How the East Midlands was won: Leicester City 1 Nottingham Forest 0

Blue. Red. And a dash of white, which had little impact on proceedings. No, not El Clasico. An East Midlands derby at the Walkers Stadium with the blue of Leicester City taking on the red of Nottingham Forest, with added snow. Barcelona versus Real Madrid, it was not. But there were, nevertheless, areas of interest.

Goalscoring midfielders

On a slightly lesser scale to the hype afforded to the meeting of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in Catalonia, all the talk prior to this Championship clash was of two young goalscoring midfielders – Andy King of Leicester and Nottingham Forest’s Lewis McGugan. Born just four days apart in October 1988, the pair had registered sixteen goals between them prior to the game. Their collective tally is now seventeen following King’s match-winner, which closed the gap between the sides to just two points.

While both have netted on a regular basis this season, King and McGugan have different stocks in trade. King is known for his late runs into the box, inviting comparisons with Premier League stars such as Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes. His all-round play and ability to retain possession also carries echoes of those household names, but, at this level, it is his goalscoring which sets him apart from other tidy Championship midfielders.

McGugan, meanwhile, is carving out a reputation for the spectacular. After netting several long-range strikes in recent weeks, much of the focus concentrated on Leicester’s ability to close down the Forest youth product outside the box. In fact, he was never offered the opportunity thanks to the hard work of the home side’s Japanese workhorse Yuki Abe.

Midfield battle

Leicester’s main strength is their midfield trio of Abe, King and man of the match Richie Wellens. The addition of Abe in place of club captain Matt Oakley has taken their play to a new level thanks to the newcomer’s tireless energy and understated quality on the ball. Forest, without Paul McKenna, struggled to retain possession in the first half and opted to play quickly on the break instead. It was a ploy which worked well early on and Leicester’s back line looked threatened but Sven-Goran Eriksson’s men soon gained control of the game and, once Forest’s early flurry had subsided, the midfield battle went firmly in favour of those in blue.

Forest’s plan of attack

Reds manager Billy Davies was cautious in his team selection, with no pace in the centre-forward area but plenty out wide in the form of Garath McCleary and Paul Anderson. The remit looked simple: contain Leicester’s patient passing and hit them on the break when possession was won. As stated, this looked likely to bear fruit early on.

Although Eriksson has improved his defence both in terms of personnel and through shape and discipline, there are still errors. Jack Hobbs gave the ball away in a dangerous position on more than one occasion early in proceedings and Kyle Naughton’s calamitous back header provided subsitute Robert Earnshaw with the best chance of the game.

It looked a stifling tactic to hand to players of obvious talent. Davies admitted after the final whistle that he had adapted his team’s style of play in respect to Eriksson’s side, but the selection of Adebola was particularly baffling up against an aerially dominant centre-back such as Curtis Davies. The pace and movement of substitutes Earnshaw and Nathan Tyson posed more threat late on as a relatively inexperienced home back line was pulled out of position. It was this ploy which nearly reaped an undeserved reward when Leicester left-back Greg Cunningham clipped Earnshaw’s heels in the box and a penalty was somehow not awarded.

Loan rangers

Both clubs added Premier League quality to their ranks ahead of last week’s loan deadline, Leicester procuring Roman Bednar from West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey joining his best friend Chris Gunter on the banks of the River Trent. Bednar started this encounter in place of Leicester’s regular targetman Steve Howard, while the former Cardiff man’s continuing recovery from that infamous broken leg meant a place on the bench for the Welshman.

Ramsey’s introduction soon after King’s winning goal supplied Forest with a more reliable midfield passer but he played too deep to have the desired impact, his role restrained to collecting the ball from the back four and attempting long balls into wide areas for the likes of Earnshaw and Tyson to run onto.

Bednar started the game very slowly, wasting possession on numerous occasions and failing to hold the ball up. Nevertheless, it was his run which eventually resulted in the only goal of the game. With Wes Morgan and Luke Chambers, both largely excellent throughout, pulled out to Forest’s left side, the visitors lost their shape and Darius Vassell’s jinking run decisively broke the Red rearguard.

Gallagher v Gunter

Forest right-back Gunter is one of the most accomplished players outside of the top flight, a consistent and reliable defender who often snuffs out left-sided opposition threat with ease. Last season, Leicester would have fielded the rapid winger Lloyd Dyer against him, but this season is different.

Eriksson’s first choice left-sided attacker is Paul Gallagher, a predominately right-footed player who will rarely go on the outside. While sometimes lacking in workrate and overall effect, Gallagher’s bright passing and superlative first touch is well-suited to this role, particularly given the tendency of left-back Cunningham to overlap at every opportunity.

As Leicester gained a strangehold on the game, Gallagher’s willingness to drift inside from the flank and provide an extra body in the middle of the park posed a problem not only to Forest’s midfield but also Gunter. With their right-back dragged out of his usual berth, there was space in behind to exploit and Leicester nearly struck a second goal when King took advantage of the reduced numbers in the opposition defence to twice burst towards goal.

Three points, fourty-six games

In the greater context of the season, this result is not a major setback for an otherwise improving Nottingham Forest. For Leicester, however, the three points were vital.

Last season saw the East Midlands and South Wales dominate the upper reaches of the Championship – Cardiff City being beaten in the play-off final, Swansea City missing out on a top six spot on the last day and Forest and Leicester both failing at the play-off semi-final stage – without any club achieving promotion.

