Clough leaves Forest on survival watch

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Forest ruled out Nigel Clough for his lack of experience before making Billy Davies their new manager. As Clough’s Derby won at the City Ground for the second time in 17 days, they might have been questioning their judgment.

Not that Davies, who took Preston to the play-offs twice before steering Derby into the Premier League, falls short on Championship know-how. So far, however, it is Clough who appears to have galvanising qualities. As well as knocking Forest out of the FA Cup at the beginning of the month, Derby have won four in a row in the league; Forest, by contrast, are without a win in five.

“We need to finish fourth bottom of the table, that’s the only target,” Davies said, having admitted that to stave off relegation would be the biggest achievement of his career. “I have come into a football club that narrowly sneaked into this division last season and unfortunately did not add to the squad in the January window.

“The players showed their lack of experience and lack of discipline and were up against a team who knows better than they do how to battle in this division.”

It was not an uplifting assessment of Forest’s parlous position but after a humiliating defeat against their fiercest rivals it reflected the mood around the City Ground. There had not been a Derby win there in more than 37 years before Forest’s 2-0 Cup replay lead was overturned at the beginning of the month and now two had come along at once.

Davies had played every card available to stop it happening. Rob Earnshaw and Paul Anderson, injuries to whom had been blamed for Forest’s dip in form, were rushed back ahead of a schedule. But Derby went ahead in five minutes with the first of two successful set-pieces, Lewin Nyatanga beating Luke Chambers to a Kris Commons cross before stabbing the ball home as it dropped at his feet.

Forest enjoyed much possession thereafter but Earnshaw squandered to good chances to put them level and when Derby doubled their lead 90 seconds into the second half, Rob Hulse glancing home a Robbie Savage free-kick, the writing was on the wall. A penalty, converted by Steve Davies after James Perch had pushed Hulse, put the issue beyond doubt and when Earnshaw did hit the target, with three minutes left and Derby down to 10 men, with James McEveley injured and all three substitutes used, it did not mean a lot.

But there is no crowing from Clough. Indeed, back at the scene of most of his triumphs as a player, he had sympathy for the losing side, not least when it was pointed out that when Derby won at Forest in 1971, with his father in charge, they finished the season as champions, while Forest went down.

“I know we will not win the League and I hope Forest are not relegated,” he said, rejecting also the notion that he might have proved any point.

“I haven’t even got my feet under the table yet as a manager at this level let alone proved anything.”