So the big one on Saturday and I can feel myself doing my best Phil Mitchell impression with some big sighing going on at the thought of defeat. It’s one of those where it feels like Christmas but then you know if could be the worst day ever too. Live and die by the sword!

Going into this, I thought we played great at Luton on Saturday after hitting a blip in the road following the international break. On the back of that win, we should be feeling relatively confident. Joe Lolley and Lewis Grabban both had their best games of the season to date and the absence of Richard Keogh is a good thing for Forest. You can’t have too many players on the pitch that know what the fixture truly means and Forest have plenty of those in the squad. Sammi Ameobi has been in good form and he’s another player Derby will need to worry about. I’m feeling pretty optimistic that if Forest play at their potential, we could really give Derby a setback. With Wayne Rooney arriving in January, I’m fearful of his impact so the more damage that can be inflicted in the interim, the better!

I’m going with a 2-0 Forest win with Joe Lolley and Sammi Ameobi to get the goals.

Rams fan Matt Beardmore offered his thoughts on Derby’s season, off the field issues and Saturday’s game.

Following the departure of Frank Lampard and key players in Mount, Tomori and Wilson, how is the Derby season shaping up after the first quarter? What are your initial thoughts on Philip Cocu?

I think looking at the league position and points total, we are about where I expected us to be. With a bit of luck, scoring a few penalties and avoiding late equalisers we would (probably unfairly) be right up there. Having said that, whilst we have amassed a reasonable amount of points, the style of play has been bordering on awful at times with no obvious plan in the final third but there has been some progress.

The loss of the three players mentioned cannot be underestimated, especially once you consider just how incredibly well they have all done this year for Chelsea and Bournemouth. In truth, we all knew they were good, but I am not sure any of the Derby fans appreciated just how good! They have left massive holes that we clearly haven’t filled.

As for Philip Cocu, it is probably too early to say. I think in terms of interviews and his general media persona, he looks a very confident and assured manager. Given everything that has happened I think he has handled himself incredibly well but as yet, he hasn’t made a huge impression on the squad or the team. There could be loads of reasons for this – he arrived late pre-season after the long running Lampard saga, has had limited time to input into player recruitment and he has had to deal with one thing after another as the Derby County rollercoaster carries on at full speed. Overall I am pleased with him as a manager, but want him to start introducing a more attacking style of play, taking our strengths to the opposition rather than trying to counteract theirs.

There’s been a lot said about how Derby have handled the drink driving incident and the subsequent punishments that have been handed out. Has the loss of Richard Keogh railroaded the season or can Wayne Rooney turn things around in January?

The Richard Keogh situation has been handled badly by all sides in my opinion, although I suspect we still haven’t heard the full story. Keogh, loved by some and hated by others, was on his way to becoming a Derby “legend”, based purely on the amount of games he has played. To sack him for gross misconduct, especially after allowing Lawrence and Bennett to stay at the club feels a little unfair. The simple fact is that all of them made stupid decisions, but whilst Bennett and Lawrence are still able to play despite their obvious idiocy, Keogh cannot. If I likened this to my job, if I got arrested from driving under the influence I wouldn’t be sacked, but if I crashed and couldn’t do my job for 18 months, then I am fairly sure I would be dismissed. Too be honest, I will be happy when the whole thing has passed and we can carry on as if it didn’t happen.

Which brings me to Rooney and the jury hasn’t even sat down on this one, never mind made a judgement. If we get even half the player that we all loved from his time at Manchester United, then I think he can have a real influence and help this Derby team considerably. I expect him to be good around the youngsters, great for the dressing room and whatever his overall ability etc, I expect him to bring a winning mentality to the team. I am looking forward to having something positive to concentrate on and hopefully the buzz and excitement will get us back to the good times under Frank last year!

What are the strengths and weaknesses of this Derby side?

The obvious weakness is in defence, especially when either defending or dealing with crosses or set pieces. There is limited pace in the central areas and I would be amazed if Forest didn’t try to exploit that. Curtis Davies is a solid Championship defender but he isn’t quick and he doesn’t want to play out from the back, something that Cocu seems intent to do. The jury is very much out on Matt Clarke, one minute he looks like a world beater and then the next minute like he has never seen a football! Krystian Bielik will play as their defensive shield and has started to grow into his role and looks better week by week – think he could be a real player for us in the future.

As for strengths, we have a couple of decent attacking options at fullback (Bogle and Malone) and a dangerous front line (Martin, Lawrence and Marriott). Martin has come in and done well, he isn’t blessed with any pace but has a good footballing brain and the ability to bring others into the game. Lawrence is the luxury player but on his day can be as good as virtually any one in the division and Marriott is just a goal scorer but relies massively on service to him.

Thinking about Forest, what are you expecting from us and who will you be most worried about?

From talking to my Forest mates, first of all I expect you to be solid, not spectacular. I look at some of your results against the so-called top teams and you have done well. I think you have some good quality options throughout the team, particularly Grabban, Carvahlo, Lolley and a player I think could make a huge difference on Saturday, Matty Cash. Without Grabban I think you are probably a little lightweight up front although Ameobi appears to be playing well at the moment, whilst Lolley hasn’t quite hit the heights of previous years. Carvahlo is your luxury player and from what I hear he splits opinion amongst your fans. He is the kind of player you have to give a free role and allow him to win you games, accepting that he may be largely anonymous in others. Cash looks the sort of player ideally suited to a local Derby – quick, direct and likes to put a tackle in. He will also give you good delivery from out wide which as I said before isn’t something Derby deal with particularly well.

What’s your most memorable Forest Derby encounter and why?

To keep this balanced (that’s what happens when you live almost equidistant from Derby and Nottingham) I have two outstanding memories. The worst was a 3-0 thrashing at the City Ground in 2003, when Darren Huckerby tormented Derby and then really stuck the boot in running in front of the away fans to celebrate his goal. Derby were awful that night and I remember leaving the ground feeling a little intimidated!
As for the most memorable, it is difficult choice. In terms of overall feeling, I would go for the 2-1 win at the City Ground in 2011. Frank Fielding was sent off in the first minute, you scored from the penalty and we played the entire game with ten men. Two goals, one from Jamie Ward and one from Jeff Hendrick ended a memorable day in Derby’s favour. Not sure we will ever get better than that, although clearly the 3-2 cup win and the 5-0 Pride Park thrashing come very close!

What are your predictions for Saturday’s game?

Simply, I think you will win. I would settle for a draw now based upon our current form. I think the only chance we have is to actually go at you, try to get our front 3 in the game and get you on the back foot. However, I am not sure Cocu will do that following the cup game earlier in the season and the two hammerings we have had away from home this season. I think it will be closer than the previous encounter earlier in the season but would expect you to win, in hopefully a close game. Having said that, our away form has to change at some point and you can always dream…………

Thanks to Matt for his contributions, let’s hope you’re bang on with those predictions!