The second half of the SkyBet Championship season so far has seen both Derby County and Nottingham Forest fiercely strive to maintain their respective places in the league’s coveted top six. But this weekend’s highly-anticipated East Midland’s derby between the two at the iPro Stadium will unquestionably define the remainder of the season for both clubs.
Third-placed Derby’s irresistible mid-season form throughout December which saw a remarkable return of seven consecutive league wins has somewhat faltered since the New Year, and a frustrating run of two draws and two losses in their previous four fixtures has drastically inhibited their challenge to Burnley for an automatic promotion place, slipping 10 points behind the Lancashire side.
Yet significantly, they face a Nottingham Forest side who are also struggling to replicate the early season form which ratified them as genuine play-off contenders. A paltry yield of 3 points from a potential eighteen in their last six games has destabilised their previously secure position in sixth-place and allowed in-form Reading and Brighton squads to move to within 1 point of the play-off positions and pile immense pressure on the Reds.
Consider the minor 6 point difference between the East Midlands’ sides and a spirited encounter is almost certain as Billy Davies and Steve McClaren seek to reinforce their separate campaigns for a return to the Barclays Premier League. Indeed, a win for either side would be a disaster for the other.
According to local sources, County will be without the experience of midfielder John Eustace, who is serving a 2-match ban after receiving 10 yellow cards, and more critically England U21s star Will Hughes, who is a doubt following his groin injury against Reading and who has played such a pivotal role in Derby’s success this season.
But it is Nottingham Forest’s seemingly endless injury crisis that is the more concerning of the two. The long-term injuries of club captain Chris Cohen, Henri Lansbury, Jack Hobbs and David Vaughan still cripple the depth of the squad, whilst the return central defender Kelvin Wilson to training is positive but he will still be unavailable for selection against a formidable Derby side. Perhaps the biggest blow for Forest however is the return of chief playmaker Andy Reid to the sidelines with a hamstring injury. Reid had previously only returned from a month long absence against Doncaster before being taken off after 60 minutes with a suspected hamstring tear. Consequently, the lack of a naturally creative midfielder must be of grave concern to Billy Davies’ side who have struggled to create and convert chances since their recent dip in form.
As one of the fiercest local rivalries in English football, we are inevitably going to witness an intense, energetic, and perhaps messy encounter. Combine this with the fundamental importance of securing 3 points for both sides and it is sure to be a classic East Midland’s derby. Whilst Nottingham Forest seemingly have the greater burden of injury and misfortune, the return of Billy Davies to the touchline after a delay of his FA disciplinary hearing will undoubtedly boost the morale of the City Ground faithful. Yet the undeniable quality of a reinvigorated Derby County under the command of Steve McClaren may prove too much for a markedly weakened Nottingham Forest.
Catch all the action live on Sky Sports 1, Saturday 22 March 2014 from 12pm.