Derby days are always special, but few will ever reach the heights of Monday night. Familiar faces adorned the technical area, spicing up an already flaming-hot occasion for the Sky Sports cameras. Few are bigger than the East Midlands derby. Yes, three points were vital for both sides: Derby were looking to escape a February rut while Forest were hoping to kickstart a win streak in an attempt to sneak into the play-offs. Yet the stakes stretch so much further in this fixture.
Ancient grudges are fought out, families are torn apart and, on Monday night in particular, reputations were on the line. Can Lampard emulate his success as a player in the dugout? Roy Keane: bully or motivator ? Is Martin O’Neill a competent manager in the modern game ? The latter, as regular readers of this blog will know for sure, FTT are skeptical of. But if winning the European Cup wasn’t enough, beating Derby has certainly cemented his place in the hearts of Forest fans.
Since a drab Forest were taught a lesson or two at St Andrews, things had started to look up. O’Neill’s men had beaten Brentford at home and then managed to get a point away at West Brom and Preston though it should have been so much more. Had it not been for Dwight Gayle’s pathetic swan dive and Tim Robinson’s baffling decision to disallow Lolley’s goal at Preston, The Reds would have picked up an extra 4 points. O’Neill’s tactical imprint is also beginning to shine through after a few games of tinkering and experimenting. Compact and stout at the back, physically competitive in midfield and generally very difficult to break down while possessing the pace in wide areas to wreak havoc on the counter-attack. Though the secret to success with this Forest side is no tactical revolutionary- it is the fight and aggression.
If there was one thing that Karanka lacked at times it was charisma. That elusive ability to inspire a group, that fervour, that pure love for the game. Let’s not get it twisted, O’Neill is far from a zesty Jurgen Klopp but it is the sheer aura of the man that is invigorating this Forest squad. We are up in the oppositions faces from the get go, we win our 50/50 battles, we thunder into challenges – traditional virtues inspired by one very traditional man. Awkward, unorthodox and annoying- yes, FTT likes the new Forest.
The City Ground was at it’s magical best. A 5th sell out crowd of the year saw 29,500 fans flock in for the big day- and they certainly weren’t disappointed. As Mull Of Kintyre rattled the seats and goosebumps prickled the skin of Forest fans it felt like a city united. Yet with those incredible ‘rebel’ banners and the sea of red and white scarves it also felt like a city of culture, diversity and acceptance.
The historic despise for Derby is not just about local bragging rights. Passed down through generations, the inexplicable hate strays beyond logic or reasoning- just thinking about them makes a Forest fan’s blood boil.
When Robert Jones blew his whistle you just knew that it was not going to be an ordinary 90 minutes of football. One of the biggest derby’s in the history of English football was commencing with everything on the line.
After only 2 minutes, The City Ground erupted when Yohan Benalouane, an unlikely hero, popped up at the far post to stab in what would be the only goal of the game. The goal was a reflection of the stark contrast between the desire and impetus of Forest and the limp, lax Derby County. Murphy rose uncontested to win the 2nd ball while Benalouane was sharp on his toes at the far post. An utterly raucous start to the match. On 13 minutes , against the run of play, Waghorn broke clean through on goal but could only dink wide Derby’s best chance of the game. Forest were happy to sit back for a bit and let Derby control the ball as our blocks of four held strong. And as Ryan Yates ploughed through a black and white shirt for the 7th successive time it really felt as though the atmosphere was fuelling the Forest players, making them go that extra mile. Colback was a warrior in midfield while Murphy and Lolley pressed and harried the brittle Derby defence. However, it was now Forest’s turn to rue a missed opportunity. Lolley won the ball of Tomori high up the pitch and cooly laid it off to Murphy, one on one with the keeper, but the Irishman stumbled over the ball as Roos dived in and collected.
Benalouane and Milosevic were faultless at the back. Derby had no answer. With explicits hailed at Frank Lampard, heated bust-ups and Roy Keane squaring up to the 4th official the rest of the game was certainly not void of entertainment. And when the 90 minutes were up hundreds of fans prolonged their stay to soak up that glorious feeling of winning an East Midlands derby. It had been a long time.
Tactical points from February
O’Neill’s system compared to Karanka’s.
Regular readers of this blog will know that in the heart of FTT, there still lies a special place for Aitor Karanka (though lets not get into that today). His system, and the one O’Neill is currently using, are quite different. Karanka’s 4-2-3-1 could be adapted depending on the opponent. Away from home, or against the more dangerous sides attacking-wise we would play two very defensive minded midfielders in a compact 4-2-3-1. When in possession, we would look to quickly feed the ball into the likes of Lolley or Cash in wide areas. They would then form triangles with Carvalho and Grabban to create openings on goal. At home, against teams where we were the ones expected to be on the front foot, the full backs would bomb forward to provide extra attacking options. In addition, Guediora would also come into the base of the midfield to give us that different passing dimension.
