The halfway point of Sabri Lamouchi’s debut season in English football is slowly encroaching, with his Nottingham Forest side embarking on their twenty-first game of the season this weekend.
The Frenchman has led his Forest side into the top six, recapturing the famous City Ground with sell-out crowds week after week.
Lamouchi has maintained a steely British core with academy product Joe Worrall at the back, veteran midfielder Ben Watson in the centre, and accomplished Championship striker Lewis Grabban up top.
Yet, around his systematic spine, Lamouchi has flair at his disposal. Joe Lolley’s contribution numbers may have dropped but his performances remain at a high standard, whilst Portuguese midfielders Thiago Silva and Joao Carvalho offer ample creativity.
As for Sheffield Wednesday, Garry Monk’s side are one of many surprise packages in play-off pursuit.
Since Monk took over at Hillsborough, Wednesday have lost just four of their sixteen games under his leadership and three points on Saturday could see them leapfrog their opponents to move third in the table.
Experienced forward Steven Fletcher is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence under his new gaffers’ guidance, whilst Dominic Iorfa’s performances in defence are one of Wednesday’s strongest assets this season.
Despite three games without a win, Forest have picked up points in their last two outings; 2-2 away at Millwall and 1-1 with a struggling Middlesbrough.
Lamouchi’s side sit fifth in the table yet hold a game in hand on all those around them. With just four losses this season Forest are one of the tougher sides to beat.
However, this has failed to resonate at The City Ground. Three out of their four losses have come on home turf, with the side sitting sixteenth in the home form tables.
Wednesday travel to Nottingham with just one defeat in their last six games, that coming against second in the table West Bromwich Albion.
Last time out they gave up a 1-0 lead to draw against Derby County, albeit courtesy of a controversial penalty decision. Previously, they mustered a promising victory against a strong Brentford side, with whom they now sit level on points in the table.
The Owls are eighth, just one point of they play-offs, however, their attempts to challenge the top six are potentially in vain. The South Yorkshire outfit are in the midst of Financial Fair-Play investigations.
Possible sanctions could see the club hit with massive point deductions of over twenty points, leaving them slumped at the bottom of the table.
What to Expect
It could be a clash of two similar styles on Saturday as both sides opt to shirk possession. Forest and Wednesday are matched exactly on their average possession stats for the season, both with 47%.
This is reinforced with the average pass types per game as well. Wednesday attempt seventy-one long balls per game, just two more than their opposition at the weekend.
In addition, this fixture pits the leagues third best defence, Forest, against the fourth best defence, Wednesday, against each other, with the sides conceding seventeen and twenty goals respectively.
Bearing this in mind, the difference could come from dead ball situations. Forest’s seven goals from set pieces so far this season could be a worry for Garry Monk, with only nine of their twenty goals conceded coming directly from open play.
With two tough defensive teams, it is likely the game will come down to which side can take their chances.
Lewis Grabban is Forest’s top scorer this season with ten goals in twenty appearances.
The striker has made a name for himself as one of the divisions most talented poachers and in a game where chances may be far and few to come by Forest will be relying on Grabban to make the difference.
For the opposition it will be a similar outlook. Steven Fletcher’s highest scoring season in England saw him net twelve times with Wolverhampton Wanderers back in the 2011/2012 campaign.
The 32-year-old has eleven so far this season and will set his sights on breaking his own record sooner rather than later as Wednesday look to move into the play-off places.