Friday, 15 January 2016

Freedman searching for cutting edge and new formula after loss of Lansbury and Vaughan

When Stuart Pearce returned to the City Ground, he installed Chris Cohen and Andy Reid as his central midfield pairing. It had the makings of a formidable duo - with Cohen's passion and energy dovetailing nicely with Reid's classy touches and vision.

Their partnership was, like Pearce's tenure, short lived. Both departed early during the 1-1 draw with Derby six games in and only Cohen has been since (just).

A great many things went wrong for the legendary left back, but this was undoubtedly a big deal and probably not something that was fully appreciated. It's also a warning for Dougie Freedman as, in the coming three games at least, he is forced to do without his favoured midfield pairing of David Vaughan and Henri Lansbury.

Freedman has fought more than his fair share of fires in his time at the City Ground and will want to be more successful in his attempts to make do and mend his midfield than his predecessor. Interestingly, the re-arrival of a Pearce loanee should prove key. Brought in to add to Freedman's midfield options, the popular Gary Gardner is our best option.

The Aston Villa man will have to be used carefully though as pushing him too far too soon will only lead to another addition to the full-to-bursting treatment room. Gardner should start against Bolton though, with 60 or 70 minutes from Gardner being crucial to winning the territorial battle. Alongside him will probably be Robert Tesche - a man who Pearce basically replaced with Gardner last year. The German hasn't always showed the discipline required to boss a game at this level but has shown signs that he is now finding his feet after a spell out on loan and another on the sidelines through injury.

Outside of that, Dougie could choose to move Ben Osborn inside from the left but I'm sure he'll be reluctant do that. Osborn's energy combined with his greater freedom on the wing has helped to make Freedman's midfield four a viable option.

Then there's Chris Cohen. Like Gardner he'll need to be handled carefully as he makes his return after a lengthy lay off. For now, between him and Gardner we've probably got 90 minutes worth of footballer to utilise.

The manager could also push Michael Mancienne further forward but that'd be a shame after he has finally been allowed to show his class at the back. Jorge Grant seems an ideal choice to provide fresh legs should they be needed.

It's not just in the midfield where Freedman has food for thought. In some respects this dilemma will have been an unwelcome distraction from his attempt to fine tune his side's cutting edge. After wins against Reading, Fulham and MK Dons, Forest have been bogged down a little on away days at Charlton and Cardiff and at home to Leeds and Birmingham.

It's no so much that we've struggled away (although that is something to be addressed) but that we've struggled to kill off teams when we're in the ascendancy that worries me, especially as basement battlers Bolton arrive at the City Ground tomorrow.

In recent times we've slipped to a defeat against ten-man Brentford, given a goal-shy Wolves chance to grow in confidence and failed to see off a Charlton side that had the lack of confidence of Wolves and ten men ala Brentford.

We need to learn from those games if we aren't to be embarrassed by a Bolton side that is yet to win on its travels this season. A strong early start will surely crush their resolve and is absolutely crucial. Against Fulham and Reading we scored good goals at good times and exploited the weaknesses of our opposition. We need to rediscover that tomorrow.

That we'll need to rediscover that without our first choice midfield does make the task tougher. Being Forest manager has been one long troubleshooting mission for the Glasgow gaffer so far so, in that respect, rebuilding the heart of the side feels depressingly common. After four league 1-1s in a row, he'll know only too well the value of finding success against his former employers while keeping all of his plates spinning.

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