18 December ~ Never slow to capitalise on their European heritage, Nottingham Forest are hoping to boost Christmas merchandise sales by holding a signing session with three squad members from the glory years before today's match with Crystal Palace. (The word the club used was "legends", not readily associated with Bryn Gunn, reliable as he was.) Any festivity will be tinged with sadness, however, at the sudden death on Tuesday, at the ludicrously young age of 24, of Dale Roberts. The former Forest keeper never made a competitive appearance for the Reds, but was a regular squad member in the 2007-08 League One promotion campaign, eventually leaving for Rushden & Diamonds in January 2009.
Meanwhile Palace’s goalkeeper Julian Speroni, seemingly the permanent supporters' Player of the Year, has signed an extended contract. They've sorted out their worrying home record with three successive wins prior to last week's draw against Hull and will be looking to improve on their dismal away form, which has seen the Eagles lose their last four away matches and gain only four points on the road all season.
Not a good time, then, to visit Billy Davies's men, who will be looking to preserve an unbeaten home league run stretching back to September 2009 (play-offs don't count, as any Forest fan will readily tell you). But they have yet to fire on all cylinders this season and come into the game ring-rusty from a snow-enforced mid-season break. The Reds haven't played at home for more than a month; the pitch was playable for the Bristol City game, but it was called off due to the unique City Ground risk of less-than-sure-footed fans being deposited into the icy waters of the broad, majestic Trent.
With last week's match at Scunthorpe also postponed, their three weeks without a match have seen Forest plummet from the verge of the play-offs to 15th in the table, equidistant in points from Norwich in the final play-off spot and Palace in the drop zone. Palace will be heartened by the fact that Forest's strikers seem to be taking it in turns to get injured – spectacularly so in the case of the unfortunate Dexter Blackstock, who might not return until Olympic year, if ever – without having done a great deal of striking even when they were fit. The wise money might be on a 1-1 draw, Forest's default result having already occurred seven times this season. Richard Harrison