Nottingham Forest manager Aitor Karanka goes into Sunday’s East Midlands Derby with confidence, saying that the game is arriving in a ‘good moment’ for the Reds. In his eleven games in charge, Forest have gone from putting on some of their most underwhelming displays in recent memory, to going five games unbeaten heading into their clash with local rivals Derby County.
That dire early run of form, dotted with two defeats inside a fortnight to Hull City and an anomalous away win to league leaders Wolves, will be completely forgotten should Karanka complete the turnaround by beating Derby, who by contrast are winless in six and sitting anxiously as yet another promising promotion campaign starts to show cracks. Forest can keep the Rams clinging onto a play-off spot by their fingernails with a victory, and captain Ben Watson spoke about what it would mean to all involved this side of the A52:
“If you ask anyone involved in Nottingham Forest if they’d like to dent Derby’s promotion push I think they’d say yes, and I’m no different.”
Listen to Ben Watson’s pre-East Midlands Derby presser:
Karanka is equally eager to see his side beat Derby, but didn’t dwell on the satisfaction that triumphing over close rivals would bring, choosing to focus more on how victory would benefit his side. Although Forest will almost certainly stay mid-table until the season’s end, Karanka noted that the end to this season can be useful to instilling a winning mentality and building the team for the subsequent season, where Forest will set their ambitions high once again:
“The people who say we are playing for nothing are completely wrong. We are playing to win games. The only way to improve and grow in confidence is winning games.”
The Spaniard also recognised the special significance that this game had for those supporting his team, and is eager to repay the efforts that fans have put in during the tough moments for himself and the club:
“I know how excited everyone is, I am one of them. This is a day where we can give our crowd back their support, especially when in the last couple of years they haven’t had many good moments.”
With Forest going into the derby on a much improved run of form, Karanka now relishes an intense clash. As a host of January signings settle in, the defence has solidified and midfielders Joe Lolley, Lee Tomlin and Matty Cash have begun to move around well further up the pitch, with Jack Colback and Ben Watson stapling the attack and defence together well.
“We are in the moment that we have been working for”, Karanka proclaimed. “Two weeks ago I said I wanted to feel a team on the pitch. In the last few games at least we have shown that we can compete, and when we are on our day we can score five goals. Now we are consistent, we are aggressive, we are a team on the pitch.”
“Everybody can feel that it is completely different. On the pitch, in the changing room, in the training sessions, everything has changed a lot. I think it is a reflection that we are now five games unbeaten.”
Forest haven’t lost in four home outings to the Rams, with the intensity of derby day often giving credence to the old cliche that form goes out the window in these types of affairs, as they continually go toe to toe with Derby despite their often lower league positioning in recent seasons. The even more promising record versus the Rams, however, belongs to that off new boss Aitor Karanka. In his time in the Middlesbrough dugout, Aitor Karanka won all but two of his six contests against the Rams, with just the solitary defeat coming in his first meeting with Derby.
A dangerous statistic that is perhaps obscured by the Forest-Derby comparison is that of Matej Vydra, who has scored nine goals in eight league appearances vs Forest, with two of them coming for his current club, both in his last two East Midlands Derbies.
Gary Rowett may chose not to look to the Czech on Sunday, however, with the attacker unable to find the net in his last four appearances – whereas Forest’s star man might be missing through injury. Karanka highlighted that “the players are playing two or three games in a week when they hadn’t played in the past”, as Lee Tomlin’s emphatic start to his career Trentside teeters on a ‘hopeful’ situation ahead of Derby’s visit to the City Ground.
Images: Impact Sport