Promotion pushes at stake as Rams invade Forest
Background photo: Garth Newton, CC BY-SA 2.0
At season's end, two Championship teams will win promotion to the Premier League. Four others will vie to be the third. The money on offer in the top flight is a powerful motivator. With between 12 and 14 games remaining in their seasons, more than half the league's 24 teams remain in with a shout.
Four teams in the top six faced off on Saturday, seeking to consolidate their positions. Norwich City and Sheffield United's victories lifted them high enough that Leeds, victorious over struggling Bolton, are the only side troubling them. West Brom's failure to defend the Hawthorns against the Blades leaves them in the playoff mix. Bristol City's defeat was the most critical, however. The Robins needed a win at Carrow Road to ensure Derby County couldn't overtake them with a Monday night win against Nottingham Forest.
Beating the top side in the Championship was never going to be easy. Lee Johnson's squad gave it a furious go but ended on the wrong side of a 3-2 scoreline. Consequently, their promotion hopes now depend on circumstances beyond their control.
Frank Lampard and Derby County enter the City Ground tonight with control in their hands. A win against Forest returns them to sixth place. Their opponents remain in contention, too, despite sacking manager Aitor Karanka in January. Former Aston Villa and Ireland boss Martin O'Neill is now trusted with lifting the Reds into the Championship playoffs. Defeat severely diminishes their hopes.
Erratic describes Derby's recent form. Two draws and a loss in their last five games made them a chasing club. Defeat at home to lower-half side Millwall emphasised the Rams woes. Entering the campaign's business end, Lamps must get his side firing by any and all means. Attacking midfielder Tom Lawrence's return could boost their chances but he faces a late fitness test to confirm his ankle can handle the stress.
O'Neill's side struggle to find themselves as well. Two wins, two draws and two defeats leave them trailing the pace, It's time to sink or swim for the Reds. The Irishman was brought in to create momentum. Forest fans are still waiting. Ben Watson was rested against Preston. His return adds quality to the home side. The midfielder's experience should help against a young, energetic Derby squad.
Forest go into the match ninth on 47 points, Derby County seventh on 51. Bristol City sits at 53 points. Six points out of the playoff picture now, a loss to Derby only leaves them seven behind. It won't be the end of the world. On the other hand, dropping points at home is not something teams that win promotion tend to do. The pressure to win this match is clearly there.
For their part, the Rams will be judged less harshly for not claiming three points away against a top-ten side. Nevertheless, the opportunity lost will sting. They can't expect many more in the run-in.
Derby hold decent form against Forest with three wins and three draws in their last six meetings. The spoils were divided evenly on the last two occasions. This time, neither club should be in the mood to share.