Contrasting fortunes this season for bitter rivals Derby County and Nottingham Forest

Derby County and Nottingham Forest have had contrasting fortunes this season. Credit: ITV News Central

It's Saturday September 18th 2021 and Derby and Forest have both won their respective matches against Stoke City and Huddersfield Town.

In the Championship table after eight games, the Rams are 12th, a mere three points off the play-off places under Wayne Rooney.

The Reds by contrast are rooted to the bottom, three points adrift of safety having just won for the first time this season under caretaker Steven Reid. 

A reversal of fortunes

But this would be the start of a reversal of fortunes for the bitter rivals. Derby know what's coming. In a matter of the days the club is deducted a first lot of points after entering administration.

Forest meanwhile are close to hiring former Swansea City manager Steve Cooper.

Fast forward to April 2022 and Derby County are relegated to League One whilst Forest dream of playing in the Premier League. This contrast along the A52, Brian Clough Way, shows that football is both made of fairytales and nightmares. 

For Derby County, it was a scenario that seemed inevitable when the club were deducted another nine points in November for historical financial breaches. No club has ever survived and the odds were firmly stacked against Wayne Rooney and his players.

Tremendous credit due

But, as written previously, they deserve tremendous credit for battling as long as they could.

The fact that it took until game 43 of 46 to confirm their relegation shows how close they came to pulling off a miracle. When the Rams went unbeaten between the middle of December and January, the fanbase started to believe. 

Despite losing key players like Phil Jakielka because the club was not allowed to sign or renew contracts, the players kept going. All too often and perhaps sometimes with good reason, fans accuse players who earn thousands of pounds a week, of not caring for the club they play for or its supporters. This kind of criticism has not been levelled at those pulling on the Derby shirt this season. 

Wayne Rooney has already become a Rams legend.

He kept them up on the last day of last season and although he could not repeat the same feat this time around, he has said all the right things and his actions have pointed to a man who really does care about the club and the community. 

When Wayne was approached to interview for the vacant Everton job, it would have been easy for the boyhood Toffees fan to say yes and think about a return home to Merseyside. Instead, he rejected the approach to focus on Derby. 

Moreover, after everything that's happened this season, it would be easy to walk away. Once again, Rooney has said all the right things - telling supporters and the media that he wants to be the one to bring the club back up. This is providing that the takeover of Chris Kirchner happens. 

The prospective new owner has been very active on Twitter - addressing fans and saying Rooney wants to and will stay. Like the boss, he is saying all the right things and fans will hope that the deal is completed and that it is just the start of the rejuvenation of a club that so badly needs to put the past firmly behind it. 

"Say what you want… I’m buying the right club with the right fans. We will be back. And we will be better. Together."

Whilst Derby being relegated was perhaps inevitable, the attitude of the players and staff wasn't. But their loyalty has been praised by fans who at this stage are just content that the club still exists.

An exciting ride

For Nottingham Forest, it's been an exciting ride to this point, though the season could not have started worse for them. Bottom of the table and struggling, manager Chris Hughton was heavily criticised by supporters. When Steve Cooper took the helm, most if not all, saw the appointment as a positive one. It's actually turned out to be potentially one of the best decisions the club has ever made.

Cooper has turned the Reds from one looking like relegation fodder to a team that look like they could be promoted. The Play Offs at the moment is the minimum that fans should expect and they can seal their place this weekend if all goes according to plan.

Forest have recently been here before though, and fans will no doubt be wary.

Under Sabri Lamouchi in the 2019-20 season, the Reds largely looked like ending their then 21 year exile from the Premier League. However, football was stopped because of the pandemic and when it started up again, Forest lost all form and spectacularly fell out of the Play Off places on the last day of the season on goal difference. 

This time however, it feels different. Steve Cooper has instilled belief into the players- it's rare that Forest don't score. The magical cup run where the Reds were undone by Liverpool in the quarter final, shows just how much the side has improved since the start of the season.

But you won't hear Steve Cooper getting carried away. He only ever thinks ahead to the next game and said only a couple of weeks ago that there is still much work to do.

If you had told Forest fans back in September that they would be in the play off positions comfortably in April, they would not have believed it and that illustrates the scale of the turnaround. Back then, fans were just thinking about how they could avoid relegation. 

There is a long way to go for the Reds. There are five games to go for them and although automatic promotion is still possible, the Play Offs are a more likely destination.

But that too will be tough. Luton and Huddersfield will no doubt be there and Luton have just beaten Forest, so nothing is guaranteed.

But in a season of so many twists and turns, you can be sure of more drama in the coming weeks.

For the bitter rivals at either end of the A52, this season more than most has shown that football is very much about that old cliche of two very different halves.