As Nottingham Forest and Derby County fans both remembered Brian Clough, a tight, grouchy game saw the East Midlands derby end in a 1-1 draw. Forest Boffin offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground…

Despite the speculation over playing one or two up front, Stuart Pearce was always likely to opt for his favourite system, which has been variously labelled a 4-4-1-1, 4-5-1 and even a 4-3-3, but I see it as the classic Spanish style 4-2-3-1.

This system makes pressing high up the pitch easier, since there are effectively four banks of players instead of three, and this would come in handy because Derby like to have their defenders keep the ball in deep areas while they look for a path forward.

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The Rams lined up in their familiar 4-3-3, but Steve McClaren was a little more cautious than usual, dropping his exciting, attacking right-back Cyrus Christie, in favour of the more defensive Ryan Shotton.

Both teams basically cancelled each other out. Derby were particularly aggressive and were successful at hunting down and outnumbering the Forest players down the spine of the pitch, making it difficult for Assombalonga and Lansbury in particular to get in the game, and the short amount of time on the ball saw Reid and Cohen struggle to distribute the ball out to the wings.

Forest also did a good job of hindering Derby’s game-plan, pressing high to interrupt their patient possession game. Centre-backs Richard Keogh and Jake Buxton, only touched the ball 80 times between them; they have averaged 147 touches in their previous games this season – Forest’s pressing wrecked Derby’s patient approach.

The two systems are naturally inclined to cancel each other out – especially played out as cautiously as both teams were on Sunday (see diagram, below). It was difficult for either side to make any inroads through the middle and it became a somewhat scrappy affair.

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It was clear beforehand that the game would probably be settled by whoever won the battle on the wings – this gave me hope during the first half as I watched Michael Antonio torturing stand in right-back Ryan Shotton. The Forest man was far too quick for his opponent, getting past him at will.

Derby base their game on attacking up either flank and use their full-backs to tilt the balance in their favour in this regard, but dropping their usual right-back in favour of Shotton was a white flag in this part of the pitch – the Stoke loanee could not risk getting forward at all and even resorted to standing off Antonio, which gave him far too much room and was a recipe for disaster.

However, it was not Shotton who caused the problem leading to Forest’s opening goal – it was the opposite full-back, Craig Forsyth, who had appeared far more comfortable; perhaps too comfortable?

McClaren said after the game that the Forest goal “came from nothing, from nowhere”, but I think Pearce has got one over on him here. If you’ve ever seen the Forest manager talk about defending against an attacking full-back such as Forsyth, you’ll know he likes his winger to mark them, but engage in what he calls “a game of cat-and-mouse”; to stick with them until the time is right to let them go in the hope of catching them out of position on the counter-attack. This is exactly what happened for Forest’s goal (see below).

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Chris Burke had been doing his best to keep hold of Forsyth, but for the goal he let him go, and the winger’s presence is essential as his run, in Forsyth’s absence, forced Derby’s defensive midfielder John Eustace to cover the left-back position, opening the route through midfield for Antonio.

This one lapse out on the wing, for either side, caused a goal and was the only time in the game when things really opened up. McClaren had told his team to be more adventurous in the second half – the cagey nature of the game would always make this risky. Forest did a good job in exploiting this in the only real instance of Derby being over-stretched.

Kudos must go to Pearce; Forest have been allowing teams to attack them all season, soaking up pressure and hitting them on the counter-attack – this is another example of the plan working. The Reds are not dominating games as they would like, but their blend of cutting-edge and grit is seeing them pick up points.

It would have been, however, harsh on Derby if they lost. They had more of the ball and their superior movement saw them finding pockets of space in between Forest’s formation, but the Reds were well organised and all put a shift in to hold Derby off.

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It took a set-play for Derby to equalise; both sides had been giving away a lot of free-kicks around their penalty areas, and after Keogh’s header struck the bar, the ball was stabbed home, sending the Derby players, bench, and travelling fans into ecstasy – not a very nice sight.

Nor was seeing Chris Cohen limp off after another apparently severe injury. After all the build up and anticipation, this was probably the most important aspect of this disappointing 1-1 draw, which ended up proving nothing except that the rivalry is as fierce as ever.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish Cohen all the best – there are few players who have deserved better luck than this ultimate professional.


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Forest Boffin is, of course, essential reading…


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