Analysis: Gloom not doom, following woe at Wednesday
Saturday's defeat at Hillsborough left me in a pensive mood; partly because I didn't actually think Forest were that bad (at least for two-thirds of the match), partly because Wednesday are (like Leeds) simply a year or two ahead of us in terms of squad and manager), and partly because of the baffling reaction of some fans on social media.
I have to say, that until Forest went 2-1 behind, I thought most of the team had acquitted themselves well. Sure, Jordan Smith won't want to see the first goal again, and Jason Cummings spent a fair amount of time looking a bit lost, but everyone could hold their head up high.
There has been many a finger pointed at our defending, and this is a structural problem. Put simply, man-marking is more effective in terms of players knowing what they should be doing, and the ability to assign responsibility (and culpability should things go wrong).
Something held up as a positive during and after the match was Mark Warburton's willingness to make tactical changes - the 3-1-4-2 was swiftly changed to 4-2-3-1 to beef up the midfield (at Zach Clough's expense), and this again morphed into 4-3-3 later in the match. As the gaffer's critics have stated that he doesn't have a Plan B, many took the opportunity to say that he made the necessary changes.
I beg to differ. Warburton made formation changes, not tactical ones. Players were in slightly different positions, but the overarching tactic remained the same - use the ball effectively, make yourself available when out of possession, mark zonally and don't hoof it.
Readers who are old enough will remember similar tactics under Paul Hart. Briefly. The same readers will also remember a horrid moment when a mix-up between Darren Ward and Riccy Scimeca gifted Manchester City's Shaun Goater a tap-in. Oddly enough, we saw Ward kick the ball a lot more after that.
I have two gripes with The Warburton Way; the first is the aforementioned insistence on zonal marking - as someone once commented, "I have never seen a zone score a goal". However, if the players learn and adjust, this may get better; in the meantime we are now known across the division as being a soft touch from set-pieces.
More importantly for me, is the rigidity of thinking; it is all very well having a philosophy, but as this analysis of Frank de Boer's short tenure at Crystal Palace demonstrates, you have to have the players to do it and the ability to communicate it. I would be the happiest fan in the world if Forest were to implement quick, counter-attacking, passing football - it is what generations of Reds fans grew up with - however, not at the expense of everything.
The aforementioned Hart, and his managerial mentor, the legendary Sir Brian, made defensive solidity their bed rocks. From Shilton, Lloyd, Burns and McGovern through to Walker, Dawson and Scimeca, they built from the back. I simply don't get the impression that Warburton and Weir are that bothered about the number of goals they may concede; apart from making it harder to win matches (sometimes, a hard-fought 1-0 is just the tonic), there is also the longer term worry that it may stifle the development of players such as Jordan Smith and Joe Worrall.
So far, so gloomy, and this makes it sound as though I am anti-Warburton, which is not the case. I don't think it is possible for a manager to pick a team without some fans grumbling about selection, and although I would pick Lichaj ahead of Darikwa (and maybe Henderson ahead of Smith), other opinions are available. However, the double substitution upset the balance of the team, with Osborn struggling to cover the left wing as well as the number ten slot, McKay completely lost after switching flanks, and Dowell unable to get involved.
Mostly, there is much to be hopeful about, with the caveat that Forest will probably remain a work in progress for the rest of this season (at least). I was particularly pleased that Jack Hobbs was selected - to me he offers more presence and solidity than Mancienne and Mills respectively (although I am a big fan of Mance), and although Cummings struggled when upfront on his own, he showed promise and was only denied by a superb clearance off the line by Tom Lees at 1-1. The biggest positive was that, with Bridcutt at the base of midfield, and Osborn at the head, there was a busy presence in the middle of the park, and two players who never shy away from receiving the ball.