By Tony Leighton
Nottingham Forest's new manager Alex McLeish knows better than anyone that a Saturday victory at Derby County, in the always hotly contested East Midlands derby, would go a long way to winning over the doubters among the club's fans.
There was some disquiet in sections of the City Ground faithful when previous manager Sean O'Driscoll was dismissed in late December, with Forest just a single point below the npower Championship Play-Off places, to be replaced almost immediately by former Scotland boss McLeish.
But, after getting a first victory under his belt last week, in what was his fourth game in charge, the new man now has the chance to hugely raise his standing in the eyes of supporters who treat the East Midlands derby with fierce passion.
And with a history of big city derby success in charge of Glasgow Rangers, Hibernian and Birmingham City, McLeish said: "I know the importance that comes with this fixture against Derby, and I also know that winning the game would go down very well with the Forest fans.
"It's always an important challenge for a manager, particularly when you're taking on a new job, to win a derby game. I don't have a bad record in derby fixtures, so hopefully I can get a win in my first East Midlands derby.
"I love derbies and I've been involved in quite a few. I know that every fan on the planet believes that their derby is the most special one, and who am I to argue with that? We know the passion that comes with these matches."
The Forest fans will be desperate for a victory after going down to three successive defeats by Derby. And McLeish's men will be taking on a Rams side that in their last two home matches beat high-flying Middlesbrough 3-1 then hammered Tranmere Rovers 5-0 in the FA Cup.
The Forest boss is undaunted by those statistics, however. "I've not been involved in the last three defeats," he said, "but there is obviously a mental strength than can help. At the end of the day though, it's about the players and their ability along with how they cope with the emotions of a game like this.
"We want to go to Derby and come back with three points. They are a free-flowing, attack-minded side and it should be a good game. They will come out with all guns blazing, but we must be ready for that with our sleeves rolled up.
"We have to stamp our identity on the game and that's the aim. The lads are training well and looking confident after beating Peterborough last week, and hopefully we can go to Derby and come away with another positive result."
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