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The stats and contenders - Nottingham Forest's left back problem

Thursday 25th August 2011
“The hardest position in football to fill” were the words of Forest Chairman Nigel Doughty, and for Forest, it certainly has been. Over the past 3 seasons since Forest have been back in the Championship, the club have had 3 Premiership left backs on loan, as well as shuffling other squad members into the position. So how have they faired?

 
 

The first to arrive on loan was Nicky Shorey in November 2009, who was then at Aston Villa. The former England international played 9 games for the reds and boasted an impressive record. Forest never lost a game with Shorey playing, winning 7 and conceding just 4 goals. Of those 9 games, Forest were also able to keep 5 clean sheets and he gave the Forest back four real experience and calmness. While he hardly set the world on fire in an attacking sense, he did his job and was steady and consistent allowed the attacking players to do theirs. After not getting much game time at Villa, his move to Forest was almost to put himself in the shop window, and it earned him loan moves to Fulham and then a permanent move to West Brom. Forest had rekindled interest in Shorey in recent windows, but he is happy at West Brom, playing week in week out for the Baggies. The reason behind Shorey's success at Forest could be mainly due to those around him. His first two games were 4-1 and 5-1 home wins against Doncaster and Leicester, and he was part of a team very much in form. He obviously contributed to this run, but you could argue his record is helped by the foundations Forest had built in previous games.

 

The second player Forest acquired on loan was Chelsea's Ryan Bertrand, who came to the club at the start on the 2010/2011 season, and stayed until December, with his final game coming in the 5-2 victory over Derby County. While his record may not look as impressive as Shorey's, Bertrand took a bit of time to settle in and as you'd expect, the team got off to a slow start during the season, starting with a loss followed by four draws. Of the three, I think that Bertand was by far the best left back we had on loan. Unfortunately, after various spells on loan with Championship sides, it looks like he needs Premiership football to really develop, which has scuppered any attempt we could make to bring him back on loan. In terms of a permanent deal, there is a rather hefty £5million price tag on his head, which is mainly due to his age and the fact he is currently an England Under 21 international.

 

Thirdly, we had Paul Konchesky, who it's safe to say, wasn't every fans cup of tea. Having signed for Liverpool and having played most of his football in the Premiership, he seemed a decent signing. Despite a goal against Preston North End, I personally didn't think he was very adventurous at all. He didn't bomb forward, get to the byline and whip in a cross. In fact, he hardly whipped in any crosses, favouring a simple pass in field before retreating back into his own half. As you'd expect, Konchesky was the victim of some chanting from Forest fans during the Leicester City (he was a £1.5 million summer signing for Sven's men) game with “you used to play for a big club” and “there's only one greedy b*****d” roaring from A Block. The feeling amongst almost all Forest fans is that we dodged a bullet by not signing him and avoided having to pay his huge wages, which are reported to be around £40,000 per week at Leicester. His Forest record wasn't particularly impressive, losing more and winning less than both Shorey and Bertrand. This was partly to do with Forest's run of games which included losses to promotion rivals Leeds, Swansea and Norwich.
As well as those three specialised left backs Forest have had on loan, a number of Forest's permanent squad have filled in the position; Chris Cohen, Chris Gunter and Joel Lynch. Apologies for the lack of stats on Gunter and Cohen, I do realise they have probably played more than 4 and 8 games at left back, but the line ups, positions and formations aren't massively easy to research, it would be a long process. However, this is irrelevant because however successful or unsuccessful their stats may look, neither of them should be playing left back. Chris Cohen settled into to the role slightly better this season, but he still very much a square peg in a round hole. We desperately missed his engine and drive in midfield, with Boateng and Greening playing very conservatively so far.

 

I'm glad Steve McClaren recognised this change needed to be made because, despite what Nigel Doughty said about him playing left back for West Ham, that is no longer his regular, preferred or best position. So, Chris Gunter was moved across to left back. His stats (although incomplete), do look impressive, with Forest unbeaten with him in that position and he has played reasonably. But again, it's a similar story to Cohen, as Forest lose the talent of arguably the league's best right back, by playing him at left back.

 

The final candidate is Joel Lynch, who has been in and out the side a lot since he joined from Brighton and Hove Albion. Having started over 30 games at left back, he has a very inconsistent record with 11 wins, 12 draws and 11 defeats. The defeats mainly came in his spell in the side during our survival season in 2008/2009 where obviously results were poorer, but in recent seasons, he's looked slightly more comfortable, but is still prone to the odd mistake or rash challenge here or there. As we know, Lynch preferred position is centre half, but as he is left footed, he's been budged out to full back. It's unlikely he's going to force his way into the side, but then again, we said that about an out of position Luke Chambers, but Lynch has a tough job on his hands. Of the three players in the current squad, I would rather see Lynch play at left back than the other two, their contributions elsewhere are too great and would be missed. I think if he got a few games under his belt, he'd become a decent left back, however, is he good (or consistent) enough for a team chasing promotion?
When McClaren was appointed, Mark Arthur said a left back was a priority, but that changed, as Nigel Doughty said we had players capable of playing there, three of which I have discussed, the other being Kieron Freeman, who made his first team debut against Wycombe. But, with one week left in the transfer window, will Forest make yet another U-turn and go some way to resolving their left back troubles, even if it comes in the shape of a 6 month or season long loan. Names being mentioned included Danny Collins from Stoke City (although cost could be an issue), as well as Chelsea's Dutch youngster Patrick van Aanholt, who has spent time on loan in the Championship with Newcastle United and Leicester City.

 

It's no secret we need a genuine left back. The stats show, we are much more successful with players who are familiar with the position, rather than square pegs in round holes, which not only leave us weak at left back, but leaves us weakened in those players' regular position, with understudies taking their places. While I'd rather have Ryan Bertrand back, I personally think that van Aanholt would be a good addition, even if it is on loan. I'd rather have van Aanholt for 6 months than not at all. He has played at this level before, will be eager for first team action and will no doubt be familiar with McClaren's success in his native Holland with FC Twente. I hope, for Forest's sake, we do get someone in, so we're not leaving ourselves exposed in the same position for what is now the fourth season running.

 

Written by James Bolton

Follow me on Twitter - @Bolton0301
James Bolton

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