11 February, 2007

Diamonds are forever

Nottingham Forest 1 - 0 Northampton Town

I've been thinking about Diamond Formations recently. I don't have much free time, so why I'm spending it thinking about diamonds is a question I should ask myself, but thinking I have been.

In "the good old days" (as some would see it), we played a diamond formation under the management of Mr Hart. And we reached the play-offs (in the second division no less) so that must mean that diamonds are good and Mr Hart is a genius.

However, there are a number of reasons that the diamond worked back then (and it also leads to why Hart's team failed the season after):

Attacking full-backs: Louis-Jean wasn't the greatest attacker in the world but he bombed forwards and in Brennan we had a player who as much left winger as left back. A diamond does not offer much width so it was vital that the full-backs did their duty and stretched the opposition defence.
Defensive midfield: we had Riccy Scimeca, a player as comfortable at centre-half as he was in central midfield. As the full-backs attacked Riccy would drop back, effectively giving us a back three in attack and a back four (with cover in front) in defence.
Mobile forwards: Harewood and Johnson were both prepared to put in the work down the channels as well as score in the centre, adding wide support to Matty and Jim.
No injuries: none of the players mentioned above had long injury layoffs.

The following season we had:

Attacking full-backs: Brennan had gone so Wes was drafted in as emergency left back, and actually did really well. However, once he was dropped and returned to his favoured position things started to fall apart for us - Oyen (when fit) didn't get forwards as much and, without Jimbo's encouragement, neither did Matty.
Defensive midfield: None of Sonner, Stewart (yeuch) or Gunnarson could do the job that Riccy did (although Gunnarson certainly should have been able to).
Mobile Forwards: Gareth Taylor (see below).
Injuries: DJ out for most of the season.

What about CC's team, running a diamond?

Attacking full-backs: Very similar to the play off season - Bennett definitely pushes up and Curtis puts the effort in and covers the ground required.
Defensive midfield: Neither Clingan or Holt Snr are fully capable of playing in a back three (to my knowledge anyway). Perchio has played centre half before but he has never struck me as much of one (not enough bulk or strength for my tastes).
Mobile forwards: Tyson, Holt Jnr, Agogo, Lester - we should be OK here.
Injuries: Hopefully we are over the worst with Tyson's return.

So, whilst not all the elements are in place, the signs are encouraging for CC's use of the diamond.


Curtis Morgan
Breckin (c) Bennett

Prutton Holt Snr Perchio


Holt Jnr
Northampton lined up against us in a 8-1-1 formation. We played possession football, short, crisp passes with little penetration. Their one in midfield had a simple job - mark Lester out of the game, and that is exactly what he did. Without Jack we had no creativity whatsoever and Gary Holt quickly became the scapegoat for the Cobbler's tactical effectiveness. Playing in the centre, as he does, he often received the ball and would see nothing but a wall of blue shirts ahead of him. So he had no option to pass it sideways or backwards (prompting howls of derision from the Forest 'faithful') or he would lose possession (prompting howls of derision from the Forest 'faithful'). The highlight was someone behind me yelling 'Make yourself available' at him, about two seconds after he had run thirty yards, waving his arms about, to finally receive the pass.

All our chances came from Bennett launching deep crosses from the left or long shots ('Beardy' Prutton providing the best). They had a couple of good chances towards the end of the half (hitting the bar at one point) but for the most part, their ambition was limited to containment and nothing more. They did force Smith to come off his line, at one point, but he was so unused to being that far from the nets that he fluffed it and Breckin had to make an emergency clearance to save the open goal.

Boos at the half time whistle left me a bit perplexed. Yes, everyone hates Gary Holt. Yes, Jack was marked out off the game. Yes, our forwards had barely seen the ball. But we were passing the ball, keeping possession and playing better football than you would normally see in the third division.

Shortly into the second half Dobie was replaced by Tyson (they said something on the radio about an injury which was why Dobie started). And Forest changed their style of play to accommodate Nathan. Out went the crisp, short but ultimately ineffectual passing style, in came the hoof-it-and-rely-on-Tyson's-pace style that was much derided when employed by Messrs Megson and Kinnear (OK, fair enough, hoof it to Taylor is a different proposition to hoof it to Tyson - but they are both still hoofing it).

A free kick at the side of their box, taken by Perchio and bundled in by Bennett was the ultimate response. Bennett celebrated as if he had won the European Cup and Northampton turned nasty. I've not seen this mentioned in my brief clicks around the web, and the Cobblers were a big, physical side, but I thought that once they had gone behind, their play was out of order. Shirt-pulling, shoves, kicks and digs were the order of the day, all totally unnoticed by the officials. In the end, CC had to take Grant off for his own safety as he threatened to lose his rag and get sent off. Jack and Julian also got caught up in the bad atmosphere (Bennett was carded for being punched in the head) and after the final whistle Tyson had to be pulled away from a Northampton player (apparently after an elbow).

Overall I was pleased. Three points ground out against a team that came for a point and a fight. Prutton, Perchio, Breckin, Morgan and Bennett can probably hold their heads highest, Smith still needs to learn to come off his line and Dobie is just not ready yet. It wasn't a great game, Northampton made sure of that, but clean sheets and points on the board are what count.

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