Games between Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa inevitably recall that golden period of English football in the late seventies and early eighties, when our clubs dominated Europe in a manner that hasn’t happened before or since.
And hard as it might be to imagine for those who think football was invented in 1992 when the Premier League started, both Forest and Villa were at the forefront of that English dominance.
Brian Clough’s Forest won back-to-back European Cups in 1979 and 1980, while a Villa side managed by Ron Saunders won the competition in 1982 as English sides won ol’ big ears six years out of seven (it was so long ago that Liverpool were good enough to win the other four).
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Relative hard times have befallen both clubs in comparison to those halcyon days – Villa have endured plenty of mediocrity, give or take the odd good season, while Forest have been down as low as the third tier in recent years – but this season, each club has a sense of renewed purpose and grounds for genuine optimism.
Villa have been in great form in pre-season, winning four and drawing one of their five summer run-outs, and the way they comfortably saw off Peterborough on Tuesday with two unanswered goals showed they mean business.
The Villa fans see light at the end of a dark, Alex McLeish-shaped tunnel (actually, that’s not an analogy I want to dwell on) and with Paul Lambert at the helm, at least the mood around Villa Park will be a more positive one and the former Norwich manager has plenty of goodwill in the bank before a ball is even kicked.
Over at Forest, a new takeover has given the fans some hope that their stay in the lower leagues – where they have been since 1999 – will soon be over. Kuwaiti businessman Fawaz Al Hasawi has bought the Championship club following the sudden death of previous owner Nigel Doughty in February and the fans will be hoping that Al Hasawi will be splashing his immense cash: he belongs to one of the richest families in the world.
He’s made a good start, anyway: the first thing he did was sack Steve Cotterill, despite his best efforts in averting relegation, and replaced him with Sean O’Driscoll, which has gone down well with everybody apart from me, seeing as I backed O’Driscoll to get the job after Forest sacked Steve McClaren in October.
And O’Driscoll makes his home bow when Villa come to town. The former Doncaster boss is 3/1 to get off to a winning start at the City Ground, with the draw at 23/10 and Villa priced as the 4/5 favourites and in truth, I can’t see past an away win.
Villa have been in great form in pre-season, winning four and drawing one of their five summer run-outs, and the way they comfortably saw off Peterborough United – a team who finished above Forest last season – on Tuesday with two unanswered goals showed they mean business.
O’Driscoll has a big job on his hands at Forest and one that won’t happen overnight. Their form at the City Ground was dreadful last term – only relegated Doncaster won fewer points – and I see Villa as a solid odds-on shot here.
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