Nottingham Forest travel to Derby County tonight with both sides in decent form in the Championship.
One man who Forest will face tonight is Matt Clarke, a player who Stuart Pearce told Nottingham Forest to sign in 2019.
The Reds hero told the club to sign Clarke when he found out that he was leaving Portsmouth.
Forest didn’t act and he ended up signing for Brighton and is now on loan at Pride Park for the second successive campaign.
Speaking with fellow GRV Media journalist Tom Thorogood from Derby County News, the Rams expert discussed Clarke and gave us an insight into tonight’s opponents.
NFN: Derby have really picked up under Wayne Rooney, what has been the reasoning for that?
TT: A simpler approach. It was well documented that many Derby players thought Phillip Cocu’s training sessions and style was almost too complicated. This is the Championship, it’s gritty and both hard work and determination can overcome the more technical stuff. Derby can mix it more under Rooney, and fitness levels are much better.
NFN: Typically you’ve beaten the top-sides and come unstuck against the sides around you in the table. Has there been a motivation issue?
TT: I think it still stems back from Phillip Cocu’s time at Pride Park. The lesser clubs such as Rotherham United and Wycombe Wanderers don’t mess about. They tend to have a more physical, up-and-down style, and Derby have ultimately struggled against that compared to say Bournemouth who in contrast allowed us to bully them.
NFN: Matt Clarke looks to have been in good form this season, is he a big player at the heart of the back four?
TT: Matt Clarke has been brilliant. He deservedly won POTY last season, and he has improved further this year too. In terms of pace, he is still suspect, but his positioning is very good and he is reliable on the ball too. Not too many strikers have gotten the better of him during his time at Pride Park.
NFN: Derby haven’t scored too many goals this season. Who can we expect to be tasked with playing up front on Friday?
TT: Colin Kazim-Richards is almost certain to start. Wayne Rooney largely matches up against the opposition, so I’d expect Martyn Waghorn and Kamil Jozwiak to play either side in a 4-3-3. Lee Gregory allows us to change to a 4-4-2 if needed.
NFN: The hosts seem to be going into this ready to thrash Forest if you listen to the experts. Why do you think Derby are being fancied as heavy favourites?
TT: Derby have won six of their last eight league games, including four straight victories at Pride Park. But anybody who understands this fixture knows it will likely be a cagey affair. In the 13 league encounters since that 5-0 thrashing back in 2014, only two have been won by more than a one-goal margin. These games are notoriously tight, edgy, and admittedly not great spectacles for the neutral.
NFN: Derby seem to have hit the nail on the head with the set-pieces, will that be your biggest threat to us tomorrow?
TT: Derby now possesses an aerial threat with Colin Kazim-Richards, Matt Clarke, George Edmundson, Martyn Waghorn, Lee Gregory and Lee Buchanan all dangerous in set-piece situations. In a tight game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rams target set-pieces as it could make all the difference come to the final whistle.
NFN: What will Derby’s weaknesses be that Forest might look to exploit?
TT: Watford recently had joy getting in behind the fullbacks. As impressive as Lee Buchanan and Nathan Byrne are, they will leave space behind when they join the attack. That’s an area Forest could exploit with Anthony Knockaert an obvious candidate to cause Derby problems.