It’s not quite going to be the same as being there or even watching the game on TV to see a full house at Pride Park on Saturday is it? There was a degree of sadness on Monday morning when I hit the ‘refund’ button on my tickets for Saturday’s game. I’m pretty certain that this is going to be the first ever East Midlands Derby to be played behind closed doors and it’s going to be a strange feeling watching the players walk out to an empty stadium.
That said, both sets of players should be up for this one and for the first time in a number years, both sides are very much in the reckoning for a Play-Off place as the hunt for promotion intensifies in The Championship. Defeat won’t be a disater for Forest but victory will nudge us ever closer to secuing a spot in the top 6. Derby aren’t of course there just yet but a 100% record since the restart has them marked as the side that makes a late charge for promotion from a mid-table position. Phillip Cocu’s statistics speak for themselves; an identical record to that of Frank Lampard’s Derby County at this point last season. He’s turned things around quietly and almost under the radar to this point following a pretty drab start to life at the sheep dip.
The arrival of Wayne Rooney was of course going to be a huge signing for Derby and it’s proven to have been exactly that. For the rumoured £100k wages in The Championship, his arrival should be guaranteeing Derby promotion to The Premier League and it remains to be seen whether they have enough games to secure it this time around.
There’s no doubt that Derby are currently one of the sides to beat in the league. Rooney plays a similar role to Ben Watson in the Forest set up; lying deep in midfield and linking the play but with a little more panache! Whilst Rooney’s mobility may not have been what it once was; from what I have seen of him in a white shirt, he looks a far more mature player who is using the enthuiasm of youth around him to save his legs. During the first half against Preston on Wednesday, Rooney was given plenty of time on the ball to orchestrate Derby’s passing from the back and he dictated the rhyhtm of the game. He made the game look so easy. I’m not sure if anybody has attempted to let Wayne know that he’s in a game so far since adapting to life in The Championship but Forest are going to have to do just that on Saturday. He can’t be allowed to dictate.
Aside from Rooney, Phillip Cocu has succesfully blooded a number of younsters with 5 Academy products starting in midweek. Max Bird, Jason Knight and Louie Sibley all look talented young players and complimented by Duane Holmes and Jayden Bogle; Derby are going to provide Sabri with his biggest test so far in post lockdown football.
That’s not to say that Derby should take Forest lightly. We were only a few minutes of injury time short of matching Derby’s 100% record since the restart and whilst it’s not been free-flowing football from the Reds; the groups determination has been quite resounding in the last couple of games at The City Ground. We haven’t had a group like this for some time. Samba Sow got some much needed minutes into his legs and apart from Joe Lolley, Forest shouldnt have any other injury concerns. Nuno Da Costa looks ready to come in and replace Lolley, if the opportunity arises. Joe will be a big miss for Forest if he isn’t fit but hopefully his substituion was just a precaution.
For a number of reasons, it’s going to be a surreal experience but I’m hopeful that once the ref blows his whislte for kick off; we are going to get a full blooded local Derby. Let’s hope it turns out to be a spectacle that will make up a little bit for not being there. One absolute is that I’ll be as nervous as hell throughout; bragging rights is everything.
I caught up with Derby fan Shaun the ‘Sheep’ for his thoughts on Derby and the game on Saturday.
How have you found the restart behind closed doors as a purist and how would you summarise Derby’s opening performances?
The restart has been surreal and I can’t say I am excited by the “piped in” crowd noise – it’s just not the same!! Derby made a good start against Millwall and Louie Sibley is starting to shine(hat-trick in a 3-2 win) – definitely one to watch. We had a really good first half against Reading, but our habitual weaknesses returned in the second half. We hung on for a 2-1 win, so I am encouraged by that.
In terms of the wider season, how have Derby faired under Phillip Cocu? From an outsider perspective; it feels like he’s done pretty well to shrug off a shambolic start to the season (off the pitch in particularly).
He must have thought he had been beamed down to planet madness when he first arrived at our Football club – any manager on this earth would have struggled to adapt to the “Derby county way”.
A succinct description of our last year : Despair – loss to Aston Villa in the play off final; Disaster – dubious transportation choices at team bonding session; Delight – Rooney’s influence on the team’s fortunes since his arrival.
I am hoping the next is Delirium – beating Forest in the play off final – this would truly take us into the fourth dimesion!!!!
I think he has steadily adapted and we are now seeing his managerial influences on the team
What should Forest expect from this Derby side on Wednesday in terms of style of play and strengths? Which players would you single out for Forest to keep an eye on (other than the obvious world class talent)?
This Derby team are always capable of giving a goal away, especially at set pieces. We don’t cope well with sustained offensive pressure. By contrast we are very capable on the front foot. Not to mention the world class talent in midfield, we also have some talented youngsters in Sibley and Bird. We have the craft and guile of Martin up front, who is also capable of scoring at will. I am sure we will try and get on the front foot, but probably with the insurance of two DMs. If the game becomes a slugfest it will be interesting for both sets of supporters.
What are your thoughts on Wayne Rooney since he arrived? Is he living up to expectations – is he still the player he once was?
Our results have improved since he arrived and his influence around the club and on the young players is there for everyone to see – imagine being Max Bird and Louise Sibley playing for your hometown club and having the experience of Wayne Rooney to help you through games – they must think they have arrived in football heaven!
In terms of his performances game time is key. It’s like a staffie on the estate I was brought up on – you just have to let it go and play with all the other dogs!! I think there are enough games for him to get up to speed and have a positive impact.
There’s no doubt that Derby’s season has been salvaged since Rooney’s arrival in January – can you make the play offs given a tough run in of games?
We are on a good run of form at the moment, but our run in is very tough. Having said that the absence of the crowd is an advantage to the rams in the present circumstances. I certainly believe we have as good a chance of finishing in the top six as any of the other teams in the mix.
If there was any Forest players you could have at Derby – past and present – who would it be and why?
There is only one past or present for me and that would be John Robertson in his prime. He arrived at Derby in the twilight of his career, but you could still see he was a football genius.
What are your hopes and predictions for Saturday’s game?
We really need to take 3 points to keep the momentum going. We are always capable of scoring, but our defensive frailties are just around the corner – literally. I think we can win a tight game by one goal – we will take any intervention from a plastic coffee cup all day long!!
Many thanks to Shaun for his thoughts. Much appreciated here at Munich and Madrid.