17 September, 2006

The Case for the Defence

Nottingham Forest 0 - 0 Carlisle

This was one of those where I thought I had probably watched a different game to those on the radio.

Calderwood declared himself pleased. McGovern called it a game of two halves. Colin Fray said it was a good performance. I was left worried (continuing my new-found theme of not giving the players or staff a break).

 PerchBreckin (c)Morgan 
SouthallHolt ClinganBennett
 Grolt Agogo 

We started very well. The now familiar 3-4-1-2, with Jack dropped. Harris played his role with Agogo winning his first start. And what a start. We played high tempo, attacking football with the front three causing Carlisle all sorts of problems. Shots tipped over and cleared off the line and then Grant beats a couple and places the ball in the net. Disallowed. They said for offside although I thought that very dodgy. Shortly followed by Agogo using his hand to control the ball. The ref misses it. The defender, incensed barges into him. The challenge was six of one, half a dozen of the other. The ref was about to wave play on but, after what felt like an age, saw the linesman's flag and points to the spot. Grant lines up to take it and places it tamely to the keeper's left. You could say that was fair but I still don't see what was wrong with Grant's earlier effort so I'm aggrieved.

I have to say that up to this point we've been playing really well. The defence looks solid. The midfielders are doing their screening job. The wing-backs are providing the width and the front three are leaving Carlisle dazed and confused. Until the penalty. Suddenly Carlisle start to take the game to us. They carve our defence open. All the worrying traits from Tuesday night reappear. Holt (Gary) goes AWOL. Clingan cannot find a red shirt. Luckily we have an outlet for the hoofed clearances - Agogo's pace meaning we can clear the ball almost anywhere and keep possession. But the biggest worry was the defence.

The key Carlisle attack was to play the ball from central in the middle of our half (where Holt and Clingan should have been covering) and laying it out to their right wing. You would expect Bennett to come and cover but he didn't as Wes would not move from the near post - if Bennett had came out it would leave a hole for the runner. So the right winger had time and space to place the perfect cross.

I'm no defensive coach but I see three options in this situation:

  • Bennett goes wide, the centre halves stay central and Holt or Clingan move back to cover the space vacated by Bennett

  • Bennett goes wide, the centre halves move left to cover the space and Southall drops back to cover the right hand side

  • Bennett stays where he is, covering the space, and Holt or Clingan moves out to the wing to stop the cross

I have no idea which the preferred option is. But doing none of them got us into real trouble. Personally I think Breckin should have chosen one of the options and told the others what to do. I'm sure that if Cullip had been playing that is what would have happened. But this continued for about twenty minutes and we looked pretty much on the ropes for large parts of the first half (this was disguised by some of the Agogo-powered counter attacks, which is probably why the pundits claimed we did OK).

In the absence of Breckin making a defensive call, Calderwood did at half time. The second half saw us play 4-4-2 - Perch at right-back, Harris on the left wing. Immediately you could see the difference as Bennett and Morgan seemed to have a better understanding of what they were supposed to be doing and the hole down the left was closed. And things looked OK straight away as Harris had a goal disallowed for offside (it was the far end of the field but the flag was early so I'll accept the decision). Unfortunately, the change of formation nullified most of the rest of our attacking threat as Carlisle kept possession and won a seemingly endless run of corners.

Grolt was replaced by Dobie (the substitution prompted a few boos, which, in a peverse way, was nice to hear - his work-rate has not been unnoticed). No real difference. Harris basically vacated the left wing and started doing the defensive midfield job of Holt and Clingan (seeing as they could not be bothered). The Carlisle pressure was building and building. In the 4-4-2 we seemed to have no outlet so all the hoofed, desperate clearances simply came straight back to us, giving the defence no respite at all. We looked increasingly shaky and a point looked pretty doubtful. So Colin played his final hand. A double substitution - Thommo for Holt and Jack for Harris. Thommo moved to right-back, Perch into defensive midfield and Jack played behind the front two. So a 4-3-1-2 with no-one playing the left hand side at all.

This caused Carlisle immediate problems as Jack went on one of his trademark chicken-runs. Brought down in the box (it was the far end of the pitch but it looked a valid penalty to me) and the ref books Jack for diving. A few minutes later and Agogo was brought down in the box. Again, the ref waves play on. And loses the plot. Every time a Forest player goes near a Carlisle player he blows for a foul. We still cannot clear the ball. We still cannot get any respite from the waves of attacks. And the ref helps them by giving free-kicks whenever we look like keeping possession.

I was glad when the final whistle came. We were lucky to hold on for a point, despite having the ball in the back of the net twice. This was nothing like Tuesday. Apart from Clingan and Holt, everyone put in the effort required. Carlisle played well. Not outstanding but well. They had done their homework and knew how to hurt us. Colin showed that he was prepared to change things to block the obvious weakness but it did have the unfortunate consequence of hurting us as an attacking force. And we kept a clean sheet and stay top of the league. Can't complain there.

But it was not a game of two halves. We had twenty (extremely) good minutes in the first half and were pretty much on the back-foot for the rest of the game. Fair play to Carlisle for giving us a good game. Well done to most of the team for raising their games from the frankly appaling Tuesday night display. And congratulation to the defence for fighting for a clean sheet (despite the tactical worries). But there is still a hell of a lot of work to do. For those that call Calderwood a defensive coach - the defence still has a lot to learn. For those that claim that Calderwood is an attacking coach, our major route to the strikers was the last ditch clearance into the air for Agogo to run onto. And for the two in the middle. Sort it out. If Holt needs this operation, give him the anasthetic now.

Man of the Match: Perch played a blinder but, as it was his first start, I'll give it to Agogo's pace.

Oh, and I have to mention the Carlisle fans. There were loads of them and they made lots of noise. Good work.

1 comment:

Rish said...

As far as I can tell, from opinions expressed here and elsewhere, Holt Sr needs his operation, Sammy needs a rest, Perchy needs to be moved into midfield with Thommo adding steel at the back. Wes is no good in a back three - maybe it is time to go 4-4-2, or 4-3-1-2 until Krissy comes back...


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