It was a top against bottom of the table clash in the EFL Championship. Struggling Middlesbrough hosted in-form Nottingham Forest in a near-empty Riverside Stadium. Both teams had contrasting motives, a win for Forest would put within six points of the automatic promotion places. Contrastingly, a win for Middlesbrough would lift them out of the relegation zone. Nottingham Forest took the lead courtesy of Ryan Yate’s long-range effort on the 29th minute. Boro deservedly came from a goal down when they scored two goals in a matter of four minutes late in the first half through Rudy Gestede and a great counter-attacking goal finished by Lewis Wing.
Middlesbrough looked like they were going to get themselves out of the relegation zone with three points only for Lewis Grabban to snatch a goal from a set-piece on the 86th minute. Both sides shared the spoils on the night in an entertaining 2-2 draw. This tactical analysis will go in-depth into both teams’ tactics and provide analysis of how Johnathan Woodgates side tactics ensured his side led for the majority of the game before Sabri Lamouchi made some tactical changes in the second half gaining his side an away point.
Middlesbrough set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation against Nottingham Forest. Woodgate made three changes to his side that lost 0-1 to Leeds. Marvin Johnson came into the left-back position replacing George Friend. In midfield, former Manchester United player Paddy McNair was restored to CDM as George Saville dropped to the bench. Woodgate’s last change was forced upon him as Ashley Fletcher picked up a hamstring injury against Leeds and was replaced by Rudy Gestede. Gestede is not a bad replacement to call upon, especially in this fixture. The Benin international has scored seven goals in nine appearances against Forest, a side he has scored the most goals against.
Sabri Lamouchi made one solitary change to his side who won 0-1 away to Cardiff City. The change was an enforced one as highly influential Portuguese playmaker Tiago Silva picked up a knock during the week. Silva is a key player for Nottingham Forest and is the focal point in attack so it was a major blow for Lamouchi as he scored the only goal against Cardiff City in Forest’s last game. The absence of Silva meant Lamouchi switched his side’s shape from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1 formation with Alfa Semedo coming into the side as Silva’s replacement.
Forest’s defensive shape is eventually penetrated
Lamouchi has set up his Nottingham Forest side to play counter-attacking style tactics this season. Forest, therefore, concede possession to the opposition were they have averaged just under 40% possession this season. Nottingham Forest are comfortable conceding the majority of possession as they have such an organised defensive shape. Nottingham Forest boasts the third-best defensive record in the league and as a result have put them in the fight for promotion to the Premier League.
Against Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest set up more defensively as Tiago Silva was out of the squad, as I mentioned earlier. Forest defended in a narrow 4-1-4-1 medium to low block. Middlesbrough found it hard to break down Forest’s defensive shape as Ryan Yates and Semedo man marked Adam Clayton and McNair which limited Middlesbrough’s passing options. Ben Watson screened the back four behind Yates and Semedo cutting off any forward passing lanes into Middlesbrough’s strikers making it difficult for Boro to progress the ball into dangerous areas.
A prime example of Forest’s well organised defensive shape is shown in the image below. Harold Moukoudi has no real passing options as Forest’s defensive shape is so well organised and disciplined so he forces a ball into Gestede, his pass, however, is cut off by Ben Watson who was screening in front of his back four, Watson then has the composure to set up a Forest attack, putting Middlesbrough under pressure.
Forest were able to organise their rigid defensive shape early on as Middlesbrough were very patience in their build-up play, making it easy for Lamouchi’s side to set up in their 4-1-4-1 medium to low block. However, when Nottingham Forest had a corner or free-kick deep in Middlesbrough’s half they committed way too many bodies forward that when the set-piece broke down Nottingham Forest were left exposed at the back for Middlesbrough to exploit. Middlesbrough were very effective at counter-attacking as a result of Forest’s set-piece breaking down as they broke with furious pace in numbers overwhelming a disjointed Nottingham Forest defence.
In the image below, Middlesbrough break from a Nottingham Forest corner, the pace at which Middlesbrough break means that Forest are not able to get organised into their defensive shape and therefore are exposed. Coupled with this is the amount of players Middlesbrough committed to the attack outnumbering Forest, only for a poor decision by Middlesbrough they could have created a goal-scoring opportunity.
Middlesbrough target Forest’s right-wing
Although Middlesbrough were finding joy when they played counter-attacking football against Forest these opportunities were only arising if Forest had a set-piece. In general play, Middlesbrough were stilling finding it difficult to play forward passes but that was because they were mainly trying to play through the centre. Forest had the central zone blocked off effectively as they played very narrow and packed the centre with three midfielders which meant there was no space for Middlesbrough to operate in.
