Well, whether the 4-4-2 argument goes away for a while remains to be seen but it was clear how outnumbered Forest were in midfield in the first-half of this match.
Against Derby’s 3-4-3 there was some sense in two strikers pinning back the Rams’ centrebacks and preventing them playing out from the back. But, despite looking lively early on, Harry Arter quickly faded in the first-half and was sat too deep with Ryan Yates in midfield to prevent the visitors running us ragged.
The first 20 minutes were fairly evenly matched — Lyle Taylor had an early chance, Tom Lawrence went to ground looking for a penalty, and Joe Lolley looked lively as he did against Rotherham on Tuesday.
But as Derby began to dominate in midfield, the sucker punch came when Sammy Ameobi conceded a foul against Jason Knight on the edge of the box. And on the half-hour mark Martyn Waghorn stepped up to score a clever free-kick past the Forest wall and Brice Samba’s outstretched arms.
Six minutes later it could’ve been game over as Graeme Shinnie was clear through on goal but he fluffed his shot and Samba collected the ball.
By the end of the half it was evident how isolated the two strikers were and, in spite of Yates’ best efforts, Derby were controlling midfield. A tactical challenge for Chris Hughton.
Anthony Knockaert came on for his debut, replacing Lewis Grabban who had been struggling with a hip injury, and had an immediate impact with two inswinging crosses from the right. Lolley seemed to be roaming in a free role, and Arter and Yates were pressing much further forwards, which changed the dynamic of the whole game.
The equaliser eventually came from a Knockaert corner on 64 minutes, which Taylor pounced on as the ball dropped in the six-yard box. His first goal for the club in his first full 90 minutes, and hopefully the first of many more.
Forest looked a different side in the second-half — how often have we said that? — and the impetus was with them. It was much more proactive, bringing the game to Derby —runners from deep, Knockaert and Lolley playing between the lines — but still disjointed.
On 77 minutes Derby were disallowed a goal after Kamil Jozwiak’s shot beat Samba, but Waghorn was offside and restricting the keeper’s view. And the game resumed its scrappy flow as the final minutes drew to a close.
Hughton said: “It was good and bad. I wasn’t too happy with the first-half performance, we needed to be better on the ball and movement needed to be better against a team that, with the formation that they played, were happy to defend in a good shape and have got good quality off that.
“When you are up against a team that are going to play that way, the obligation is on us to perform better and in the first-half we didn’t.
“Certainly, we were better in the second-half and I don’t think that is just down to conceding a goal and we had to push for it, I just think we showed more desire to get on the ball, braver to get on the ball and those are the sort of characteristics we have got to show more of in the first half.”
Evidently Forest are, again, a work in progress. Short on confidence, and looking to gel new players. But we’re now unbeaten under Hughton in three games — it will get better, but the potential we have is yet to be realised.