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Preview: Forest V Derby

We olive branched with Ollie Wright of Derby County Blog about...well...you know what.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
After a sluggish start, it’s all starting to look pretty rosy. Is it down to your fancy big money signings? Or the tactical nous of Paul Clement? Or is the spine of the team still in place? 

OW: All three of those are factors working in our favour.  I raised both eyebrows when news filtered through on deadline day that Bradley Johnson was joining for £6m from Norwich, but it didn't take long to see why they'd decided to go the extra mile.  Jason Shackell was expensive too, but worth the outlay (plus it pissed Sean Dyche off, which is always a bonus).  And the playmaker Jacob Butterfield is settling in after making what he described as the 'huge step-up' from Huddersfield.

Those acqusitions, plus Scott Carson in nets and Andi Weimann and Tom Ince to play wide, have made a huge difference.  

Last season's lot were good, if allowed to play football.  The new vintage is also capable of winning a scrap. That manifestly wasn't the case before.  

Clement deserves the praise he's been getting.  He's an intelligent man with a deep well of coaching experience and has demonstrated a knack of getting an improved second half performance out of the players when it hasn't happened in the first.  But it undeniably helps that he's been given a strong squad of good, experienced players to work with.

Tom Ince claimed he picked up numerous Man of the Match awards while briefly on loan with us last season. He didn’t. Has he picked up any at your place?

OW: Things have been difficult PR-wise for Ince ever since the whole 'could have joined Inter, signed for Hull' thing.  I remember hearing he underwhelmed at Forest, so I was surprised when he joined us on loan, but he soon developed the rather marvellous habit of smashing in spectacular goals.  He netted 11 times for us in the second half of the season, which, considering the whole thing fell to pieces at the end of February, was an exceptional effort.

It turned out that Derby had insisted on a clause in the loan agreement that allowed us to buy him in the summer - probably Hull were more surprised than anyone when the money was actually paid out to exercise it, (and Steve Bruce was reportedly not best pleased).  It hasn't quite happened for him yet this season, but he'd scored three goals before getting injured at Huddersfield.  Fit again, he will probably be on the bench tonight.

You are under new ownership and they certainly signaled their intentions in the close season by putting their money where their collective mouths are. You seem like a well-run club from this side of the A52 – has anything changed in this respect?

OW: You'll know, I'm sure, about GSE, the American consortium who ran Derby remotely for a few years. Through the former Derby CEO Tom Glick, GSE did a lot to advance the Financial Fair Play agenda in the Championship, so it was no surprise that they ran the club rigidly in line with the regulations during their tenure.  That meant that we fans had to grit our teeth as other clubs, not so very far away, splashed the cash and showed 'ambition' (and we weren't exactly thrilled when a certain villainous club from London thwarted us at Wembley, after spending as if the rules didn't apply to them.)

What has happened now is that local businessman and life-long fan Mel Morris has made a huge pile of cash by selling his stake in the developers of Candy Crush Saga and bought Derby outright.

Morris has placed a lot of emphasis on developing the club's infrastructure and youth set-up.  A recent Fans Forum was shown slideshows of major planned developments to the training complex that will, the club say, put them up there with some of the best clubs in Europe.

The ambition is for the academy to be one of the best around, as that is the best way to build a successful club long-term. Money spent on facilities and youth development doesn't count towards FFP calculations, so Mel has merrily ploughed his dosh in that side of the operation, as well as taking advantage of this year's increased loss allowance to buy good players.

We're told by the finance director that we complied with FFP last year and will do again this year. I'm pretty confident that Morris has watched carefully and learned from the mistakes of other wealthy owners, who thought they could simply buy success off the shelf, but then sent their new toy into a tailspin of instability when instant gratification wasn't forthcoming.

In summary, there is nothing to moan about whatsoever at the moment!

Sounds like utopia. Nigel Clough: discuss. What I mean by this is that some praise him for laying down the foundations of your current relative success in bothering the play-off places consistently for the last 3 years or so.  Others point to the lowly finishing positions under his leadership and feel that the club has improved significantly since he left. So was he any good or not?

