MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Friday night’s East Midlands derby as Nottingham Forest entertain old rivals Derby in the Championship.
Nottingham Forest v Derby | Friday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
Two Championship managers have lost their jobs this week and Dougie Freedman will know he’ll be collecting his P45 should Nottingham Forest produce a less than impressive display on the box against their arch enemies.
Freedman’s 33 league games into his reign at the City Ground and his W10-D9-L14 return, including his current eight-match winless streak, has rocketed the Scot into dangerous territory. Those figures are rather flattering for the Forest supremo too considering he started like a train, smashing W7-D2-L1 across his first 10 fixtures.
So It’s now just three victories in 24 league encounters for the Tricky Trees who’ve slipped down to 18th in the Championship table – just four points off the relegation zone. At the City Ground this season they’ve delivered a solitary win in seven – against struggling Rotherham – and their tally of 11 goals in 15 games just isn’t good enough.
I do have a degree of sympathy with Freedman. For the most part, Forest have performed admirably in matches this season but poor finishing has cost the club dear. Nowhere is that seen more clearer than in the shot count with the Reds firing in more efforts than any of their league rivals whilst only Middlesbrough (75), Reading (75) and Hull (74) have landed more shots-on-target than the Tricky Trees (73).
Throw in an endless injury list that still features Britt Assombalonga, Andy Reid, Chris Cohen, Robert Tesche, Matty Fryatt and Michael Mancienne, the sale of star man Michail Antonio and a transfer embargo and you can see why Freedman might think the world is transpiring against him.
In midweek the hosts were defeated 1-0 by fellow strugglers Preston but Forest again wasted a few decent opportunities in goalscoring areas. Their lack of goals is seriously hampering their progress – they’ve notched just twice in six outings and no more than one goal in a game since early September – and so you get the impression, a poor result in front of the cameras against their bitter rivals could leave him jobless.
Thankfully for Forest, Henri Lansbury and David Vaughan are back from suspension here and the fact they’ve out-shot their opponents in all bar five of their 15 league encounters does suggest they’re not quite as bad as their current league position indicates.
So is this a classic derby encounter where the formbook gets booted out the window? To an extent, yes.
After a slow start that saw new head coach Paul Clement perfecting his system and personnel, Derby have found their feet. From just four points from a possible 15, they’ve now racked up 26 from an available 30 to shoot into fifth. Three points at the City Ground would send the Rams to the summit.
Derby didn’t have to work too hard on Tuesday night to beat QPR 1-0 at Pride Park but the result did extend their magnificent recent run as well as enhance their wonderful defensive return. The visitors have leaked just once in four and kept their opponents scoreless in six of their previous nine now.
The centre-half pairing of Richard Keogh and skipper Jason Shackell is as good as any outside the Premier League but left-back Craig Forsyth’s knee injury sustained in midweek will see him sidelined. Stephen Warnock’s a more than capable deputy, mind, and holding midfielder George Thorne is back from suspension – highlighting the strength in depth at Derby’s disposal.
The Rams are unbeaten on the road (W4-D3-L0) under Clement’s watch but five of their hosts are currently placed 15th or lower in the standings. Still, all the above logic, stats and reasoning suggests the guests will prove too good but I’m just not willing to invest in a best-price 6/5 (Betfred) on Derby in such a key contest.
So instead I’ll oppose goals with Matchbook offering 5/6 on Under 2.5 Goals. It’s a selection that’s won in Forest’s last seven matches as well as the last three meetings between the two at this venue and six of the previous nine head-to-heads. Add in the hosts’ misfiring forwards, Derby’s solid base and the fact 8/14 (57%) of their accumulating and respective home/away games have failed to break the Over 2.5 Goals barrier and we should have a tidy runner.
Finally, have a wee play on the 9/4 (William Hill) that a red card is flashed. The last eight duels have featured five reds and as we know, these fixtures tend to boil over from time to time.
Nottingham Forest v Derby – Under 2.5 Goals (5/6 Matchbook)
Nottingham Forest v Derby – Sending Off In Match ‘Yes’ (9/4 William Hill)
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