As Collingwood’s notorious forward pressure took a steep decline in 2012, Magpies coach Nathan Buckley became the focus of plenty of scrutiny. However, upon closer inspection, Buckley’s game plan was not the reason Collingwood’s forward press went out the window in 2012.

If anything, it was due to natural progression of key players as well as injuries and suspension to the likes of Scott Pendlebury, Dane Swan, Dale Thomas, Luke Ball, Brent Macaffer, Andrew Krakouer and Sharrod Wellingham last season.

In 2011, Dayne Beams, Jarryd Blair and Steele Sidebottom played mostly in Collingwood’s forward line, either on the flanks or in the pockets. Coincidently, those three players were inside Collingwood’s top 10 for tackle counts and more importantly, were one, two and three respectively for forward pressure at Collingwood in 2011. Add in Andrew Krakouer’s work and that is a lot of defensive pressure in the forward line.

Since injuries hit Collingwood’s midfield at times throughout 2012, it meant that Collingwood’s forward pressure, something the Magpies became known very well for, dropped off dramatically and suffered as a result of Beams, Blair and Sidebottom making permanent moves to the midfield.

In 2011, the forward combination of Sidebottom, Blair, Krakouer and Beams posted a total of 357 tackles between them. The midfield trio of Thomas, Pendlebury and Ball combined for 404 tackles. Overall there was a 47-tackle difference in favour of the three midfielders.

When looking at those numbers, it’s easy to see why Collingwood ranked first in the competition for time in the forward half, second in stoppages in the forward half, second in turnovers created in the forward half and second in goals scored from forward pressure. This was all due to the immense tackling pressure Collingwood emphasised of which Sidebottom, Blair, Krakouer and Beams were ranked first, second, third and fourth respectively for at the club.

Jumping over to 2012, the stats tell a whole different story as the team’s structure began to shift. With players such as Ball, Pendlebury, Thomas, Swan, Krakouer and Macaffer sidelined by injury and various suspensions throughout the season, Collingwood was forced to push those playing in the forward line in 2011 up the field to perform new roles. In doing so, the statistics completely changed.

With Sidebottom, Blair and Beams playing in the midfield with Krakouer on the sidelines with a serious knee injury, the replacement forward combination of Alex Fasolo, Dale Thomas, Jamie Elliot and Ben Sinclair combined for a total of 240 tackles, 117 tackles less than that of the forward four in 2011.

Luke Ball, who laid a total of 166 tackles in 2011, missed all but three games of the 2012 season, placing a serious dent in the overall tackle count. With Scott Pendlebury dropping from 150 tackles in 2011 to 115 in 2012, suddenly you’re missing an additional 281 tackles from the midfield from just two players.

This, added in with the fact that Beams, Blair and Sidebottom naturally progressed to the midfield, more so due to injuries and suspension than anything else, meant that Collingwood’s forward tackling pressure suffered.

It also didn’t help that Collingwood’s forward combination of Travis Cloke and Chris Dawes both found themselves in serious form slumps. However, looking at the statistics, you could easily argue that Cloke and Dawes were victims of the lack of forward pressure applied by the smalls. The Magpies were ranked 11th for time in the forward half, 15th for stoppages in the forward half and 10th for both turnovers in the forward half and goals created from forward pressure.

With Beams, Sidebottom and Blair all playing in the midfield whilst Krakouer and Macaffer recovered on the sidelines, the makeshift forward quartet of Fasolo, Thomas, Elliot and Sinclair contributed only 59 goals, 48 goals shy of the 107 posted by the midfielders and Krakouer in 2011.

As a team, Collingwood had 1,799 tackles in 2011 compared to just the 1,625 in 2012, making the Magpies an easier team to negotiate.

However, things look set to change in 2013 with the return of Collingwood’s top tackler in 2010 and 2011, Luke Ball, as well as Andrew Krakouer and Brent Macaffer returning to add the stability that made Collingwood such a good team.

With Alex Fasolo and Jamie Elliot much better for the experience of 2012, the Magpies are sure to have their bite back in the new season.

A solid forward press not only wins teams games but premierships, although most sides are now aware of these tactics. However, there is undisputed evidence suggesting that if you can create enough pressure from your forward half players and create an intensity to lock the ball in, it will eventually create more opportunities on goal, resulting in scores from forward pressure turnovers.

There’s no doubting the star power in what is an impressive Magpies line-up but if they can recapture the forward pressure of 2010 and 2011, it will set them in a great position to be in contention for the 2013 premiership.