The Nottingham Derby

So here we go – just two days since the season began with that impressive 3-0 win at Carlisle United, and Notts are already facing what very well might end up being it’s biggest game of the season.

Certainly it’s the League Cup, not that big a deal – only just ahead of the Johnsons Paint Trophy when you talk of priorities for the season. But factor in that this is the first competitive fixture against Nottingham Forest in 17 years – it becomes all the more important.

In those 17 years, the Nottingham derby has lost it’s shine for one side of the trent, whilst to the Notts faithful, it’s still very much the big one! As the red side look more intently for fixtures that happen more than once every blue moon, for County fixtures like Mansfield Town never really hold the same appeal. It’s all about Forest – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Of course Steve McLaren’s side are the favourites in this one, why wouldn’t they be? They’ve been one playoff disaster away from the Premier League on so many occasions now. They should probably wipe the floor with us.

But then, so should Sunderland and Man City (we’ll ignore that replay ok?).

There’s an unnerving team spirit at Meadow Lane that has (despite countless changes in personnel) seen the team raise it’s game against the sides that should be winning by a landslide. Martin Allen certainly has no problems with getting his sides motivated, expect another solid performance tomorrow evening – certainly one that will push Forest to their limits.

We’ll go into the game missing Lee Hughes who is coming off the back of an assist, a goal – and more controversy following Saturday. His resting (be it injury, or simply a case of prioritisation) will likely open the way for new loan striker Christian Montano to make his first start since coming at the end of last week from West Ham.

Alan Judge remains a doubt so Ricky Ravenhill (a man who likely began to wonder if his Meadow Lane days might be numbered with the midfield strengthening in the Summer) will likely deputise once more following (no pun intend) rave reviews for Saturday afternoon’s shift.

We’ll be taking 6,000 followers to the City Ground tomorrow evening, whilst much doubt circulates about how many tickets the red half have sold. Like i say, this is huge to Notts and it’s supporters. We’re the litte club, in the shadow of a “giant” – we’ve nothing to lose. Meanwhile elsewhere, if you listen to those who protest the loudest – it won’t mean enough to Forest to be worth gloating about it. It’s a win/win surely?

To get their take on matters, I emailed Steve Wright from the Mist Rolling In blog to get his thoughts on what the rivalry still means to Nottingham Forest, and their expectations from the game.

What have the last 12 months been like you as a Forest fan? Was there a feeling that the time was right for Billy Davies to go?

Playoff disappointment was the major theme under Billy Davies, but that was a big improvement on the years that preceded him. Although he essentially re-established us as a top Championship side I have written a lot on my site about how the time had come for him to leave. In many ways he had served his purpose and his success paved the way for us to appoint someone of the calibre of Steve McClaren.

Some of the football we played under Billy was excellent but we did seem to have peaked and his constant arguing with the board through the media made his position untenable.

There was also a lot of speculation that some of his more paranoid actions, such as funnelling journalists through his lawyer prior to the playoff semi-final, were causing tensions in the dressing room. I’ve no idea whether that was true or not but it was certainly an odd decision for him to take and hinted at his own unease in the position.

I suppose that Billy does a particular job and we benefited from that whilst recognising when the job had been done and the returns were falling.

How are expectations of the season ahead of you under Steve McLaren? Both of our clubs seem to have suffered problems in the transfer market this summer.

The Championship is notoriously difficult to predict, season by season or even game by game. It is this unpredictability that makes it such an exciting league to be a part of and it will be the same this year.

Big clubs have joined the league from above and below this season and Forest are one of a host of clubs that will be looking to challenge for a top six place.

Ultimately the loan market might play a big part and that won’t be resolved until the Premier League settles down. I’d say that we need a couple of additional players ideally but if some of the lesser known quantities in the squad – like Findley, McGoldrick and Garner – can click, who knows.

Of course, Steve McClaren is the other unknown factor. He has a tainted reputation in England but did extremely well in Holland. His influence, one way or another, will be key to our prospects.

Which of your players should Notts be most wary of in the match?

The core of the squad remains strong and if we play our first choice side then there should be plenty to keep you busy. We don’t know how Steve McClaren will tackle these games at the moment though so there may be some changes and opportunities for fringe and young players to make a mark.

Lewis McGugan is a player who can turn a game single-handedly with a defence splitting pass, a mazy run or a strike out of nothing.

Andy Reid re-joined the club this summer after 7 years in the Premier League and, despite his unathletic shape, remains a wonderful ball player and can exploit the smallest opening in your defence.

At the back Luke Chambers has developed into an excellent defender and is also a serious threat at set pieces.

Finally, if you do break through Lee Camp has been outstanding over the past two and a half years and is a formidable presence in goal.

And then, any perceived weak links in there?

Many Forest fans will point to left back as a problem because we have gone a long time without a recognised player on the books, using a combination of loans, central defenders, right backs and midfield players to plug the gap. This season though it looks like Chris Cohen will step back there full time and he is a capable enough player who should fit with the attacking style we want from our full backs.

For me what we really lack is an outstanding striker who can both lead the line and score goals.

Dexter Blackstock is capable of that but remains unavailable with a long term injury and although we have numbers in this position none of the remaining players are totally convincing. Robbie Findley has a lot of pace and good movement so in the absence of a new signing may be the best bet, although former Notts man David McGoldrick has had most time in pre-season and is perhaps more likely to start.

Similarly, how much do you know about Notts? Who would you consider the danger men and who are you not too concerned about?

I am looking forward to seeing Forest old boys Craig Westcarr and Hamza Bencherif. It is nice to see young players we have released reacting positively and going on to make careers for themselves and both seem to be travelling good upward curves.

I saw Notts take on Southampton last season at Meadow Lane and was quite impressed. Given that I expect the Saints to be a threat in the Championship this year it says good things about your team that prior to the penalty and sending off you were on top.

I imagine Lee Hughes will put himself about a bit and to be honest I am expecting to come up against a physical side.

I can see Notts going for a traditional local derby feel and they showed in the cup last season that they can unsettle teams from higher up the leagues so Forest need to take that threat seriously.

There’s no getting away from the fact that this is a massive fixture for Notts and it’s fans – but in all fairness it probably doesn’t rate that highly on your list of concerns for the season. What’s your take on the match? Do you think it’s played down a bit too much or is it really that irrelevant?

The first round of the League Cup never inspires Forest fans and I would expect Notts to dominate the attendance figures for this one having already sold nearly 5,000 tickets I believe.

Having said that it is a big match for the manager simply because he needs a good start to the season to rally support behind him and his team and defeat in this game would be a big blow to that and an early excuse for any snipers to appear.

Forest’s outlook towards Notts has always been quite friendly (Notts fans might say condescending I suppose) although some bad blood has arisen in recent years as Notts have bounced between administration and enormous (as it turned out non-existent) wealth with lots of arrogance and little humility.

Personally however, I am looking forward to the game. I would love to see a packed out City Ground for a Nottingham derby, however unlikely, and hope that the match will reflect well on the city.

Finally, a prediction for the evening?

I don’t want to contemplate defeat in this one. We should have enough to win but at the same time Forest never do this sort of thing the easy way. 2-1 to the men in red.

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