THERE’S live Championship football on Monday night. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) talks us through his favourite fancy from the City Ground.
Nottingham Forest v Brighton | Monday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
Nottingham Forest arrive at Monday night’s match-up residing in their lowest league position of the season. With weekend results going against the Tricky Trees, Forest are down in 20th and just nine points above the relegation zone.
It would take a catastrophic collapse and an unlikely turnaround from the likes of MK Dons or Charlton to reel the Reds in now but having picked up just four points (W1-D1-L8) from a possible 30, the hosts’ look vulnerable here.
It has been a typically turbulent week at Forest, with allegations that head coach Paul Williams was ready to walk away from his role because of interference from owner Fawaz Al Hasawi.
Both men were quick to refute such talk but it only added to the sense of unrest, during another unstable period in the club’s recent history, following the sacking of Dougie Freedman.
Freedman was only the second boss to last longer than a year in charge under Al Hasawi and did a reasonable job considering the Scot was under pressure to streamline the squad and restructure the wage bill whilst overcome a transfer embargo and severe injury crises.
Supporters and Al Hasawi were displeased with the largely defensive and counter-attacking approach Freedman preferred but at least the former manager was structured and organised.
Under Williams, the Tricky Trees were unfortunate to leave Reading pointless in midweek (1-2) having led and blown a great chance to double their advantage. But there were accusations the side didn’t even know what formation they were playing when being humbled 3-0 at home to Brentford last weekend.
Kelvin Wilson was even booed by his own fans in that Bees defeat, the second successive 3-0 loss at the City Ground with Sheffield Wednesday running riot on the Reds’ home patch previously, making it now five league losses in six at HQ.
The disciplined defensive resolve that became Forest’s trademark under Freedman was not universally popular but it’s a must if the Tricky Trees are to land any sort of punch on Brighton.
Since the Scot departed, Forest have looked unable to muster consistent meaningful threats in the offensive phase with a growing casualty list also beginning to take a grip on the hosts.
Eric Lichaj returns from suspension but that will only partially address their defensive issues. Michael Mancienne has a slim chance of recovering from a knee injury but Wilson is likely to be ruled out and Jack Hobbs has recently undergone surgery. Should Mancienne miss out, Danny Fox is likely to partner Matt Mills in the heart of defence in a makeshift back four.
Going forward, top goalscorer Nelson Oliveira is crocked and the toothless home attack looks like being led by the less-than-prolific Dexter Blackstock. Jamie Ward is pushing for a start but Chris O’Grady’s unavailable against his parent club.
Forest have conceded the opener in 12 of their last 17 City Ground encounters when welcoming top-six sides and should they leak the first goal, you do worry about their mentality.
Williams has been preaching positivity and hard work in pre-match dealings with the press but the character and attitude of the fragile hosts will be questioned by the concession of an early strike here.
Brighton have notched first in seven of their previous nine trips to bottom-half teams and confidence is sky-high on the south coast right now. The Seagulls have lost just twice on their travels (W7-D11-L2) and been beaten just once since mid-January (W9-D4-L1).
Tuesday’s come-from-behind 2-1 victory at Birmingham made up for last weekend’s disappointing 2-2 draw with table-topping Burnley – the Seasiders fired in over 20 efforts on goal but were undone by poor injury-time set-piece defending.
Still, Chris Hughton’s charges have excelled against bottom-half dwellers; their high away draw count is reduced when visiting clubs in 13th and below (W5-D4-L1) – an almost opposite of Forest’s record when hosting the top-13 (W2-D4-L5).
Injuries keep strike duo Sam Baldock and Bobby Zamora out but on-loan Steve Sidwell is expected to play behind Tomer Hemed again, with the Israeli forward hoping to add to his five goals in seven recent games.
And Hughton has plenty of offensive options from midfield. Jiri Skalak’s dead-balls caused havoc at St Andrews in midweek, leading to both Connor Goldson and Lewis Dunk goals but with Anthony Knockaert, Jamie Murphy, and Kazenga Lua-Lua also available, Brighton aren’t short of pace and trickery from the flanks.
Dale Stephens and Beram Kayal have proven outstanding operators in the central area of midfield and as you can probably tell, I’m a keen admirer of Hughton’s visitors on Monday night. So much so that I’ll happily snap up 5/4 quotes from Bet365 on the away success.
Nottingham Forest v Brighton – Brighton to win (5/4 Bet365)
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