Some people enjoy local derbies. For them it is the pinnacle of their season, perhaps even their entire year, as they look forward in anticipation at the prospect of facing those that they would otherwise gainfully avoid considering. Stereotypically, these are those that will view their opponents with disgust, a passionate hatred for all things Manchester United, Tottenham, Norwich or Portsmouth, depending on your allegiance.
For me personally, games against Derby are my least favourite of the season. I despise not the opposition but the tummy-churning, sick feeling that sits equally in both stomach and throat, refusing to budge until the final whistle is blown. Whilst some embrace that tension with vocal chanting, alcohol or a heady mix of both, I take the sheepish watching-through-hands approach that identifies and highlights me as the insecure mess I so patently am when Forest are concerned.
The presence of Stuart Pearce and the impending arrival of the ten-year anniversary of Brian Clough’s death promised to do very little to reduce such feelings of dread, tension, nervousness and shivering sweats in almost equal measures. What this fixture has rarely needed is added spice, although the applause after ten minutes for Clough was a pleasure to behold.
A lot has changed in six months, a Billy Davies ‘led’ Forest side battered 5-0 in March by a Derby side buoyed by the ongoing impetus added by the arrival of Steve McClaren, and Karl Darlow was the only starting survivor from that horrible afternoon. Comprehensive reinvestment is certainly on way to erase that bitter taste – money, as well as time, can be a healer.
Even as I write this summary of proceedings, thoughts inevitably turn to injuries to Chris Cohen and Andy Reid, two of the most evident recipients of a Forest supporter’s love. There seems no nicer bloke, no gooder egg or lovelier fella than Cohen, with the likes of Billy Sharp and Garath McCleary both offering public shows of support. The saddening thought is that this will mean another period of extended rehabilitation – it’s a sorrowful prospect for player, as well as club.
Much of the game felt as if it were a prolonged episode of the Three Little Pigs, huff followed inevitably by puff but without any sense of Derby’s house being blown down. Unlike Davies six months previously, the sense of belief installed by Pearce at least that Forest own dwelling was comprised of more than just feathers. Robert Tesche went close with a flashing drive and Britt Assombalonga headed over shortly before the break, but the first shot on target (from Michail Antonio) came after the hour mark.
Ten minutes later (and after a bizarre Benny Hill-style demonstration of stewards vs pitch invaders), Forest had the lead, Assombalonga demonstrating again his wonderful ability to turn and wriggle free before finishing smartly. I’m not even close to apologising for admitting that it reminded me of Stan Collymore, but I will be more insistent on demands that Assombalonga is included in Gareth Southgate’s next England Under-21 squad. It also marked five league goals from just six shots on target for the striker. With apologies offered for the laboured gag, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Britt’s got talent.
As so often seems to occur with Derby (or perhaps it’s just those insecurities again), there was a sting in the tail, arriving in the form of a scruffy, scrappy goal that appeared to be awarded to four different players before eventually settling upon Ryan Shotton.
It matters not, in truth – the disappointment still feels as raw. The half-full assessment is that to be dissatisfied with a draw that takes the club a point clear at the top is a measure of just how far Forest have come in just a few months. Given the initial success in Pearce’s admittedly still brief tenure, you will forgive me for such alacrity.
However, there’s always a ‘but’. The worst news, as has so frustratingly often been the case in recent times, may well come courtesy of the doctors and physios. Get well soon Chrissy, would appear to be the most apposite final message to offer.