Nottingham Forest boosted their Championship play-off hopes with a 1-0 win over fierce rivals Derby County on Monday.
The Reds produced arguably their best performance under the management of Martin O’Neill so far. Although they had less possession than the Rams, they created far more chances and thoroughly deserved the three points.
Not only has the win given supporters the bragging rights, it has also boosted the Reds’ hopes of finishing in the top six. The key question is whether they can use this as a springboard.
It’s fair to say that the Reds already have some momentum. If it wasn’t for two poor refereeing decisions, they’d have won four games in a row. Even so, two wins out of a potential four against Brentford, West Brom, Preston and Derby isn’t a bad return at all.
Judging by the current standings, it’s a four-way race for sixth spot between Bristol City, Derby, Forest and Birmingham. It may even be too early to write off Preston just yet, although it would be a tough ask for Alex Neil’s men to bridge the gap.
O’Neill will want to make sure his side focus on themselves for now. It’s out of their hands how the other teams perform. However, Seat Pitch has taken a look at each side’s run-in.
Bristol City (6th – 53 points)
If Lee Johnson’s side had picked up a win against Birmingham last night, it would’ve suddenly made the Reds’ task look very difficult again, but they didn’t. It’s been well-documented just how difficult the Robins’ run-in looks on paper. They face Preston, Leeds and Sheffield United before the end of March.
Due to their run in the FA Cup, they also face a fixture pile-up in April. They play eight fixtures within the space of a couple of weeks. This run includes games against Middlesbrough, West Brom, Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby. They also face a tough trip to Hull on the final day which won’t be easy if they need to get something.
Derby County (7th – 51 points)
Frank Lampard will be hoping his side can bounce back from their latest defeat as soon as possible. It doesn’t get any easier for the Rams as they travel to Aston Villa this weekend. However, they do have four successive home games after that against Wigan, Sheffield Wednesday, Stoke and Rotherham which provides a good chance to pick up points.
It’s fair to say that is countered by a number of tricky away trips in April. The Rams face Brentford, Blackburn, Birmingham and Bristol City away all in the space of a couple of weeks. Their game against Bristol City on 27 April could be particularly significant if the league table is in a similar shape come then. Lampard’s side end the season with a trip to Swansea before a home game against West Brom on the final day.
Birmingham City (8th – 50 points)
Along with the Reds, Birmingham are one of the outsiders for the play-offs. Despite their recent poor form, Bristol City and Derby remain the favourites to secure sixth spot. However, Birmingham picked up a huge win last night against Bristol City which will give them a huge boost. They’ll need to carry this momentum into a difficult run of fixtures in March. They face Hull, Aston Villa, Millwall, Preston and West Brom.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Blues in April. They begin the month with back-to-back home games against Leeds and Sheffield United. Garry Monk’s side face what could be a crucial game against Derby on Good Friday. If they are still in contention after that, they stand a good chance. Their final three games are against Rotherham, Wigan and Reading. You’d expect the Blues to pick up three points in all of those games.
Nottingham Forest (9th – 50 points)
In comparison to some of their play-off rivals, the Reds’ run-in doesn’t look too bad on paper. They face a lot of mid-table sides at home such as Stoke, Hull, Aston Villa and Swansea in March, as well as a trip to Ipswich. However, similarly to Derby, the fixtures start to look trickier the following month. They face trips to Rotherham, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United and QPR, with home games against Blackburn and Middlesbrough.
O’Neill will be hoping that his side can still be within striking distance of the play-offs on the final day of the season. If they are, then they should be able to get the job done against Bolton at the City Ground. It’s probably fair to say that the Reds will need to win around three or four games in a row at some stage in order to catch-up.