The Deep Centre Forward

How and why you should play with a deep centre forward in field hockey

A Deep Centre Forward is useful as it provides an extra connection between the midfield and the striker line. They can also be used to occupy and play off the Freeman. Additionally, movements from higher strikers transitioning into a deep CF role can cause issues for the defence.

Black Deep CF - operating area highlighted in orange

Why play with a Deep Centre Forward

As mentioned before it provides a whole new set of options and plays to occur. This develops the movements of the team and makes it more difficult for the opposition to counter. Additionally, the Centre Forward can alternate between high and deep to add complexity and a threat. Perhaps the main advantage comes from creating a connection between the attack and the defence. This allows the other Strikers to really push high and spread the defence. This creates space for all of the other layers to operate and hopefully makes it easier for the strikers to get the ball.

Patterns that could occur during the game

  • Post-back lead for a midfield break to get around a player
  • A direct long ball from the 16 or a free hit
  • An inward-attacking threat at the top of the D
  • The Centre Forward can roll and expose another defender
  • They can link up in outletting throughout the back. A couple of leads that could occur are the Defensive Midfielder (Centre Half) leading out and the Centre Forward replacing them
  • The two other strikers can rotate back and swap with the Deep Centre Forward

Use of Deep CF in Outletting

Direct ball from the half to the centre forward

Occasionally, a poorly set press or a breakdown in the press after multiple back and arounds can lead to the opening of a direct pass to the Centre Forward

Long pass from Half to Centre Forward

In image 1 (Left), we can see the blue team attempting a press on the outletting black team from a 16. Their press seems to be reasonably well executed and the black team's CB decides to pass to the Left Half. In image 2 (Right) the press adjusts and slides. However, mistakes/deception opens up a channel for a direct pass to the deep CF, who has led back in front of the blue team's free player to receive the ball. This pass may not be on straight away and only appear a few times a game but the threat of the pass forces the opposing team to accommodate by holding the middle. Thus, opening more space and time for the outside players.

Link up play in breaking the press

Often during games, we can find the midfield and striking line becoming quite disconnected as we try to maintain height to stretch the opposition but simultaneously stay connected ourselves. Playing with a deep CF can help with this and allow for the midfield to have a connection once they have breached the press. For an example see the image below.

Left Inner breach scenario

In this scenario, the Left Inner has breached the opposition press and is attempting to find a pass to one of their higher teammates in the hope of a quick attack. The deep CF is currently positioned between the opposition's CB and FM and has many options to create options for the inner

  • Post back in front of their defender for a 1-2 or a roll (Image 1 on the left below)
  • Lead wide or off the shoulder of the defender to create a free pass (Image 2 - top right)
  • Stay on the left foot of the defender waiting for the defender to either commit - allowing the left foot pass to be played (Image 3 - bottom left) or to stay (Image 4 - bottom right) - allowing the Left Inner to keep on running

Deep CF as a Concept Lead

The deep CF does not have to be a permanent position or one distinct player. Instead, it can be a target area for strikers to lead back into. Often, a good rule to start with is the deepest player posts back, allowing for the other players to lead off them. This can maintain fluidity and freedom while still providing the threatening centre pass and link-up plays.

Key Attributes of Deep CF

  • Ability to post back and roll out or pass
  • Ability to receive with a player on their back
  • Threatening in quick open 3v3 or 4v4 scenarios

Positional aspect - occupying the Freeman

Often the positional aspect of a Deep Centre forward will cause issues between marking for the CB or the Freeman. By sitting between the two or alternating between the two players you can cause confusion and open up opportunities for 2v1's. Please see the series of pictures below for diagrams

The image above shows a typical set-up with the CB marking the Centre Forward. If the CF begins to lead back deeper this forces the CB either to choose to follow or to hand off to the Free Man above

  • Picture 1 (Left): The CF is sitting in space between the blue team's CB and FM
  • Picture 2 (Middle): The CB decides to follow - opening up space for the other strikers to work and drawing two players together
  • Picture 3 (Right): The CB hands off to the FM

By playing with this relationship between the CB and the FM we can cause issues in high-pressure scenarios when someone has to commit to a player. Thus, a lack of communication by defenders or a simple mistake can open up the play for the CF or other players.

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