Nottingham Forest will look to build on their win against Wigan by securing another three points against Birmingham on Saturday.
The opponents, Birmingham City, have only lost once at home so far this season. They are a different animal under the management of Garry Monk.
Martin O’Neill will be fully aware of the importance of this game. It’s vital that the Reds build some sort of momentum if they are to go on to secure a play-off place.
O’Neill’s starting line-up was criticised last weekend prior to kick-off; but ultimately the players he selected were able to get the job done and secure a valuable three points against a poor Wigan side.
In this case, it was the exclusion of João Carvalho from the line-up that caused the most uproar. The 21-year-old midfielder has been influential for the Reds this season but is yet to play a single minute under O’Neill.
Carvalho wasn’t the only big name to find himself on the bench. Lewis Grabban also found himself out of the team as Daryl Murphy played the lone striker role.
Having made a number of signings on Deadline Day, O’Neill could make further changes for this match.
The win over Wigan has left the Reds four points off the play-offs, and another win here would really boost their chances. However, that’s far easier said than done.
Ahead of the match at St Andrew’s, Seat Pitch looked at how O’Neill might line-up this weekend.
GK – Costel Pantilimon
At one point, it looked certain that the Reds would be on the lookout for a new goalkeeper in January. However, the Romanian’s recent performances have proved that would’ve been unnecessary.
Apart from being at fault for Wigan’s goal last weekend, he’s largely produced two of his better performances for Forest since O’Neill took over. If it wasn’t for his penalty save, it could’ve easily been more dropped points for the Reds against the Latics.
RB – Saidy Janko
With Tendayi Darikwa still suspended, Janko remains O’Neill’s only viable option at right-back. Once Darikwa is back and Sam Byram has returned from injury, Janko could find himself well down the pecking order.
In the meantime, he’ll be given another opportunity to prove that he is worthy of a regular place in the team. He’s been steady whilst unspectacular over the last few weeks.
CB – Yohan Benalouane
The Tunisian defender has provided a huge boost since joining from Leicester City. He’s added much need physicality to the back four.
The 30-year-old would be very unlucky to lose his place in the starting line-up for this match. It will be more interesting to see who plays alongside him.
CB – Molla Wagué
Having only arrived at the City Ground yesterday, it remains to be seen whether Wagué is fit enough to start this game. He only managed to make three appearances for Udinese in the first half of the season.
O’Neill will be hoping he is fit enough, as the Reds would have a far more balanced defence with two recognised centre-backs on the pitch.
LB – Jack Robinson
He’s done a solid job at centre-back in recent games. However, the Reds had far more threat down the left-hand side when Robinson was utilised at left-back.
This is his natural position and is where O’Neill can get the best out of him. Ben Osborn has done a job, but Robinson should be first choice at left-back moving forward.
DM – Claudio Yacob
The Argentinian midfielder also found himself on the bench against Wigan. This came as somewhat of a surprise considering how consistent he’s been since joining from West Brom.
However, due to Jack Colback’s suspension, it would be surprising if he wasn’t reintroduced for this one. He’ll be needed to break up Birmingham’s attacking play and protect the back four.
DM – Pelé
Similarly to Wague, it’s difficult to predict whether Pelé will be fit enough to play a part in this game. However, he’d been an unknown quantity which could work in the Reds’ favour. Birmingham are unlikely to have had time to do their homework on Forest’s new arrivals.
The 27-year-old midfielder certainly has a point to prove after making a disappointing start at Monaco. If he can live up to his potential, then he could be a superb acquisition for the Reds.
RW – Matty Cash
The one disappointment from the transfer window is that the Reds failed to add a winger to their ranks. However, Cash has proven he can perform in that position and is likely to be given another start by O’Neill in this game.
He’s the sort of player that is perfect in an away game. His energy levels are remarkable and he will need to help cover Janko defensively when the Reds come under pressure.
AMC – João Carvalho
Having not played a single minute of football under O’Neill as of yet, surely it’s time for him to be reintroduced to the starting line-up? Forest have missed the Portugal Under-21 international’s creativity.
Coming up against a resolute Birmingham defence, Carvalho could be needed to find an opening. He’s arguably the Reds’ best technical player and deserves a chance to show his worth in this game.
LW – Joe Lolley
The 26-year-old winger was certainly back to his best against Wigan. He had gone a significant amount of time without finding the back of the net, but he ended this run against the Latics.
It’s vital that he gets back to the levels he was previously at. If he can, then Forest’s chances of finishing in the play-offs will be significantly boosted.
ST – Lewis Grabban
Despite the recent arrival of Léo Bonatini, it’s Grabban who should be given the nod for this one. Daryl Murphy has done a decent job in recent weeks, but doesn’t carry the same goal threat as Grabban.
The 31-year-old’s form has dipped of late, but this has mainly been due to his lack of service. There’s no doubt that when given opportunities, he will find the back of the net.