Football League Expert & Columnist
Derby v Nottingham Forest: Craig Bryson and Jamie Paterson to make big impacts on Saturday
Rams' focal point Chris Martin and visiting 'keeper Karl Darlow may also catch the eye
Last Updated: 20/03/14 10:36am
Derby's inability to score in their previous four games - despite still creating ample opportunities to bulge the net - looks like it has put paid to their automatic-promotion chances.
But the brilliant run they went on from November 9 to January 1, when they took 25 points out of 27 before being beaten by Wigan, has guaranteed them a play-off berth.
However, Forest's paltry return of three points from the last 18 available has seen Wigan leapfrog them and Reading and Brighton close the gap to a solitary point, threatening a top-six place that after a 14-game unbeaten run looked nailed on.
Billy Davies' side have been affected by their manager's touchline ban and the £17million losses don't make for good reading either, so while Forest were swimming along quite nicely, there are now a few ripples in the water and the smiles have been replaced by furrowed brows.
That makes this derby game a bigger one for the visitors, but here are the men I expect to play a major part in proceedings...
Chris' 18 goals tell only half the story of the major role he has played in Derby's marvellous season as he is the building block from which many moves start. Clever, strong and with a good turn of pace, Martin has shown maturity and teamwork this campaign, which were missing in the earlier stages of his career.
Good balance and movement, a physical presence and, finally, high fitness levels mean all aspects of Chris' game pose a threat to back fours and with him holding that central position, Steve McClaren can employ two quick widemen to player either side or play Patrick Bamford up top in a two. Simon Dawkins, Johnny Russell, Jamie Ward and Bamford are often rotated but Martin's performances have made him an almost guaranteed starter.
Perpetual motion is how I would describe County's midfield dynamo. Non-stop, all-action performances have been abundant this season and he has been directly responsible for at least 19 goals, either by scoring or putting them on a plate for his team-mates. Often the Rams' match-winner, Craig is clever enough to time runs beyond strikers, choosing them carefully for maximum impact.
Keogh has been a tower of strength and model of consistency this term. He has responded brilliantly to being handed the armband in the absence of Shaun Barker, is a great competitor, communicator and leader, and has formed a formidable partnership with Jake Buxton, which has allowed the midfield to go forward at will and in numbers.
This talented young winger caught my eye playing for Walsall - for lots of reasons. He is totally two-footed and is able to go either way, has great balance and dribbling ability, and, since becoming a regular in the side, has become Forest's main threat in the final third.
Paterson's recent performances have shown a huge level of consistency and confidence, enabling him to express himself. Bright enough to go looking for the ball and come in off the line, his tendency to back people into the box has only strengthened my belief that this lad has a big future.
The youngster succeeded Lee Camp as Forest number one in January 2013, with his full debut a 2-1 win over Peterborough. He has become a virtual ever-present since, keeping three consecutive clean sheets at the beginning of the season, reinforcing his manager's belief in him. Darlow is a very confident young man who commands his box, has good distribution and agility, and is a great shot stopper - and against a Derby side shorn of goals recently, he could be vastly overworked.
Forest are delighted to have their joint-top scorer back from injury as he is a chief architect from set-pieces and in open play. The man with a wand for a left foot has been responsible for 10 goals in all competitions and 13 assists, and has the ability to dictate the pace of play in any game. He is a big-match player, vastly experienced and could be a pivotal character in a potentially volatile fixture.