Nottingham Forest vs. Preston North End
Saturday December 19, 17:20, City Ground
Forgive us for indulging ourselves here at your favourite irreverent lower league football blog, however, there was only one choice for our Big Match Preview this weekend.
Nottingham Forest against Preston is more than just a match between two Championship sides dreaming of promotion, but a clash between our very own esteemed Soccer AM/MW duo of Turls and Lakes.
So, despite the fact we covered Forest last time out in the Championship, we make no apologies for doing so again in a slightly different BMP. Indeed, I'm actually feeling pretty pleased with myself while writing this. And make of that what you like.
So, with Turls and Lakes having their own special look ahead to this game - something you can see later on this week - here's my own, neutral take on the showdown at the City Ground, starting with the home side.
I actually tipped Forest to finish in the top six this season, indeed, if the season finished today they'd be exactly where I expected them to be - fourth. The loftiness of that prediction was largely down to the fact I consider the Forest boss, Billy Davies, to be the best in the division.
His record at this level with Derby and, of course, Preston speaks for itself - he never fails to finish in the play-offs given a full season with a team. His sides are always so well organised and they work incredibly hard.
Crucially, he knows how to shut down opposition, stop them from playing their game, and then his own side can take advantage - usually playing good passing football of their own. For my money, he is the best manager outside the Premier League.
It's true to say he's been given a good pot of money to spend at the City Ground, but what he's had he's spent wisely. He's gone for a good blend of youth and experience and also plenty of pace.
Forest needed a big overhaul in players if they were going to turn themselves from relegation battlers to promotion candidates in a few months and it's a credit to Davies he has done it so quickly - just like he did at Derby.
It shows he's a manager who can get players playing for him how he wants them to, and that they all understand the roles they have been given. It also takes a lot of hard work.
I heard stories when he was at Preston he used to go through around 50 set-piece routines on the training ground. That's the work ethic and attention to detail he demands.
However, it's fair to say that I also have a lot of admiration for his fellow Scot, and the man who will be in the away dugout on Saturday, the Preston manager Alan Irvine.
Indeed, if Davies knows what it takes to go from a relegation battle to play-off fight in a few months then Irvine does too. Let's get this straight - if it wasn't for Burnley last season, then the jobs Irvine and PNE did last season would have got the fair coverage and huge plaudits they deserved.
It's just a shame for the club that their close neighbours overshadowed them and went one better in actually gaining promotion from the play-offs. It shouldn't detract though from what was an excellent campaign for North End - and Irvine was the mastermind behind it.
In many ways, he's similar to Davies. Both demand a great work ethic and discipline from their side. They both work hard on defensive shape and set-pieces at both ends on the training ground.
Irvine is a lot more even-tempered than his Forest counterpart, but in terms of footballing philosophy they're pragmatists - both preferring to play football but also respecting their side sometimes need to show that battling spirit and gritty edge.
Sadly for him, he's not been given the same resources at Deepdale that Davies has been able to spend this past summer. It's the reason why Preston find themselves slightly off the pace in terms of the frontrunners for the play-offs.
Put simply - the division has moved forward but Preston have been left behind. You can't keep overachieving on limited resources when sides are spending more and more money trying to achieve Premier League status.
It's a shame - PNE are a great club and Irvine is a manager who has shown his judgement and ability deserves greater financial backing. My own feeling is that he is probably destined for a bigger and wealthier club than North End.
It's also the reason why I imagine Forest's expensively assembled team may well have too much for Preston to handle this weekend. The home side are bouncing at the minute, they're full of confidence, and winning has become a habit for them.
Preston will make it difficult for them, but Forest are very good at the back themselves and give little away. I think the game will probably be tighter than the scoreline, but Forest just have the greater firepower to punish PNE.
Nobes' Prediction: Nottingham Forest 2 Preston North End 0
And stay tuned later this week for a special look ahead to the Forest/Preston match as Turls and Lakes give their views ahead of the weekend game.