Woodgate decided to instruct his side to attack down the flanks and take advantage of Forest’s narrow shape. Middlesbrough found a weakness in Lamouchi’s side as they targeted Forest right side. Matty Cash, Forest’s right-back was tucking in too much to his centre back which left acres of space out on the wing. Coupled with this Johnson is predominantly a winger playing in left-back for Middlesbrough so played high and wide on the left which created a 2v1 on the wing. Cash was outnumbered and was giving up too much space as a result of him playing so narrow and Middlesbrough were able to create chances as a result. In the image below, Johnson has created an overload on the right as he gets played down the line. Johnson picks out Gestede who heads just wide.
Lamouchi realised Johnson was creating havoc with his overlapping runs so he decided to switch Sammy Ameobi from the right-wing to the left-wing mid-way through the first half, as he was passing up his defensive duties which was leaving Johnson free. Joe Lolley switched wings to track Johnson’s runs forward which he did effectively. Jonathan Woodgate responded by instructing Gestede to peel off onto Cash to occupy him while Coulson or Wing would stay out wide creating an overload once more.
This tactic from Woodgate resulted in Middlesbrough getting an equalising goal. As Middlesbrough attack Gestede moves out to the left occupying Cash, Wing stays out wide left creating a 2v1, Wing is free as a result of Cash playing too narrow and the presence of Gestede making the Forest right back hesitate in who to engage. This gives Wing enough time and space to tuck the ball by Brice Samba in goal.
Lamouchi’s tactical changes clinch a late point for Forest
Nottingham Forest really struggled to threaten Middlesbrough in an attacking sense. Although they scored a goal, it was completely against the run of play as Middlesbrough controlled the game in the first half. A major reason why Forest struggled going forward was they were without their creative attacking midfielder Tiago Silva who they rely on to create chances, as I mentioned earlier. Forest had no link between attack and defence coupled with the fact they were playing a more defensive formation.
As a result, Lewis Grabban was isolated up front and had no support around him so was outnumbered. The Forest striker was not getting any service so the frustrated figure was dropping deeper and out on the wing to get on the ball. Forest, therefore, had no central focal point to occupy the centre backs and get in the box, as you can see in the image below. Middlesbrough were very comfortable in defence with Nottingham Forest only registering a single shot on target in the first half.
Forest continued to struggle to create chances as they stayed in the same rigid defensive formation. Forest were a goal down so needed to change things as Forest needed to score not contain the opposition. Lamouchi did just that as he made some clever tactical changes to his team just after the hour mark of the game. First, Adama Diakhaby came on for Semedo and moved out to the left-wing. Lamouchi made his second and more significant change as João Carvalho came on for Ameobi and Lamouchi tweaked his formation as a result changing to a 4-2-3-1 formation as Carvalho played in behind Grabban.
This tactical change had an instant effect, firstly, Forest’s double pivot of Watson and Yates outnumbered Wing making it easy to progress the ball in the build-up phase. Secondly, Carvalho looked to receive the ball in between the lines but it actually occupied both Clayton and McNair’s attention so both players pulled out of position creating space for Grabban to receive the ball. Finally, Diakhaby tucked in on the left close to Grabban which offered great support and link play between the two to create chances.
The benefits of Lamouchi’s tactical changes and formation tweak can be illustrated in one free-flowing move in the 72nd minute. Forest build the ball from the back as they dispossess Middlesbrough. Wing is outnumbered and so Watson is in space to receive the ball, with so much space he is able to carry the ball forward. Carvalho is occupying both Clayton and McNair in the central position so this prompts Tavernier to tuck in and engage Watson. Tavernier’s action frees up Rubeiro on the left-wing and Watson plays the ball out to him. Rubeiro carries the ball forward drawing right back Howson out to him.
Rubeiro has options inside through Grabban and Diakhaby but elects to plays the ball into Diakhaby. The former Monaco and Ligue 1 midfielder runs into the space left by Howson and crosses a dangerous ball in which it nearly deflects in off a Middlesbrough defender. Nottingham Forest’s sustained pressure from Lamouchi’s tactical changes results in Grabban cinching a late equaliser to secure an away point.
Middlesbrough dominated the first half as they utilised Johnson and then Gestede with Coulson to overload and target Nottingham Forest’s right side to create goal-scoring opportunities which result in them going 2-1 ahead just before half time. Lamouchi looked to play defensive counter-attacking football but Forest were way too deep which resulted in their defence and midfield lines being disjointed from their attack. This meant that Grabban was isolated and Forest could not create any clear cut opportunities after being a goal down. The Forest manager cleverly brought on key players and switch the formation which resulted in them snatching a draw four minutes from time, an intriguing game from start to finish.