progressive philosophy attempting to play their way out of this division with intelligence and style. A dominating performance away at Huddersfield was followed by the 2-2 draw at Bolton and both showcased a short and sharp passing style that their Northern opponents were unable to keep up with during large periods. In order for the system to continue to work, it relies on a number of key attributes within the side.

Firstly, a desire to be on the ball is an absolute necessity. During the excellent draw against Bolton, Forest’s midfield quartet, supplemented by defenders in a high line and strikers dropping deep, showed an intense and incessent hunger for the ball. McGugan, Reid, Gillett and Guedioura in particular have to be on their toes, constantly moving and giving each other opportunities for a short pass.

Secondly, the full-backs have to be confident enough to push forward and supplement the attack as auxiliary wingers. Brendan Moloney and Dan Harding are hardly the most swashbuckling of players, but both have showed an eagerness to push forward and provide a wide option that simply won’t be available in the diamond system otherwise. In order to create space for the likes of McGugan to exploit – as he did with a thunderbolt against Bolton – the full-backs must keep the opposition stretched with a constant wide pressure.

Thirdly, options at the back are as important as further up the pitch. In order for the style to be truly implemented it has to be from back to front. On Friday night, Collins and Halford made a concerted effort to split, push wide and give Lee Camp a short option, with Moloney and Harding joining up with the midfielders in the midddle third of the pitch. If Forest can continue to apply these simple principles then there is no reason why the style and the formation cannot be a success.

Whilst the first three games have shown positive performances from all the players who have featured for Forest, it seems likely that the additions of Sam Hutchinson and Daniel Ayala will make this an even stronger side. It would be harsh to drop Moloney having played so well, but Hutchinson may offer a more composed presence in the back four and Ayala is the footballing centre-back that would perfectly complement Danny Collins, with Halford looking a little out of his depth on occasions against Bolton.

Perhaps the true beauty of the diamond formation is its flexibility. In concentrating talented players in one relatively slim area in the middle third of the pitch, the system can greatly evolve with the slightest move of one player – allowing the manager to tinker with only slight disruption to his side, but the maximum opportunity to nullify the opposition’s particular threat.

Simple adjustments of the midfield diamond

4-3-1-2: Gillett pushes forward to join Guedioura and Reid in a central three, allowing Forest to dominate further up the pitch – a tactic likely to be used at home.

4-2-3-1: With Guedioura and Gillett sitting, Cox drops off Blackstock to join Reid and McGugan in a fluid and rotating attacking midfield three. Particularly useful if Forest are struggling against an organised team and need to create new options.

4-3-2-1: Cox drops deeper and he and McGugan play off Blackstock with Guedioura, Gillett and Reid providing ammunitition from behind. Allows the side to play between the lines, with McGugan and Cox drawing the opposition defenders further forward and away from Blackstock.

4-4-2: If necessary, McGugan or Guedioura can push out wide right, with Reid also moving further to the left – an orthodox system that could be useful if needing to match the opposition.

Follow Peter on Twitter: @petermblackburn


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