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Match Preview: Derby County V Forest

The Derby of all Derbies is almost upon us. We chit-chatted with Ollie Wright about which biscuits we preferred with a cup of tea and then got down to the serious stuff.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

DM: Both our clubs' habits of seeing managers as interchangeable commodities in recent years means we know quite a bit about each others'. It looks like Steve McClaren is working out really well and we imagine you are taking a good degree of satisfaction from seeing our hero struggle.

OW: It takes a brave man to return to a place where he was revered as a player to take on the manager's job.  There's no doubt that Stuart Pearce is exactly that, but I just feel like the virtues he embodied as a player - chest puffed out, crunching tackle, scare the bejesus out of your opponents with your intensity - belong to a different age, as Roy Keane has also found.  Take this game, for example - these days, anything approaching a bone-rattling challenge is likely to result in a red card in the East Midlands Derby.

There's no doubt that Pearce cares passionately about his job, but as you'll be all too acutely aware, Forest's form since we last met in September is less than one point per game - relegation numbers. (Yeah, we’d noticed.) To put it another way, I was talking to a Bolton fan the other day and he pointed out that the Trotters are now only one point behind Forest.  I found that quite startling, when you think about the two clubs' relative starts to the season.

As for McClaren - the Derby job was pretty much tailor-made for him at the time he was brought in.  Nigel Clough had painstakingly assembled a really good first team and all they needed was to be organised into a system which suited them and a sprinkling of extra quality, which McClaren has added, mostly through a series of good loans from the Premier League.

DM: The boy McClaren has certainly done well. We envisage you rubbing your hands together with hitherto unknown glee at the prospect of our lot trotting out at your place this Saturday.  Are you feeling as confident as we imagine you are?

OW: Yes and no.  Objectively, we go into this game as favourites, no question, but there's an unpredictability about the East Midlands Derby and I would never count it as a foregone conclusion.  Also, Forest's away form isn't all that disastrous - with more draws than defeats and only 15 goals conceded in 12 games.

A couple of teams have come to the iPro this season and 'done a number' on us, most recently Norwich (2-2), but also two of the current bottom three - Millwall (0-0) and Wigan (1-2).  So, while we've been great at home under McClaren, we're not exactly invincible.  It's another big test of character for the team and although I am quietly confident about Saturday and have big expectations for them this season, I won't be counting any chickens just yet.

DM: Given our proximity, we know a lot about your lot. We see that Jamie Ward doesn't seem to get much of a look-in these days (which is frankly a blessing for us given his predilection for bagging goals). Eustace is suspended and even Craig Bryson has had a spot of bench-warming.  Apart from Chris Martin, who is likely to hurt us?

OW: Ward is recovering from one of his regular injuries and hasn't been massively missed due to the goal-scoring form of Martin and Johnny Russell, who plays somewhere between a right winger and a second striker, rather than hugging the touchline.  Ward is fit again now, but has to be content with a place on the bench.  Jordon Ibe, who is playing on the left in Ward's stead, has proved to be an astute loan signing from Liverpool.  Although he has his detractors, I'm a fan of Ibe's threatening runs with the ball and he will certainly put the wind up any full back who lacks pace or stamina.  Todd Kane will have his hands full, if selected.

Bryson was our key man last year, but as you say, he's by no means guaranteed a start this season.  If Bryson doesn't get the nod, the front three will be backed up by Will Hughes and Jeff Hendrick, who are threats in different ways - Hughes due to his ability to unlock a defence with a killer pass, Hendrick with his driving runs through the midfield. I can't say with any certainty which two of the three will start on Saturday, although personally, I would never drop Hughes as long as he's fit.  Who knows, maybe McClaren will pick all three and ask one to hold - although that doesn't come naturally to any of them.

If the 'front five' aren't doing it, there's always the possibility that one of the two full backs, Cyrus Christie or Craig Forsyth, will bomb forward to provide an extra body in the attack.  So there are a variety of potential attacking threats for opponents to worry about.

