Derby County take on Nottingham Forest in the east Midlands derby at Pride Park on Friday and both teams have reason to believe they can claim the bragging rights.
The Rams head into the clash having won six of their last eight Championship games, including four straight wins at Pride Park under manager Wayne Rooney.
Forest, meanwhile, have lost just two of their last 14 league fixtures.
A top half finish is achievable for both teams now and victory for either on Friday would put them in a great position to push on and leave the threat of relegation behind.
Forest head into the derby having lost just twice in 14 games. How has Chris Hughton improved the Reds?
He’s made us tough to beat which has been a welcome boost to our season. His four new additions are head and shoulders above anyone else in our squad and have added balance to the squad. Our back four is pretty settled – left-back aside – and that has paid dividends on the pitch.
Forest are on a seven-game unbeaten run over Derby in all competitions. What has given Forest the edge in recent years?
It’s always difficult to answer such a question. I’ve seen it all watching the East Midlands-derby clashes over the years and it’s cliched but form goes out of the window. I just think over the past couple of years we’ve managed the situation a bit better than Derby. A lot of young players have featured for the Rams in recent years in these fixtures and perhaps a couple were a little bit raw to it all.
Who should Derby watch out for on Friday night?
James Garner has been a bit influence in midfield since arriving from Manchester United on loan. He very rarely plays a pass that isn’t forward or sprayed out wide and he’s a big link between defence and attack. I am going to plump for Anthony Knockaert though. His delivery into the box is dynamite usually and can swing a game on his own sometimes.
Former Derby player Cyrus Christie is statistically Forest’s best player this season. What have you made of his performances?
Well, he’s not set the league alight but as the statistics show, he’s nowhere near as bad as some of our fans have made out. It was always going to be a thankless task replacing Matty Cash and quite clearly, he’s not in the same league as our former right-back. What I would say is that over the last month he’s won a lot of his critics over with some decent defending and his ability to maraud forward and double up on the opposition full-back.
Both teams can realistically look at a top half finish on current form. Will that now be Forest’s aim for the rest of the season?
I’d prefer to walk before we can run. We haven’t scored many goals this season and we’ve yet to really take points off a top side. What we have done really well is win points against the teams around us in the league and that’s been a bonus. I’d like to think we could look towards the top half but given how the season has panned out, I’d take staying up this season now.
What is your prediction for the game?
They’re typically cagey and I can’t see anything other than that again. What I will say is that Derby’s woeful run has to end soon and they’ll be bang up for this game. I will sit on the fence and say 1-1.
Thanks Lee. Of Derby’s last 13 Championship fixtures against Forest, only two have been won by a two-goal margin or more. These games are notoriously cagey, and it may well be decided by an individual piece of brilliance or a glaring mistake.