A consistent theme amongst Forest fans that are ever-seeing their side underperform and underwhelm during recent times is the shape, style and system the side play no matter who’s in charge, whether it be Sabri or Hughton, 4-2-3-1 seems always to be the way.
I personally blame Aitor Karanka. After all we had Mark Warburton, play only one way, attack and hope to win by scoring more goals than the opposition, fans called it naïve, a young side, we always looked like conceding, but we always looked like scoring. A 4-3 win at Brentford, a 3-2 win at Hull, a 4-2 defeat at Ipswich, winning 3-2 at Bolton before it all went wrong for Warbs…
People ‘didn’t like’ the way Warburton played, often because people said ‘we weren’t good enough to play it’… plan A was to attack… there was no plan B…
That win against Bolton, the last under Warburton in December 2017, was also some sort of rendition of 4-2-3-1. A midfield of Bridcutt, Osborn & Dowell, the immobile Darryl Murphy up front with a teenage Tyler Walker alongside Barrie McKay. It might even have been more 4-3-3… or 4-1-4-1… But regardless of shape, Forest reached the end of December conceding a whopping 38 goals. It didn’t really work as a for Warburton defensively, whatever the system was, but boy was it unpredictable, boy was it exciting, boy was it frustrating too.
I was at one of Aitor Karanka’s early games after he took charge in January 2018 following Warburton’s dismissal, a couple of his first signings (along with the astute capture of Joe Lolley) included the recapturing of Adlene Guardioura and taking Ben Watson on a free as well as Jack Colback on loan.
A sense of sensibility about the signings he made, the young would be ushered out, how about some experienced footballers in the middle of the park that are ‘prepared’ to dig in and get ugly?
We went to Burton and Eric Lichaj got sent off early doors, but we started with a 4-2-3-1 system with two holding midfielders that day… It seemed to be ‘the thing’ of the moment, just as 3-5-2 in the nineties was the thing and 4-4-2 in the eighties was the thing.. Two holding midfielders, played by many of the teams in the division and above, in fear of losing the midfield battle, the extra peace of mind… But this was Burton. No disrespect of course.
A man down for more than 60 minutes we held out in Staffordshire to get a nil-nil… Karanka had found something solid, Forest went unbeaten in seven, not content with a nil nil at the Pirelli, the last three results of that unbeaten run were all nil-nils at Norwich, v Derby at the CG and at Sheffield United too.
The fans at least got their wish, from total naivety and attack at all costs under Warburton, to defensive solidity, competing in ‘all’ games, but with ‘take’ it seemed that the side had also lost that ‘give’…
Under Karanka, early doors, Forest failed to score in six successive games… ‘Give it time’.. they said… In the end, after consistently playing a midfield duo of Watson and Colback (often with Guerdioura or Osborn thrown in), it was clear to all and sundry that one of the ginger anchors simply had to give.
In fairness to Karanka he took on board what the fans wanted and in playing Claudio Yacob in front of the back four instead, he got a 5-5 draw at Villa Park.. Problem solved?
Not quite… Drawing 3-3 at Norwich (with Yacob) on Boxing Day after leading 3-1 in stoppage time and beating Leeds United 4-2 (with Yacob) on New Years Day were not good enough either, Karanka was out the door, a new man needed to do something other than 4-2-3-1.
Martin O’Neill was that man… A dinosaur and a set play specialist that nobody under the age of 30 wanted as Boss. O’Neill rid Yacob, brought back Watson with Colback, added Yates with Benny Osborn too, the midfield was complete, he even tried Pele but that didn’t work.
O’Neill changed things, but 4-2-3-1 became 4-5-1… Even more negative, the fans wouldn’t side, results weren’t that horrendous, but it would never work. The display verses Derby would epitomise O’Neill’s era, an ugly early goal scored from a set play, one shot on target, now cling on for your lives and fight the enemy… If anything was anti-football, O’Neill’s football was just that.
Cometh the end of the season a new man had to come in, suit jacket and tanned, who was this Frenchman? Sabri Montannier or something? No, Lamouchi, he played in Serie A.
At first it was new, it was creative, experimental, dynamic, like a new relationship, with a woman out of your league, but then it went flat… Why? Because you probably did her head in a little expecting too much too soon? Oh and Sabri became negative too.
In actual fact, we all understand the football wasn’t often enthralling, but we don’t ‘always’ expect that. Persistence to play 4-2-3-1 against anyone and everyone did however irritate, and although Sabri came closest to thrilling us, his philosophy had flaws… This after all is the Championship, you don’t surrender possession to the likes of Barnsley and Cardiff each week.
Now Chris Hughton suffers, same syndrome, surely same solution? The current duo of Colback and Yates are at least bringing fans ‘together’ in that it’s universal opinion that the two simply don’t mix.
Colback not the player he once was, Yates not the player for many, those two that hold in front of the back four not really ‘doing it’ for Forest right now. Samba Sow is best at it, so good he could probably do it alone, but how can you rely on a man that plays one match and is injured for the next four? Chris Hughton’s latest conundrum is whether to stick with the two, stay as you were and believe his way over time will improve, or twist, gamble and excite, go with one, even if now might be an irresponsible time to do so?
Unfortunately Hughton has not quite the luxury of the now departed Claudio Yacob to rely upon, he’s now bossing the midfield of one of Uruguay’s greatest ever teams, 47 times champion and 3 times Copa Libertadores winners Nacional, they beat Forest once too to become best team in the world. Funny how football turns out, but I doubt the former Argentine International misses his brief spell in Nottingham and being made ‘scapegoat’ during his short time anchoring in front of our back four?
Whether Yacob, Yates or Colback is to blame? Whether it be Karanka, Sabri, Hughton too, one thing is for sure, winning games of football will soon resolve any issues had with who plays where and in what system. As always the best solution to silence the critics, is simply to go out and win. Something Nottingham Forest Football Club have only done five times since February, and that no matter who’s to blame, is not good enough.
*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).
*Main image @NFFC Jack Colback has had question marks over his recent performances.