Thursday, 11 September 2014

Ram Raid

The first East Midlands Derby of the season is almost upon us and, as always, it promises to be a fascinating encounter. Perhaps not as dramatic as last season's - where home victories for each side led to the sacking of the respective away managers - but it'll be a gripping, blood-and-thunder affair all the same.

Forest come into the match in better form, sitting unbeaten atop the Championship table having dropped only two points so far, while Derby have made a solid start, the highlight of which has been the 5-1 drubbing of newly relegated Fulham. Indeed, as Forest take on Fulham some three days after the Derby match, the week will be a great barometer of the Reds' chances for the campaign.

Whilst the international break may have blunted the momentum of Forest's excellent start, the flip-side is that it will also allow tired and injured bodies to heal and rest. The likes of Jack Hobbs and Michail Antonio, who were nursing niggles after the Sheffield Wednesday match, should hopefully be fit again; while Hobbs, Chris Cohen, Andy Reid and Henri Lansbury - who have all only recently returned from long-term injuries - will surely be grateful for a few days recuperation following a busy August.

Derby fans will no doubt point to their 5-0 defeat of Forest at the iPro Stadium last season as evidence of their superiority; however, the Nottingham Forest they'll face on Sunday is - both on and off the pitch - a very different proposition to the one which lined up six months ago. It's quite possible that, of the team which kicked-off for Forest that day, only Karl Darlow will be in the starting XI come Sunday.

In fact, this time it's Derby who can point to injury problems, with summer capture George Thorne and highly-rated midfielder Jeff Hendrick both definitely missing. Forward Jamie Ward is currently a doubt too, though he may yet play some part.

Forest are yet to concede a goal at home this season. However, as so far they've only hosted Blackpool, who are awful, and Reading, who were awful, then not too much can be read into that. It wouldn't surprise me if Derby are the team to puncture that proud record. No visiting team will want to do it more. Still, if anyone can motivate a team to play to the best of their abilities against our neighbours from up the A52 then it's Stuart Pearce, and I've no doubt that complacency and overconfidence will not be issues for Forest on 14th.

Just what team Pearce will pick is anyone's guess. The 4-5-1 which started away at Sheffield Wednesday ensures we're not overrun in midfield, but at the cost of the impressive Matt Fryatt. With Derby's strong midfield it wouldn't be a surprise to see the same formation start against them too. On the other hand, it's just as possible that Pearce will retain the 4-4-2 which has served Forest well so far at home this season. How nice it is to have such options!

Whatever the formations, whatever the teams, it's sure to be a spectacle; and one which will only be enhanced by both sets of fans paying tribute to the 10th anniversary of the passing of Brian Clough - whose links to both clubs need no explanation. Come 3PM on Sunday one set of players will be parading the trophy which bears his name. Hopefully the match, and the occasion, will have done justice to his memory.

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