Monday 3 November ~
The Brian Clough Cup was yesterday contested at Pride Park in what on the face of it didn't look like the most exciting of fixtures. It wasn't until around the 90-minute mark when the now infamous Stuart Attwell – the referee who gave the “ghost goal” to Reading in their match with Watford in September – was again tarnishing his image as an “elite” referee. In the process he also denied Derby a leap up the table that would have seen them on the brink of a play-off place. How costly this may be at the end of the season.
Both sides looked content to take the draw, Derby substitute Emanuel Villa being greedy enough to score at both ends, but then came the final moments. Attwell rules out a Derby goal because he had just blown to award them a penalty, which they subsequently miss. Moments later Derby get the ball in the net again only for it to be contentiously ruled out for pushing. Although this mistake wasn’t as ridiculous as the non-goal at Vicarage Road, the audience was a lot wider (Sky TV covered the game) and the game more important. If this decision had been made the north London derby last week, it would make an absolute mockery of the FA’s Respect campaign that seems ready to collapse should there be just one more big refereeing mistake. The FA should also look at Attwell’s speedy ascent to the top. After only beginning his training in 1998, he now finds himself on the select list of referees, suggesting that in his case at least the fast-track system has failed.
This game may yet have huge repercussions for both clubs. In a season which has already taken in a terrible start – they didn't register a win until mid-September – and allegations of an involvement in match fixing, Derby now sit comfortably in ninth place. The Championship again looks just as hard to predict as it was last season, with only ten points separating the final relegation and play-off places. Many point to the competitiveness of the division, but anyone who regularly attends will tell you this is far from the truth.
Forest, on the other hand, have been poor. After their most successful week of the season they still find themselves five points from safety. The general consensus among Forest fans is that their propensity to miss chances is what sees them cut adrift in the relegation zone, big money summer signing Robert Earnshaw shouldering much of the blame. After tough encounters against Birmingham and Bristol City, Forest have a run in which they play four of the teams down there with them. These games will be pivotal, even with no more trophies at stake. Jamie Hinks