Megson's work ethic draws local dividend

Nottingham Forest 2 - Derby County 2
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The Independent Football

Nottingham Forest have not played an FA Cup tie in March since they last qualified for the quarter-finals, in 1996. Yet the prospect of reaching that stage again, via a replay against Tottenham Hotspur, on Wednesday evening, is being greeted almost with indifference.

Ticket sales have been steady since Forest forced the 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane eight days ago, promising a substantial turn-out at the City Ground, but should a trip to Newcastle on Saturday week fall off the fixture list, few tears will be shed, particularly by the Forest manager, Gary Megson.

"You can't decry the Cup," Megson said after Saturday's drawn East Midlands derby had ushered next week's trip to Leicester to the front of his relegation-haunted thoughts.

"You want to progress as far as you can in the competition and, after the performance the players put in to get a draw at Tottenham, they have earned a second go. But from my point of view, you look at a schedule of nine games in 27 days and it is another one to fit in, another chance for players to pick up injuries while your rivals are having a rest."

With 13 matches left, Forest are next to bottom in the table, still six points below the safety line. Joe Kinnear, Megson's predecessor, conjured a run of eight wins from 14 games to beat the drop last season. Megson might not need a recovery quite as impressive as that but, then again, Kinnear's team began their charge only two points below the line.

When Kinnear walked out in December, his bitterness, in some eyes, was understandable. "Look what I did for you last year," he protested. But it was his ability to misjudge the public mood that ultimately cost him, from complaining about what he perceived as an "obsession with the past" to dismissing Forest's trip to Derby in December as "just another game".

Forest lost 3-0 to their fiercest rivals with a performance that was embarrassingly poor. Kinnear resigned five days later.

Megson made the 21-year-old, Nottingham-born Wes Morgan captain for Saturday's return. As the goalscorer and regular captain Gareth Taylor explained: "The manager made his message clear: we don't lose local derbies."

It clearly hit home. Trailing to the first of two headed goals by Grzegorz Rasiak, Forest were unrecognisable from the side the Pole had scored twice against in December. Kris Commons won a penalty from which Paul Evans equalised and, after the new signings David Friio and Scott Dobie had given exemplary demonstrations of Megson's work ethic, Taylor's diving header put them in front.

Derby, however, are not fourth in the table by accident. Rasiak's second goal stretched their unbeaten run to six and maintained Forest's anxiety.

But hopes remain strong. "Three months ago we probably would have folded after going a goal down," Taylor added. "But the manager has made us much harder to beat now. If we can keep on playing like that we will have a chance."

Bring on Leicester, he might have said. But then he would have been forgetting about Tottenham.

Goals: Rasiak (12) 0-1; Evans pen (36) 1-1; Taylor (69) 2-1; Rasiak (78) 2-2.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Gerrard; Curtis, Morgan, Melville, Doig; Evans, Powell, Friio, Commons; Dobie (Johnson, 77), Taylor. Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Thompson, Robertson, Perch.

Derby County (4-4-2): Camp; Kenna, Konjic, Huddlestone, Makin; Bisgaard (Taylor, 90), Bolder, Idiakez, Tudgay; Peschisolido (Junior, 87), Rasiak. Substitutes not used: Grant (gk), Mills, Reich.

Referee: M Pike (Cumbria).

Booked: Forest Powell; Derby Kenna, Rasiak.

Man of the match: Friio.

Attendance: 26,160.