‘Trust in Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane meant Nottingham Forest’s win over Derby County was never in doubt’

Nottingham Forest's Trent End pictured prior to Derby County showdown. Pic by Amy Williams.
Nottingham Forest's Trent End pictured prior to Derby County showdown. Pic by Amy Williams.

In the days that preceded Forest’s tinderbox fixture with Derby County, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that it would produce anything but a home win.

In recent years I’ve approached the game with a glass half empty mindset, which is understandable considering that our last victory was in 2015 courtesy of Nelson Oliveira’s solitary strike at the Bridgford End.

But there was an undercurrent of supreme confidence in the River Trent and for once I was grateful to have been swept away by it.

It wasn’t down to the fact that the Rams had embarrassed themselves in their previous home game against Millwall but owing more to the tactics of Martin O’Neill of late. The Irishman has not only instilled a real confidence and belief amongst his players but has shown that each opponent warrants a different approach to the game; as I wrote at the beginning of his tenure at Forest, horses for courses.

The usual moans and groans emanated on social media when the current Forest side was announced on Monday, with two players being the specific target of disgruntlement, Ben Watson and Daryl Murphy. Personally, such is my confidence in the management team of late that I didn’t care who started the game, I just knew we’d be victorious.

As for the aforementioned, they were instrumental in the game itself. Watson marshalled the space in front of the back four and Murphy held the ball up well before running the channels intelligently. Collectively, it was a great team performance which again shows the confidence in the management by the players.

You’ve all heard reference to the 12th man before but a minute prior to kick off the Reds unveiled a 17th. Another breathtaking display by the Forza Garibaldi supporters lit the touch paper for this fixture and in my opinion was the catalyst for the early goal.

Six huge banners bisected by a centrepiece which read “The Rebel City” were draped down from the upper tier of the Trent End. Each one bearing a stunning picture of men and women who dared to make a difference. Those iconic images of Eric Irons, Helen Watts, Alan Sillitoe, DH Lawrence, Brian Clough and Ned Ludd were a fitting prelude to such a contest. Indelible proof that plastic flags and clappers have no place in the City of Legends!

And, as I mentioned previously, the rebel ghosts were the inspiration for Yohan Benalouane’s opening goal after just 77 seconds. The man in the mask wrote himself into Forest folklore as he slid home from close range to send the crowd into raptures.

An early goal can be blessing or a curse in such a fixture, but Forest were keen to build upon it. O’Neill’s men played with real intensity and should have scored twice more through Murphy and Yates. In contrast, Derby were limited to just a single opportunity in that first half. Waghorn’s superbly timed run wasn’t to be matched by his finish and you got the sense that the Rams would offer little more.

It was always going to be a big Ask to replicate the energy levels and chances created in the second half, but Forest never looked in trouble. Yes, Derby had the lions share of possession in the second period but could find no way through a well organised Forest defence. Alex Milosevic and Yohan Benalouane looked impenetrable at times, Milosevic never seems to be dragged out of position and closes the spaces in the most unassuming of manners.

It would be remiss not to mention the contribution of my two candidates for player of the season thus far Joe Lolley and Jack Colback, both were brilliant as per usual.

As the final whistle blew, I looked around our famous old stadium to see red scarfs being waved in all four stands. I counted my lucky stars (both of them) that this was our home and not some flat pack stadium subjected to more name changes than Prince.

As for the outcome of the game itself; it was never in doubt!