DM: Is there any crumb of comfort you can offer us? Any weaknesses? Any reasons to believe that we may walk away into the sunset, heads held high with a glorious three points?

OW: The best way of competing with Derby is to press us as high as possible and prevent the defenders from passing the ball out from the back, thus stopping our 'Plan A' at source. Middlesbrough did this incredibly well recently at the Riverside and made us look second-rate.  Wigan did it well too, which shows that even a team that aren't that good can get a result against us, if they stick to their game plan.

Disciplined, fit, committed, well-organised sides that can stifle our possession football have every chance of beating us.  However, teams who aren't quite at it, for whatever reason, are likely to get hammered, as Fulham (5-1), Wolves (5-0) and Brighton (3-0, in the first 20 minutes) have all found to their cost this season.

DM: Blimey. We’re fit, will certainly be committed but it’s the ‘disciplined’ and ‘well-organised’ bits that are making my brow go all furrowed. In the past, there have been 'scenes' in this fixture. I think it's calmed down a little recently after reaching an apex while Nigel was in charge at your place and some Scottish chap at our place. Obviously there's still a lot of niggle going on and some personal points scoring to be done, it seems to be just about within the realms of acceptability these days.

OW: Ha ha, yes, I hope we can actually get through 90 minutes without a red card this time: it would make a nice change.  Much depends upon the referee - hopefully Andy Madley will have the character to cope with the occasion, because this is no fixture for an inexperienced or card-happy official, as we have found to the detriment of both sides in recent years.

The fact that Clough and Davies clearly hated each other certainly heightened the tension around this fixture, but I think that McClaren is a little more laid back than Nigel and my perception is that Pearce has a more mature outlook on life than Davies - who is frankly weird.

DM: ‘Weird’ doesn’t begin to describe this man who somehow, against the odds allowed Forest and Derby fans to find some common ground in their opinions of him. Kudos to him for that. Do you think it matters to the players as much as it does to the fans?

OW: Not a chance, although judging from his previous comments about Derby, it matters plenty to Pearce.  But clearly, these games are about character, which can manifest itself in composure - the ability to keep your head and not be swept away or intimidated by the intensity of emotion in the stands is vital.  I think the players have to understand the importance of the fixture and get up for it, but not so over-hyped that they end up making a tit of himself by flying into a two-footed tackle.  If someone gets sent off through ill-discipline, their fans will not thank them for it.  Experience and maturity are important in derbies.

DM: I've got a magic wand here acquired from Harry Potter Studios. I hereby make you choose between giving us a good hiding on Saturday for the entire nation to see or going up automatically. Which do you choose?

OW: Automatic promotion.  Nobody wants to go through the play-offs again, thanks very much...My friend @cspaceram tweeted recently that he would very happily take a tedious 1-0 win and I think that about sums it up.

DM: The part we've been dreading - prediction?  Given the overwhelming evidence that points to a comfortable Derby win, something inside me (deep, deep inside me) is telling me that we might just scrape a fortunate draw after a match-long bombardment and possession stats that plumb new depths of one-sidedness.

OW: I never like predicting this game, because funny things can happen on the day, but what I will say is that results like the 5-0 and the 2-5 are clearly anomalies.  If you take those out, the scorelines from the last few years almost look like a line of binary code - 1-1, 0-1, 1-1, 1-0, 1-0, 2-1, 0-1, 1-0...

I think that the longer the game remains goalless, the more crabby and attritional it will become, so an early goal either way will be required if this is to become any sort of spectacle for the neutral.

DM: Unless Derby bag the first goal, that is. Should that be the case, it might not be much a spectacle for the neutral…

Good egg Ollie runs the excellent Derby County Blog and also has a Facebook page. He’s on twitter too. Ollie chatted to our man Daniel Storey about this game too - to read it click here.