It was a day for celebration as Nottingham Forest eased to a 2-1 win over Derby County at the City Ground.
After an evenly-contested first-half, Lewis Grabban put the Reds ahead shortly after the interval with an instinctive finish past Derby ‘keeper Ryan Allsop.
Forest starlet Brennan Johnson doubled the hosts’ advantage when he linked up with substitute Philip Zinckernagel eight minutes before full-time.
There was to be a nervy final few minutes when Tom Lawrence converted from the penalty spot after Steve Cook was adjudged to have fouled the Derby attacker.
But Steve Cooper’s side held on to secure the points in front of a vociferous City Ground support.
The result lifts Forest to within just a few points of the play-off positions but there were plenty of other talking points.
Brilliant Brennan strikes again but questions remain over Forest future
Brennan Johnson has been one of Forest’s stand-out players this season, despite it being only his first full campaign as a Championship footballer, and he left nothing in the changing rooms when he faced Derby County.
The 20-year-old picked up the man of the match award from Sky Sports and it was truly deserved.
He had the least touches of any outfield player to play 90 minutes (31), but successfully completed 70% of his passes, was not dispossessed at all and dragged Derby defender Lee Buchanan all over the pitch.
That’s on top of the goal he scored; receiving the ball on the half-way line he sprayed an excellent pass out to Zinckernagel before driving forward to turn the ball over the line from close-range.
So it is no surprise to know that Johnson, who has scored six goals and contributed four assists this season, is a target for a number of Premier League clubs.
Burnley, Leeds United, Leicester City and Brentford have all been credited as having an interest in the young attacking midfielder and the latter remain keen on signing him during the January transfer window.
Forest head coach Steve Cooper is desperate to retain his prized asset, but a £15m bid from the Bees will have almost certainly been considered by the Forest top dogs.
Speaking after the match on Saturday lunchtime, Johnson gave very little away regarding his immediate future.
He said: “I’m not too sure [what will happen]. I’m loving my football at the moment.
“I’m very confident. All the boys are. I want to keep going and keep doing well.”
There are at least 18 months remaining on Johnson’s contract meaning the Reds are by no means in a position in which they have to sell their creative spark.
Cooper’s side goes marching on up the table
Nottingham Forest have won ten of their 19 Championship fixtures since Steve Cooper took over at the back-end of September 2021.
The Reds were second from bottom when Cooper took the reins; only Derby – courtesy of a hefty 21 points deduction – were lower and they had scored just seven goals.
Since then, the Reds have rocketed up the Championship standings, picking up 36 points from a possible 57 on offer.
Saturday’s 2-1 win over Derby now leaves the Reds four points adrift of the play-offs and with a game in hand over sixth-placed Huddersfield Town.
Forest fanbase show their colour with pre-match display
The yearly meeting between Forest and Derby at the City Ground is always a hotly-anticipated fixture. The tension of a local derby draws in even the most mundane of football fans, but Forest’s fan group Forza Garibaldi add to the excitement each year with their excellent displays.
This time around was no different with their self-funded project flowing over the Trent End ahead of kick-off as the teams emerged to a vociferous atmosphere.
This year’s display included a massive display of the city’s infamous celebrity, Robin Hood, as well as outlines of Ye Olde Trip, Wollaton Hall, Nottingham Castle, The Theatre Royal, Council House & Lions, Old Market Square, Brian Clough Statue and much more.
In addition to this there were 33 tree banners spelling out a hidden message of “Nottingham Forest are magic are magic” with each tree designed to represent a member of the squad and management team.
Inscribed onto the trees was the name, number and national flag of the chosen individual. The tree itself and/or flowers at the base were also linked to the individual’s home country.
Winter transfer target’s poor performance against Forest
Forest have reportedly been keeping close tabs on Derby’s left-sided defender Lee Buchanan, but Reds fans will be wondering what makes him so special after his showing on Saturday.
The 20-year-old full-back received one of the lowest match ratings among his team-mates as he scored 6.0 from stats website FotMob – only Allsop (5.9), Liam Thompson (5.7) and Festy Ebosele (5.4) received lower ratings.
He made just 12 accurate passes, a success rate of 63% and was dispossessed twice as Djed Spence and Brennan Johnson kept him pushed back for most of the game.
Buchanan has been a target for Forest both last summer and at the start of this month’s January transfer window.
His existing contract is set to expire in June 2022, but the Rams have the option to extend this by an additional 12 months and CBJ Target understands the full-back is happy to remain a Rams player and help them fight for survival.
Lewis Grabban shows he’s still got the ability to lead Forest
At 34-years-old, it’s likely that Forest will be looking for some younger blood when it comes attacking options in order to replace the aging Lewis Grabban.
The former Bournemouth and Aston Villa front-man’s contract is set to expire this summer but he will almost certainly not be one Forest want to let leave on a free transfer.
Yet he produced another promising performance against the Rams when he showed the instincts of a predatory striker when he lashed a loose ball past Allsop shortly after half-time.
His reactions up-front may remain just as fruitful, but the aging striker is beginning to show some signs of tiring with four yellow cars already this season. The last time he received this many bookings was the 2011/12 campaign.
Grabban may have also been particularly fortunate to have avoided being sent for an early shower given his late tackle on Derby’s Thompson midway through the first-half.
His 13 goals this season in all competitions makes him Forest’s top-scorer, proving he has plenty left in the tank despite his age.
Grabban is more than halfway towards the 20-tally that he picked up during the 2019/20 campaign.
It is almost like London busses. Forest fans waited 16 years for a striker to score 20 goals – David Johnson and Marlon Harewood hit that total in 2002/03 – and now they could have two in three seasons.
Forest are short of prolific strikers with Lyle Taylor (three goals in 19 appearances) the only other option aside from loan signing Keinan Davis. Extending Grabban’s contract for another 12 months could at least provide some added cover up-front over the next year, but Cooper will also be keeping close tabs on possible replacements too.