Preston North End vs. Forest preview..

Ah, the FA Cup weekend is upon us.  Without being disrespectful to our hosts, not the most interesting of ties (I imagine they probably feel the same way!).  Preston are struggling at the foot of the Championship – and have just appointed former Hull boss Phil Brown to try to stop the rot at Deepdale.  They even had to suffer the embarrassment of losing against Derby in their last league outing.

On the personnel front I’m expecting Billy to mix things up a bit – making predictions even more difficult than usual.  Paul McKenna has recovered from illness and this might be a good opportunity to get some game time into him, whilst Julian Bennett and Joe Garner both returned to Forest from their loan spells so might find their way into the squad depending on how experimental Billy wants to be!

Dexter Blackstock remains our only serious injury omission, whilst we are unable to call upon the services of our latest signing Marcus Tudgay as he’s already played for Sheffield Wednesday in one of the earlier rounds of the competition so finds himself cup-tied.  Our hosts are reporting no injuries but have recently lost a number of loanees in the aftermath of Darren Ferguson getting sacked, there’s also rumour of oft-thorn-in-side Jon Parkin leaving for Cardiff.

Of course, we’ve already had a trip up to Preston this season – back in September when the aforementioned Parkin gave the hosts the lead, but two Lewis McGugan goals saw the Reds run out 2-1 winners.  This time Preston’s economy has received a timely boost in these hard-hit times, salons in the town are excited by the arrival of the perpetually-orange Phil Brown who will be keeping the spray-tanners busy in Lancashire.

The new manager factor for the Lillywhites and the unpredictability of either sides team selection makes this a tough one to call.  Personally I’m hoping Billy uses this opportunity to rest some of our players who’ve had a fairly busy time of it lately – particularly Morgan, Gunter and possibly Cohen too – and maybe a chance to give some of the fringe players a leg stretch like Thornhill, Lynch and Moloney.  Also a good chance to get some game time into skipper McKenna.

With that in mind predicting the result is fairly meaningless – certainly Phil Brown will be looking to get an early confidence boost into his new charges at our expense.  It would be tremendously good for our own confidence though if we can back up our last successful away trip to Ipswich with another win on the road, and hopefully get that ‘can’t win away’ monkey well and truly off our back for 2011.

January starts well, but can it last?

I’m a bit late in the day thanks to the rude awakening of coming back to work, but I’m really chuffed that Forest did the not-entirely-unexpected and made Marcus Tudgay’s signing from Sheffield Wednesday permanent yesterday.  He’s now on board with a two-and-a-half year contract after impressing in his loan spell, in which he notched three goals in three starts, and one sub appearance.

He’s always been one of those players that seems to have niggled us when he’s been an opponent, and perhaps his unsettledness at Wednesday after other moves were blocked for him meant that people had a poorer impression of his abilities than they should have.  He’s not the biggest or the fastest, but he’s decent in the air (as the Derby game showed, albeit against appalling defenders), and he’s got a great first touch, and an eye for goal.

It all adds to the former-Rams in our ranks too – he started out with Derby, making 99 appearances for them and notching 18 goals before earning a move to Wednesday amidst all manner of outlandish off-field rumours.  At Wednesday he made a little over 200 appearances and notched 50 goals – so increased his scoring ratio from 1 in 5 games to 1 in 4.  Hopefully he can do the same again here, he’s certainly started well enough!

Elsewhere on the personnel merry-go-round we welcome back Joe Garner and Julian Bennett from their loans with Huddersfield and Palace respectively.  It’s already been decreed that no follow-up interest in Joe will be shown by Huddersfield after his loan ended with no goals.  Benno I understand made a better impression at Palace, although given the injury and soon-t0-be-expired loan of Ryan Bertrand the Reds might choose to assess whether it’s worth keeping hold of him.  We still await news of Robbie Findley’s work permit.

After that – well, the usual rumours in a January window are surfacing.  The general mood of the message boards seems to be confidence that Forest will splash the cash in this window, which always makes me – the cynic – feel a bit pensive!  Certainly this season represents a real opportunity to make a claim for the automatic spots, as none of the teams at the top look unassailable at the moment.. unfortunately that also includes us as times!

I really want to have faith that this January will be different – indeed, it has started remarkably well with the capture of Tudgay, but I’m not going to let myself get too excited!