O’Neill, on the other hand, has favoured the 4-1-4-1. The 4-1-4-1 has, in the past, been used as a possession-based formation, with the midfield triangle looking to keep the ball patiently until gaps appear in the opposition defence. With O’Neill though, the system is all about being compact and well-stocked with players behind the ball. Watson is at the base of the midfield but he is no regista, no Busquets, no Jorginho. His job is simply to pick up the scraps and make sure the midfield are organised and aware. The full backs will very rarely push onwards as Lolley, Cash or Osborn will be occupying the wide areas. In possession of the ball we look to instantly go forward with the striker dropping deep to link up with the wingers and then Yates or Colback will bomb forward to provide extra options. The issue, though, is that against teams who will sit in back in two blocks of four, we might struggle to break them down. O’Neill did switch to the 4-1-2-1-2 against Preston to give Lolley a bit of positional freedom and it worked to a degree. However, it is the choice of personnel that could prove to be the most restricting aspect of the system. Carvalho, Guediora and Gonçalves are all technically gifted talents but are constantly dismissed. Meanwhile, Colback, Yates and Watson (all of whom are essentially defensive midfielders) construct a very negative midfield trio. It is a system that is best-fitted for the Premier League when facing the Man City’s, the Chelsea’s, the Liverpool’s. Although, for the Championship, it may need a bit of tweaking.
O’Neill answers FTT’s call
FTT has been crying out for quiet some time now to give the young Ryan Yates a chance. Our calls have been answered emphatically- he has started all of the last 4 matches winning two man of the match awards and he even got on the scoresheet at The Hawthorns.Starring on loan at Notts County, he struggled for game-time under Karanka but O’Neill has instantly taken to the young man and seems to have unearthed a real gem. Yates is a tough-tackler, strong in the air, knows when to keep his passes short a simple but also has the eye and technicality to make those 50 yard balls. But most importantly, he understands what it means to sport the Garibaldi having risen through the ranks of The Nigel Doughty Academy.
Player ratings from February
Costel Pantilimon- 8/10: The Romanian beast seems to have miraculously improved his form under the reign of O’Neill. Distribution is still suspect, but he has made some fine saves at crucial points in matches (particularly against Preston) and is commanding his area much better. Great to see.
Jack Robinson- 7/10: Struggled at centre-back against Brentford. Him and centre-back should be a perfect match- he is quick, strong and composed on the ball. However, he just needs to understand his positioning in that role better. Looked much more comfortable against Preston and West Brom at left-back while his performance against Derby was exceptional.
Alexander Milosevic- 8/10: Excellent debut month for Milosevic. His calmness on the ball can easily be mistaken for nonchalance and laxity but that couldn’t be further from the truth. He is a strong-tackler, a presence in the air and constantly aware of his surroundings. Forming a formidable partnership with Benalouane.
Yohan Benalouane- 9/10: What can I say, he scored the winner in the East Midlands Derby. Forest fans will forever remember him for it, but his defensive qualities should also be noted. Much like Milosevic, he is very strong in the air and organises the defence very well- you can always see him talking on the pitch.
Tendayi Darikwa- 6/10: O’Neill favoured Janko firstly, but is now opting for Darikwa. The Zimbabwean international performed fantastically against Derby and was also solid against Preston. Him and Janko are very similar players, and FTT aren’t too bothered which one O’Neill ends up going for. However, Janko is younger and definitely has more potential.
Saidy Janko- 6/10: Featured against Brentford and West Brom, performing averagely.
Ben Osborn- 6/10: Always gives 110% for the shirt but FTT can only see his future at Foret as a squad auxiliary man.
Ben Watson- 7/10: Watson has had another decent month but I still don’t think he is a great player. He is slow, leggy and his first thought when he gets the ball is to blast it up the pitch. Don’t know what O’Neill sees in him.
Ryan Yates- 9/10: *Already spoke about Yates
Matty Cash- 6/10: Always a threat on the counter attack with his pace and trickery. Too often runs into blind alleyways though and you hope that with more experience he can perfect his game.
Joe Lolley- 8/10: After a couple of months of ineffectiveness, Lolley has been back to his blistering best. The way he torments defenders with his direct running and dribbling is incredible to see. He is part of that rare breed that can run just as quick with the ball as without it.
Leo Bonatini- 5/10: Started against West Brom and has had a few substitute cameos but hasn’t really made an impact.
Daryl Murphy- 7/10: Held the ball up very well against Preston and Derby but still isn’t FTT’s first choice striker. His attitude and determination is admirable though.
Lewis Grabban- 7/10: Back among the goals against Brentford, linked up well against West Brom but struggled to get into the game against Preston. Picked up an injury in training before the Derby match.