With the tang of disappointment still bitterly present following the late, opportunity-squandering defeat at Brighton, City find themselves with an immediate opportunity to make amends.
It isn’t a full Championship programme this evening, so for the second time in three days, a point will take us second. This is a game in hand on many of those around us, but it’ll leave Leicester, not in action, with more points to play for between now and May – its importance is therefore clear. This game, against midtable opposition with a rotten away record, is one City will be strong favourites for.
Not that means everything. Steve Bruce has a couple of awkward selection posers to contend with. Abdoulaye Faye and Alex Bruce are injured, meaning the back three (assuming City stick with 3-5-2) picks itself tonight. Corry Evans will surely come into the midfield, but it’s elsewhere that decisions must be made. Do either of the Egyptian loanees start? The dazzling array of crosses produced by Brady and Elmohamady on Saturday may have suited Nick Proschwitz – will he get the nod? Does the off-form Robert Koren retain the manager’s confidence? Mr Bruce hasn’t got much wrong this season, and we can only hope that continues this evening.
For Derby, all is far from lost. They’re tenth in the table, far from the relegation places and eyeing up an end-of-season dart to the play-offs. They’re only five points adrift, a gap that could become just two with a win at the Circle and favourable results elsewhere. Despite their travails on their travels (three wins away from Pride Park all season and none since mid-December), victory against one of the automatic promotion contenders sounds like exactly the sort of boost to a side hoping to make a late charge.
They too have defensive worries, with Mark O’Brien and Jake Buxton both doubtful. Both will travel north and their fitness would be a real fillip for Nigel Clough. They were arguably unfortunate to be edged out 2-1 by the Tigers at Pride Park in December, and have historically struggled against City despite their reputation as the bigger of the two clubs. Since our paths first crossed in 1907 City have won 20 to Derby’s 17. They may be encouraged by recent form though, with all four of the last meetings ending with away wins.
City are odds-on (10/11) with the bookmakers to win, while Derby are available as long as 10/3. A draw that’d put City second is 13/5. We’d take the first of those, please.