words: David Marples
Around the time that Forest were stumbling to a home defeat earlier this year, 48-year-old Sam Palmer was traipsing around sewer drains beneath the roads in Romford, desperately trying to find a way out. Eventually he was rescued after a passer-by heard his shouts for help.
It’s easy to get stuck in a place yet so difficult to get out. The art of escapism has a long and rich tradition; part of the appeal is working out precisely how those who have perfected the art perform their escape from confined and claustrophobic spaces. There are many styles of escapism and it is embedded within the human condition to work out the mechanics behind such trickery.
The success of Millwall and Cardiff City this season suggests that good old-fashioned 4-4-2 can be highly effective in engineering an escape from The Championship. Not for them patient build-ups or a possession based game but rather, wait for the opposition to faff around with the ball until they lose it in a dangerous area and then spring forward. If that doesn’t work, get the ball to the big man up front – let’s say, Steve Morison – and play off the knock-downs. And if all that fails, work the set pieces.
Even though Cardiff’s formation is more 4-3-3, both clubs have eschewed possession of the ball in favour of the above strategies to great effect. Yet Fulham’s dismantling of Millwall on Friday night and Brentford’s late surge reminds us that there is another way: possession and quick, short, incisive passing can be just as effective – and significantly easier on the eye - in plotting a route out of English football’s second tier in the desirable direction.
Under Aitor Karanka, Nottingham Forest are moving away from the possession-based game used by Mark Warburton in the earlier part of the season. As a result, the team is one in transition, even allowing for the fact that the Spaniard has brought in a whole raft of players more suited to his style. Against Cardiff, Eric Lichaj was recalled, Stefanos Kapino was handed his debut in goal and Liam Bridcutt started his first game since January yet rather predictably, it was from a set piece that Cardiff eased their nerves and took the lead after Sean Morrison headed in from a corner. It really was that simple and straightforward.
The away side was unable to take advantage of some early pressure and Bridcutt spurned Forest’s best chance when put through after lovely link up play between Joe Lolley and Ben Brereton. Yet pretty approach play counts for nought if it doesn’t yield a goal.
After the break, Forest remixed the race for promotion and stuck a big, banging beat behind it by crafting a delightful equaliser, converted by Liam Bridcutt, notching a goal for the first time since Robert de Niro made a watchable film. Ben Osborn galloped down the left and wafted in a teasing ball to the area, which Bridcutt converted. Perhaps just as pleasingly, Forest decided to add a little steel to their defensive challenges and Lolley caused more panic in the Cardiff defence than when Indiana Jones wandered onto the set of ‘Snakes on a Plane’.
But it couldn’t last. Tobias Figuerido’s injury meant some game time for Michael Mancienne in the heart of the Forest defence. Another set piece precipitated another Cardiff goal and ultimately a 2-1 win for the promotion-chasing home team.
Maybe there are no absolutes in this post-truth world. Neil Warnock’s escape strategy may well be successful - once again - in achieving promotion from the Championship but like your gran weirdly said, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Regardless of which approach you take though, defending set pieces in an effective manner is essential.
ISSUE EIGHT. COMING VERY SOON.