If you were left slightly bemused by the dismissal of Dougie Freedman at Nottingham Forest last weekend, then the past few days have at least provided a few clues as to why chairman Fawaz Al Hasawi was no longer prepared to devote more time to a project that was progressing as well as could be expected.
Freedman has put solid foundations in place and leaves behind a decent legacy, not only for his long-term successor but also caretaker boss Paul Williams in the interim. The squad is well-stocked with players of different shapes and skill sets, and thanks to Freedman’s energy on the training ground, they are now well-schooled in the subtleties of numerous different systems.
The bone of contention, it seems, was the default level of uncertainty avoidance. Freedman, too often, liked to play with the handbrake on, Al Hasawi wanted something a bit more cavalier. With the Reds now nine points clear of the drop zone, the remaining nine games will be used as an acid-test of attacking potential. A full-throttle approach is expected, with Williams essentially taking the car that Dougie built on a rigorous test drive.
There were promising signs on his first lap at the KC Stadium in midweek, where Forest made most of the early running against promotion-chasing Hull and took a surprise lead midway through the first half, only to be pegged back midway through the second. It was a pattern that could be followed at the iPro with Forest determined to prey on any early nerves in the Derby ranks, for whom much more than bragging rights rest on this game.
Speaking after the Hull game, Williams said: "We are Nottingham Forest and we have to go out there and attack people. We cannot sit back, we have a reputation to uphold. There’s a perception here of how we should do things, that we need to protect. We have to take risks. We might concede goals, but we are going to try to score goals - and specifically the first goal."
We might not be acting on much more than observations of one match, followed by a few carefully-chosen words from within the camp, but that alone is enough to justify a bet on Nottingham Forest to win the first half of this game when the price is bigger than 5/1. Given the rest advantage in favour of the Rams, there’s more logic in backing the visitors over 45 minutes rather than the full 90 at the same price.
Punters shouldn’t expect Harry Redknapp’s arrival as a football advisor to have any discernible impact on Derby’s performance. The Rams have lost their way ever since chairman Mel Morris and previous boss Paul Clement stopped singing from the same hymn sheet. In 2016, they’ve taken just 13 points from 13 games and all the old ghosts from last season are lurking once again.
With that in mind, odds of 40/1 about Nottingham Forest to be 2-0 ahead at the interval shouldn’t be sniffed at. Any team capable of squandering a 3-0 lead in the final seven minutes at Rotherham, as Derby did last week, are perfectly capable of having their pants pulled down twice in the opening 45 by vibrant local rivals, on whom no pressure whatsoever resides.
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