Bluffer's guide to the play-offs: Nottingham Forest
The City Ground began to swell with optimism during the winter period as Nottingham Forest flew up the Championship table and looked set to rival Queen’s Park Rangers for the title. How long ago that seems now, but Billy Davies has steered his ship away from stormy waters and back on course for the Premier League.
Pat Riddell is safely on board and talks us through Forest’s chances of returning to the top flight.
Feeling confident? How’s your form?
Forest and the play-offs don’t have a particularly happy history — three appearances in the past decade and we’ ve never reached the final — so I’d never say confident. Crashing out to Blackpool, Yeovil and Sheffield United in spectacular style means most fans will be wary of hyperbole.
Form, however, has been excellent – after a nine game run without a win we’ve won five out of the last six and managed to grab the last play-off place when it looked like the season was as good as over a few weeks ago.
Up to now, would you judge your season so far as a success or did you have an eye on the automatic spots?
Forest were one of the favourites for promotion pre-season but we’re never comfortable with that billing – and as the squad wasn’t strengthened last summer (long story…) it was expecting too much for an automatic place with a threadbare squad after the unexpected heroics of last season.
We had our chance in February when we reached second place — seven points behind QPR with two games in hand — but after a disastrous run I think most fans are just happy to have made the play-offs.
Did you have the upper hand over your semi-final opponents in the games you’ve
played against them already this season?
The aggregate score to us over the season was 5-4 although that included one of Swansea’ s worst games at the City Ground when we beat them 3-1 back in September. They had their revenge with a 3-2 defeat in March at the Liberty Stadium but it’ s fair to say, although we almost scored a late equaliser, an out-of-form Forest were well beaten.
Do you think your players have a big-game mentality? Will they step up?
Forest with form and confidence can beat anyone on their day. Billy Davies has juggled the squad wisely in the past few weeks to keep players fresh, while several have returned from injury. The experience of the likes of Lee Camp, Paul McKenna, Robbie Earnshaw and Wes Morgan will be crucial.
Last year’s defeat to Blackpool will hopefully spur them on — it was evident that many of the players were as devastated as the fans so there’s definitely a feeling that this is a chance to redeem themselves.
Who will be your key man?
Without doubt, Lewis McGugan. Our best runs of form have coincided when he’s found his stride and, as our leading goal scorer this season, his 13 league goals and 12 assists have all been vital.
The midfield diamond we’ve played in recent games has also allowed him to flourish behind the strikers and makes him very difficult to pick up for defenders. Whether it’s 35-yard free kicks, inch-perfect crosses or perfectly-weighted through balls, McGugan in his prime is Premier League class.
Who is the semi-final opposition’s dangerman?
Scott Sinclair. Not only has he scored 19 league goals this season but he ran us ragged in the 3-2 defeat at the Liberty Stadium. Their defence, on the other hand, has been rock solid at home this season so we have to make the first leg count.
If you get through, who would you prefer in the final?
I think most Forest fans would just be pleased to get to the final. But if I had to say anyone, purely based on results this season (two wins), and a certain animosity, I’d say Cardiff. Whatever happens, whoever it is, Forest will most likely make it hard for themselves.
Who’s going to score your winning goal in the final…?
Just thinking about answering this makes me queasy. Robbie Earnshaw’s out of contract in the summer so if it is to be his last game for the club then it really has to be him. Mind you, if it is the winning goal he might stay…