A less than deserved point against Crystal Palace last night raises a few points — and questions — about Sean O’Driscoll’s Nottingham Forest side…
1. A work in progress
Forest remain unbeaten in the league. We’ve taken points away at Huddersfield, Bolton and Crystal Palace and, aside from the spirited comeback against Birmingham, are winning at the City Ground. Take encouragement from the ‘work in progress’ — there is a resilience and determination from an experienced team. Gaining a point while down to 10 men and not conceding more goals — admittedly against a side somewhat lacking with the final ball — is an improvement on last season and we remain in the play-off places, only four points off the top. And Henri Lansbury’s yet to make his debut.
2. The midfield battle
Saturday’s Plan B became Plan A last night and — in theory — made tactical sense given that we were up against Palace’s 4-2-3-1. Influenced by Wigan’s line-up in the Carling Cup, Forest’s 3-5-2 has the potential to work given the versatility of both Harding and Collins. As it was Wilf Zaha and Jonathan Williams on the wings penned back Hutchinson and Harding while the central three struggled for fluency against the impressive Kagisho Dikgacoi (KG) and the rugged Mile Jedinak. We were fortunate that Owen Garvan was lightweight as a number 10 and striker Glenn Murray was having one of his absent days; a less profligate side would have punished us. Thankfully, O’Driscoll had a Plan C after the sending off.
Palace played with an urgency and their pressing game disrupted Forest’s passing. Similar to the Wigan game in the Carling Cup, under pressure the calm, measured approach reverts to ambitious through balls, unforced errors and the occasional long ball to our not-so-tall strikers. Clearly while O’Driscoll’s substitutions and change of tactics rescued the game against a Birmingham side intent on stifling Forest, a different tact is required against sides that close, harry and harass. And while Zaha’s end product wasn’t always up to scratch he gave both full-backs a torrid time.
4. Adlene Guedioura
The Algerian midfielder hasn’t had the best start to the season — as highlighted by Mist Rolling in from the Trent — and the diamond formation isn’t replicating his form of last season. Dropped for this game, he returned just before half-time as Hutchinson came off injured after O’Driscoll had reverted to 4-4-2. Clearly his frustration got the better of him as he kicked out in retaliation against Jedinak and now faces a three-match ban. But the sending off, combined with KG going off injured, changed the game as O’Driscoll said: “In a strange kind of way the sending-off probably gave us the spark that we needed. It made Palace a little bit more direct and more predictable and we sort of capitalised on that in a strange way.”
With McGoldrick, Miller and Derbyshire all out on loan — and Findley expected to follow — the first-choice strikers are Blackstock, Cox and Sharp. The latter two were chosen as the pairing last night but with Sharp still to bed in and develop an understanding it was left to Cox and Blackstock to combine for the equaliser. Given the difficulties faced in midfield and the lack of service to the frontmen, Sharp was somewhat isolated last night and it was Blackstock’s presence that began to cause some difficulties for the Palace defence as the game went on. When the three have developed together it will be an intriguing selection for O’Driscoll.