OW: Nigel is old-school.  You won't find him compiling dossiers of Prozone stats about his next opponents, or trusting a head of recruitment head to find his players for him.  He tramps the length and breadth of the UK on his own scouting missions and he refused to work with a director of football at Derby, a model which seems to be de rigueur now, at least for Premier League clubs.  

He left Derby with some excellent players, both purchased and developed through the academy - many of whom are still important members of the squad now.  Funnily enough, seeing as he has no interest in such new-fangled roles, I almost think he'd be a better director of football than 'head coach' (another title which would, I suspect, would make him grimace).  I say 'almost', because when he was finally given £1m to spend on a striker at Derby, he bought Conor Sammon.  But some of his other signings were excellent and when you consider the fees involved, it was inevitable that others would turn out to be duds.

Tactically, he drove the fans mental at times.  His mantra was "don't lose", but we had an unlovely habit of getting beaten in the last minute under Clough, which suggests either perhaps the players' fitness levels weren't the best, or that in some cases, their mentality wasn't quite right. Clough publicly berated several players - quite brutally in the case of Tomasz Cywka, leading to an intervention from the PFA - but was loyal to others, almost to a fault.  Shaun Barker, Jake Buxton and John Brayford were his kind of lads - the latter two, who had played for him at Burton, were transplanted straight into the Championship and proved themselves capable at that level.  All of those players and the others he favoured were sound 'characters'.  No shithouses would he countenance.

At Derby, he worked with a small backroom of trusted lieutenants - Gary Crosby, Martin Taylor, his brother Simon as chief scout - which emphasised his homely 'smallball' air.  There was a perception that he didn't like working with big name, big ego players, which overlooks the fact that he resurrected Robbie Savage's career - egos don't come much bigger than Sav's.

This is no criticism of Clough whatsoever, in fact, it's absolutely a compliment - but he is not temperamentally suited for the globalised, corporate, media-saturated bullshit of the Premier League.  While he was at Derby, at least, he wouldn't even have been allowed to coach there, because he refused to get the requisite badges - stating quite reasonably that he'd spent his whole life in football and didn't need them. 

Remember the days of Stuart Pearce and Ted McMinn?  Do you think this fixture has intensified over the years or do you think the spite, hatred and ugliness has always been thus? 

OW: I'm in my mid-thirties, so I was only a young lad when Pearce and the Tin Man roamed the wing. I've just watched footage of the 1989 game in which McMinn was legendarily brutalised (to be fair, the Derby full back Paul Blades also put in an absolutely disgusting two-footer at one point).

I went to school in Nottingham and got the living piss ripped out of me whenever Derby lost, which was all the time in the early nineties.  But there were other times when I could arrive in the morning and smugly display two fingers to the lot of them.  That has always been there and it always will be. Long may it continue, because proper rivalries like the East Midlands Derby are part of what makes football the greatest game in the world.

However, modern-day TV hype and Twitter - a favourite go-to place for many people who are full of spite, hatred and ugliness - have exacerbated things and certainly Nigel versus Billy was a very real antipathy.  That made things worse.  It would be great if the two clubs could simply try to beat each other fair and square and the fans could maintain some sort of sane perspective, but that seems to be impossible.

Clement, for what it's worth, will definitely not end up kneeing Dougie in the leg, I'm sure of that.

Apart from show up and kick a ball around between yourselves, what will be your game plan? 

OW: As you say, the team is committed to a short passing style, so that is always Plan A - dominate possession, keep it on the deck, show patience, bring Chris Martin into play, get the wide forwards and attacking midfielders to buzz between the lines and the full backs to offer extra width.  However, I don't see Forest throwing caution to the wind and playing an open game tonight.  The players will have to win the battle and although Psychoesque tackles have been consigned to the history books, there will still of course be a physical edge and a frantic pace to proceedings.  To win, they'll need to handle the occasion and I think they're experienced and mature enough to do that.

Give us a reason you’ll win: 

OW: Logic.

Give us a reason you’ll lose:
OW: 'THE FORM BOOK GOES OUT OF THE WINDOW FOR THIS ONE!'

A genuine thank you to Ollie for channelling his inner Spandau Ballet and going though the barricades.

Around five years ago, this happened in the corresponding fixture on a misty old night at the City Ground: