Nottingham Forest triumphed over Sheffield Wednesday after a second half own-goal by Owls’ defender Miguel Llera decided the outcome of a tense encounter in the Championship.
Although the manner in which Sean O’Driscoll’s side secured maximum points was fortuitous, the home team will feel they were rewarded for their attacking endeavour.
In front of the division’s biggest crowd, Dave Jones’s men contributed much to a combative game that seemed destined to finish goalless before Llera’s moment of misfortune.
Here, The FA’s Peter Glynn looks at the current prospects of two of English football’s most historic clubs and the state of play in the Championship.
With the Premier League showing no relief from its multi-cultural parade of the world’s best players, there have been suggestions that a better understanding of the ingredients of ‘English’ football can be achieved in the country’s lower divisions.
Increasingly, the second rung of the league ladder offers opportunity for young English talent fighting for recognition and experience unavailable in bloated Premier League squads.
And 18-year-old Ross Barkley is one case in point.
The promising Everton midfielder, who has experience with David Moyes’s senior side, has been the recipient of high-praise.
The versatile midfielder, who can fulfil both deep-lying and more advanced roles, has enjoyed a successful loan period since his switch to Hillsborough.
English football makes no apology for its appeal for more creative midfielders and the young Liverpudlian is one of a number of promising talents auditioning for future roles. But assessing potential is a precarious game.
Barkley’s direct midfield opponent provided comparison on the topic. Forest’s Jermaine Jenas was considered a prestigious talent ten years ago when he strode these parts.
Yet although the 29-year-old midfielder went on to achieve 21 England caps, his re-emergence at the start-point of his career feels like a missed opportunity. It should serve as a cautionary tale for Barkley.
This contest proved to be an awkward fit for the talents of both midfielders and the Forest man was withdrawn after 55 minutes.
Characterised by physicality and the ability to compete and win second balls there were few opportunities for the pair to demonstrate their technical abilities.
So it is little surprise that managers describe the process of being sent on loan to the lower divisions as one of ‘toughening up’.
This is not always the case at The City ground. Sean O’Driscoll’s arrival in the summer has coincided with the evolvement of possession football based on playing out from the back and through the three thirds of the pitch.
Here is a Future Game practice that looks at playing through the three thirds of the pitch
>> Playing through the thirds 8-11
The catalyst for much of Forest’s approach play is prompted by diminutive midfielder Simon Gillett. Patrolling the space in front of Forest’s back four, he provides an outlet from which passing moves can be built.
The source of Forest’s rhythm had, however, been identified. Dave Jones deployed forward Jay Bothroyd as an attacking man-to-man marker when the Owls were out of the possession.
With Gillett’s influence suppressed and Jenas operating in an increasingly crowded midfield, Forest were suffocated of their usual midfield outlets and restricted to a more direct game than desired.
Here’s a practice from The Future Game which looks at defending from the front
The forced approach played into the hands of the Yorkshire side who had the height and numbers to deal comfortably with clipped balls into the box.
Forest also contributed to the congested nature of the contest. With Jones’ men deploying a five man midfield, space was in short supply in central areas.
Under instruction to roam into central areas in search of possession Forest’s wide players Andy Reid and Chris Cohen added to the traffic.
It was an approach that attempted to provide width via advanced full-backs, but largely proved ineffective.
With much of the play directed to Greg Halford, Forest’s right-footed defender deployed at left-back, it was natural for him to check inside, again directing play infield.
With little success in playing through the thirds, or around the outside of the opposition, the Forest full-back resorted to longer crosses and diagonal balls from deeper positions.
Here’s a Future Game practice which focuses on defending high balls into the box
The game craved composure and it arrived five minutes into the second-half in the shape of another Englishman who has flirted with breaking into the top-tier of the game.
Henri Lansbury arrived at the City Ground from Arsenal for £1m in August.
He is a further example of a talent migrated to the Championship in search of game-time. His introduction changed the contest.
The England Under-21s midfielder was stationed on the left of Forest’s midfield, a replacement for Andy Reid who had gone off injured.
And the mobile and creative Lansbury offered an ingenuity that the game had missed until this point.
Playing mostly one and two-touch passes, he injected a quickened pace to Forest’s play in the attack third. The 22-year-old’s willingness to come in from his perch on the left to combine with the centre forwards coincided with Forest’s better second half moves.
But the decisive breakthrough came via the opposite flank.
Cohen’s delivery from the right was headed inexplicably past Wednesday goalkeeper by central defender Llera with fifteen minutes to play.
Here’s a Future Game practice that looks at quick attacking play around the opponents penalty box:
The presence of Jenas, Barkley and Lansbury offered an interesting reflection on the prospects of English midfielders.
The nature of this game also underlined the necessity of competing physically in the English game.
However, to stand out from the crowd players must possess ingenuity and vision, something demonstrated here by Lansbury.
Key points for grassroots coaches:
- What practices do you use that encourage young players to develop basic defending skills: marking, tracking runners, heading and winning second balls. How could you incorporate these elements into a fun and enjoyable practice game?
- Rotation of position is becoming an increasing necessity in the modern game. If one of your players is man-marked, can somebody else move into their position to receive the ball?
- How often do you encourage players to change the speed of their attacking play? Henri Lansbury’s introduction underlined the importance of clever and incisive one-touch play in attacking areas.
Peter Glynn, 29, is the Editorial Manager at St. George's Park and editor of The Boot Room, The FA's Coaching Magazine. Peter has been with The Football Association for five years and holds the UEFA B Licence and The FA Youth Awards 1 and 2.
The Future Game Tactics Column takes a weekly look at the evolution of the modern game, linking to practices from The FA's Future Game philosophy and providing advice and tips for grassroots coaches.
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