Remember when we won at West Bromwich Albion? No, not the day Kamil Zayatte was clotheslined by Daniel Cousin (as good as that was – top of the Premier League, eh?), but the one before. The day when we won at the Hawthorns, unexpectedly, deliriously, impressively, and walked out of the away end as one saying to each other “we can go up this year”.
Well, one suspects this would be the reaction of Nottingham Forest supporters tomorrow if they were to exit the North Stand of the Circle as witnesses to their side winning a sixth straight game under Billy Davies. They’ve edged into the play-offs courtesy of a squad that evidently had little wrong with it but just needed an inspirer in charge of it. Say what you like about Davies – and plenty do – but that man is clearly a damned fine manager. He’s proved it before and he’s proving it again, and is doing so from a standing start when one considers how featureless and beige Forest were prior to his re-appointment.
Of course, it’s up to City to deny Forest their “West Brom moment”. And after winning with effectiveness and one solitary piece of style at Burnley on Monday night, re-affirming the Tigers’ desire to not drop below second in the table, Steve Bruce’s men are in an excellent position to do so. Four straight wins at the Circle show that, and our patch is becoming that rare beast; a fortress. A top-form, ruthless Forest need to face a profligate, distracted City for anything other than home advantage to prevail.
With Cardiff City lingering on a collapsible precipice at the top, there is such an opportunity for the Tigers at the moment. The leaders will still have a game in hand at the close of stadia on Saturday, but City could find themselves, were the world ideal, just one point off the top as the international break comes in. And if this club, team and manager are worth what we currently think they’re worth, they’ll prove it by beating the division’s true form side. This is as exciting a fixture as the Championship has produced this season because of the form and fortunes of the two sides, and hopefully the occasion will match up to it. Certainly the Forest fans have valued its importance highly, as 3,000 of them have purchased tickets.
What does the manager do with the team, though? After all, the protective tactics of Monday could only go so far, and it needed the chastened Robert Koren to come on as sub and produce instantly a breakthrough for the Tigers and, ultimately, three splendid points. At home, even against a side that deserves great respect, you’d wonder if Bruce dare leave out Koren again. Alex Bruce was excellent as the central midfield holder at Turf Moor but City only won the game once he’d gone off. Corry Evans is fit to resume that role too, though he is almost certain to be a substitute only; long-term casualty Matt Fryatt started training again this week, to everyone’s joy, though it’s way too early to consider including him.
Forest will be buoyed by the returns of strikers Billy Sharp and Darius Henderson, both of whom have habits of scoring against City, though fellow target man Dexter Blackstock is a doubt with a hamstring injury. Defender Daniel Ayala, who served the Tigers briefly but illustriously a couple of years ago, has recovered from his own hamstring problem but winger Stephen McLaughlin is definitely out with an ankle injury.
The distinguished history of Nottingham Forest suggests their fans may feel they have bigger fish to fry, but nevertheless it will rankle with them that in their last five meetings with the Tigers, they’ve taken just one point. They haven’t won in Hull since Boxing Day 1974, two weeks before a chap called Brian Clough was appointed as their new manager. They got their sole point at the KC after a goalless draw two seasons ago, whereas City beat them 2-1 last season. That, of course, adds to City’s perfect record at the City Ground since hostilities resumed after 33 seasons with three wins out of three.
This could be a cracker. If there is a winner, it could be definitive for each as far as the whole season is concerned. A draw would not be unwelcome for either though City should still feel able to see off anyone at this level on their own patch. The bookies have City at 11/10, with Forest at 5/2 and the draw 11/5. And we hope to see you for the protest against West Yorkshire Police at 2.30pm; maybe if that gets noticed properly, it might be a significant day off the pitch, as well as on it.