This time around, both regions have been strengthened even further by enhanced showings from the Welsh duo as well as Derby County’s introduction to the East Midlands promotion push. Leicester’s slow start under previous manager Paulo Sousa threatened to derail their own contribution but the tight nature of the division as a whole, combined with their excellent recent form under Eriksson, means they are right back on track. The gap to Forest is now two points, when defeat would have made it eight.

Both sides will play a lot better than this, and both sides should finish higher than they sit at the moment.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

11 Comments

  1. SteveM
    November 30, 2010

    Good stuff. I enjoyed what I watch and I have definitely never cheered a Leicester goal like last night before.

    If Gunter and Ramsey are best mates, I may have just lost a bit of respect for Ramsey…

    As well as Derby have been playing (mostly at home) of late, I cannot see us finishing above either of these 2 teams. It hurts to admit that, but I see greater consistency and cover in both squads.

    Reply
    • SteveM
      November 30, 2010

      *watched.

      Reply
    • theseventytwo
      November 30, 2010

      All bias aside for a moment, I agree. I can’t see Coventry or Derby holding off the likes of Leicester and Forest as they continue to improve. The Championship never fails to surprise though.

      Reply
  2. RedRich
    November 30, 2010

    “If Gunter and Ramsey are best mates, I may have just lost a bit of respect for Ramsey…”
    Why loose respect?
    Gunter – Welsh international
    Ramsey – Welsh international
    Earnshaw – Welsh international

    If you were offered a place in the squad of your mates, wouldn’t you join?
    No brainer you daft sheep.

    Forest didn’t turn up at all last night, the Borg should have been 3-0 up at half time, and finished 5-1… the accidental trip on Earnie in the box not to be a penalty was an early x-mas prezzy for Sven.

    Only think the reds can take from this is that even when we’re rubbish, lazy, 2nd to every ball and don’t turn up, we only get beaten by a single goal.

    Reply
    • SteveM
      November 30, 2010

      Haha, It was a joke you daft red so and so.

      I merely meant Gunter is such an odious little swine that anyone who is a friend of his must have something wrong with them. But again, it was a joke…

      Reply
  3. Haydon
    November 30, 2010

    I don’t support Leicester (although I do have a soft spot for them) but I would be very, very surprised if they finished below any of Forest, Derby or Coventry. I’m always a bit too optimistic, but having seen most of the Championship at least once or twice this season I reckon there’s only QPR who have the consistency in the locker required to stay at the top of the table for the long haul. Sven is building quite a team at the King Power Arena (love it!), and can only see them improving as a result of the January sales. The way in which he outthought Davies last night was a joy to see.

    Reply
  4. TD
    November 30, 2010

    I don’t think I’ve seen Forest use the ball so badly in years. Even when we were poor under Calderwood and heading back to L1 we always played it around nicely. Yesterday was atrocious, possession was routinely wasted and when we did keep it for a while, it consistently went backwards. The centre backs and Moussi (the holding player) showed no bravery on the ball whatsoever.

    I don’t think Billy was out thought, he’s usually very good when reacting to other teams’ setups, his players badly let him down yesterday, though.

    Although I would make the point that he criticized the team for failing to show responsibilty on the ball and being poor in possession yet he kept our best two passers on the bench (Ramsey/Majewski) alongside Wilson, who’s a cultured, composed centre back who will bring the ball out.

    Reply
    • theseventytwo
      November 30, 2010

      I can’t claim to know Forest’s options inside-out. It didn’t strike me as the right type of game for Majewski, for example, but perhaps the performance suggests otherwise.

      The BBC had the possession down as 58% Forest 42% Leicester which I can scarcely believe. For long periods in the first half, Leicester were just knocking it around at the back without going anywhere. Forest admittedly had more of the ball second half.

      What would Forest fans say is your strongest team? Do you even have one for definite or is it all about rotation?

      Reply
      • RedRich
        November 30, 2010

        Camp is the only decent goal keeper, super Wes Morgan (despite looking a little slow), Chelsea’s Bertrand, Gunter and Chambers at the back….

        Moussi or Majewski depending on how physical the game is (and I agree tst, wasn’t the right game for Majewski) Cohen, McGugan and McCleary…

        Earnshaw and (for me, despite his lack to goal scoring touch lately [possibly due to Billy playing him in midfield lately]) Nathan Tyson.

        I can’t add Ramsey into this list, as we’ve only got him for what, 8 games? and as for Tudguy…. well, cannot believe he was left out on the bench.

        Agree with TD, was one of the worst performances in years – although, I did go away to Preston last season, and going 3 down in 20 minutes wasn’t much fun either.

        Kudos to you SteveM, Leicester were far better.

        And as far as the rest of the season goes, I think the Borg will shoot up the league with the power of Sven and his loanees. I just hope you can sign a few players before you go up, otherwise you’ll take the sheeps premiership records off them.

        Reply
        • theseventytwo
          November 30, 2010

          I think that’s the least of our worries. And people said the same about Blackpool.

          The Borg, indeed…

          Reply
  5. winnits
    December 1, 2010

    It’s not really a local derby is it.

    Deserved win for the Foxes though, can’t really complain as a Forest fan. We were very poor and Leicester were up for it and worthy victors.

    Reply

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