The good, the bad, the ugly and the East Midlands Derby

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Thanks a lot to Trev for keeping these GIFs coming!

As the two clubs have been marooned in division two for years now, East Midlands Derbies have become useful as regular milestones, moments to take stock of where we are as a club.  Over the last couple of years, we’ve generally been the favourites to win and free to aim a few smug darts at Fawaz, over his dysfunctional reign at the City Ground.  That sense of superiority departed around the time that Clement was sacked.  The bizarre ‘Interim Derby’ of Wassall v Paul Williams came at a time when things at Derby looked just as chaotic as they did down the road.

But things have finally calmed down a bit, with McClaren’s latest return steadying the ship and I make Derby slight favourites for this one.  However, despite the superb run of five straight wins – four of which were pretty tough games – we are not in what you would call sparkling form offensively and it can’t be ignored that Forest are also improving.  With Montanier left in post for more than five minutes, they have found a system which works for them and are starting to climb the table.

The history of the fixture suggests that it will probably be a tense, grim grind of a game, but a classic encounter could just erupt – it really all depends upon how soon the first goal goes in.

Graphic courtesy of kickoff.co.uk

Graphic courtesy of kickoff.co.uk

It is by no means a given that both teams will score in this fixture.  That 5-0 sticks out like a sore thumb (sorer for them than us, of course).

Here’s my EMD infographic (best viewed here, where you can hover over the individual bars to read the values)

derby-v-forest_18717072_3dd62d5cacfb0912a5b5d56fdcaa23979a99968cForest certainly look the more threatening attacking force so far this season.  Not only have the Red Dogs scored double Derby’s paltry tally of 17, they also lead the Championship for shots on target and are far more likely than the Rams to work shooting opportunities inside the box.

Derby are much improved since that horrendous goal drought under Pearson, but are still only averaging 13.2 shots per game – ninth in the division – and too many of those efforts are still being taken from long range.

The Rams’ most dangerous attacker this year by far has been Tom Ince, who has hit the target as much as almost anyone in the division, but behind him, there aren’t too many other players who have been testing the goalkeeper regularly.  For Forest, Vellios, Lansbury and Kasami have all been goal threats, with Assombalonga returning to fitness as well.  The latter has been on the pitch for less than 400 minutes this season and has scored six times already.

And then there’s Nicklas Bendtner, a man who famously broke the scale on Arsenal’s psychological tests when it came to ‘self-perceived competence‘ – who, in other words, genuinely believes that he is God’s gift.  A man like that would of course love to become a hero for Forest fans by scoring tomorrow and it would be horrible for such a thing to happen.

With all that said, it’s worth adding that Derby’s goal tally for the last ten games is 14, not far off Forest’s 17 goals over the same spell.

Graphic courtesy of kickoff.co.uk

Graphic courtesy of kickoff.co.uk

And then there’s the defence.  Four goals conceded in the last ten games is a simply outstanding record and the Rams’ most recent test against a top attacking side, Norwich, was passed with relative ease.  They have become so mean this season that Carson has by his own admission hardly been busy.  On such foundations, success is built.  The attackers can get away with not being particularly silky on the day when guys like Alex Pearce are behind them, snuffing out even the merest hint of danger.  I thought Pearce was excellent at Wigan, along with the rest of the back four.

If Forest could defend, they would certainly be in contention for a play-off spot, but they have leaked more goals than anyone but Rotherham, keeping only one clean sheet all season to date.  Cavalier wins against Wigan (4-3), Burton (4-3) and Barnsley (5-2) have to be weighed against less impressive results at the better sides – losses at Brighton (0-3), Reading (0-2) and Sheffield Wednesday (1-2).  Yes, they beat Newcastle, but the two red cards suffered by the Toon last Friday night have since both been rescinded by the FA, which says a lot about how fortunate they were on the night.

For this game, I suspect we will see the return of the Forestbuster himself, Craig Bryson. OK, we won at Wigan, but four shots in the game is an unacceptable return and McClaren may well look to shuffle his pack in a bid to add more attacking impetus.  Bryson has been introduced from the bench in the last four games and it might be time to let him off the leash, in the hope that he can get up and support Bent or Vydra more than Hughes or (more likely) Butterfield.

If we can win this, I will finally genuinely believe that a play-off push is back on for Derby this season.  I still remain to be convinced about us as an attacking force in the absence of Martin, or a like-for-like replacement.  But if the defence can play as calmly and competently in the hostile atmosphere of the EMD as they have in more run-of-the-mill Championship battles this season, then that will say a lot about the Rams’ ability to climb further up the table.

There are plenty of stats to pore over in this article – I do hope you like stats – but perhaps the one that says the most about the sheer unpredictability of this match between a team who score and concede freely and a team who keep clean sheets but haven’t scored enough is the goal totals metric.  Forest’s games have produced a total of 67 goals this season – more than anybody else in the division – whereas Derby’s have produced only 30 – less than anyone else.

If anybody wins a bet on the correct final score tomorrow, then fair play to them…

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