Billy Davies’ Promotion Ambulance hit another pothole on Saturday, as Doncaster Rovers delivered another jolt to the nerves by holding Nottingham Forest to a 0-0 draw. Forest Boffin offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground…


To say the Vikings ‘held’ Forest is not telling the whole story. Billy Davies reverted to his ‘diamond’ 4-4-2 formation, with a narrow midfield – although several players were given licence to roam the pitch; for example, Reid was dropping back to collect the ball from deep. Doncaster used a more traditional 4-4-2 (see below), with an initial emphasis of defence.


Forest’s first-half play served as a reminder why we’re so lucky to have Billy Davies as a manager, but also exposed a regular trait which holds his (Forest) teams back. They were playing some excellent football – characteristic of how Davies likes his teams to play despite the dour, negative reputation he had before his arrival in 2009 (and which is still repeated even now).

Greening was spraying some great passes around from the base of the diamond behind Reid and Majewski, whose one-touch football was nice to watch and, above all, dangerous. Cox was also joining in – these four were pulling the strings and creating chances.

However, as hinted above, things were not perfect; Billy’s fondness of using the ‘strikers’ to assist in the build up of possession, while good to watch, leaves us with less of a goal-scoring threat than we would want. While Cox was playing his usual unselfish role in the build up, he was often coming away from dangerous positions, playing chiefly as a provider – he set up good chances for Paterson and Halford, in particular.


I endorse Davies’ use of Cox in this manner – it is good to watch and can be effective, but it means his strike partner must provide the main goal-threat – Halford in this case, who plays like a one-footed (not literally) defender (literally) – chances were falling to him, but he is not capable of putting them away unless they are aerial.

Selecting Halford up front automatically puts Davies in the firing line. At first glance it seems bizarre – but the reason is his perceived ability in the air. There was widespread consternation when he was selected against Watford, but anyone who had watched Watford would have known beforehand how poorly they deal with crosses and are vulnerable to headed goals. Halford has proven capable of exploiting this – against QPR, Reading and Leeds.


In recent games Forest have spurned multiple, easy, headed chances, which would have seen them take the lead – with this in mind, we begin to see Davies’ logic – unfortunately it didn’t pay off against Doncaster.

This was the story of the first-half – Forest has a lot of positive possession and played some handsome football, but struggled to penetrate their opponents, and missed the chances they did manage to create, due to a lack of clinical goal-scorers in dangerous positions.

Doncaster grew into the game – perhaps encouraged by Forest’s lack of firepower – and looked more and more threatening as the game went on. Not only did they defend in a disciplined manner, but they proved capable of sweeping forward dangerously. Right-winger Mark Duffy was particularly bothersome for the Forest defenders, and Richie Wellens was launching counter-attacks from deep positions with accurate, direct passes.

Davies is particularly talented at making effective substitutions, but on this occasion his efforts appeared to hinder the team’s performance. After an hour, Andy Reid’s return from injury was cut short (Ned Kelly has since claimed he’s got a hamstring strain – Derby on Saturday… hmmm…) and Davies elected to replace him with Jamie Mackie.

Majewski was asked to replicate what Reid was doing – to form the link between defence and attack, to drift back alongside Greening when defenders had the ball – but Raddy is better at playing further up the pitch. Asked to be a little more direct, and take a few more risks with his passing, his performance dropped.

Another consequence of the Reid substitution was that Mackie could not replicate what Majewski himself had been doing. The Scot is best in less congested areas of the pitch, playing in this narrower central midfield did not suit him. Perhaps Djamel Abdoun would have been a better option; he can work with the ball under closer opposition scrutiny than Mackie.


Forest lost a lot of creativity and ability to hold onto the ball in the Doncaster half – which inevitably meant Rovers had more inclination to go on the attack themselves and looked the better side.

Davies also brought on Henderson, but instead of initially bringing off Halford – which would have been a reasonably like-for-like swap – he subbed Cox. Although only for a short time (seven minutes), this left Forest less effective in holding onto the ball on the ground, instead playing with two target-men. This was seven minutes wasted.

This problem was rectified as Matt Derbyshire came on for Halford. The Reds went a little more direct, allowing Majewski to roam forward into areas where he is more comfortable, and Henderson began to get his head onto the long balls. One or two chances were being created, but Forest were still short on creativity, and Doncaster were providing just as much of a threat themselves, if not more.

Neither side were able to break the deadlock, although both came to life in the final stages. Forest’s games are settling into a pattern of missed chances in the first half coming back to haunt them – and again there were opportunities for the Garibaldi to take control of this game, but they were spurned.

Considering other results, this was another damaging afternoon for Forest. I’m a big fan of the current management and playing staff, but if we’re expecting promotion to the Premier League we need to be finding a way to win games like this. That’s not being disrespectful to Doncaster – they are a good side, but Forest are better.

Speaking to fans afterwards, the majority were understandably downbeat. Forest have lost their advantage in the race for the play-offs, which is disappointing – but we will improve with players like Reid starting to return. Other players are starting to play well too – Majewski was looking very influential in our play, and dangerous on the ball, and Greening was a revelation. We’ve experienced a twist – do not be surprised if there is a turn in the near future.


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And the Forest Boffin blog is well worth reading.

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