Preston North End will be meeting a very different Nottingham Forest under Martin O’Neill
There have been big changes at Nottingham Forest in the two months since Preston last played them.
Aitor Karanka was at the Forest helm when North End won 1-0 at the City Ground on December 8 thanks to a Louis Moult goal.
When the sides meet this weekend it will be Martin O’Neill in the away technical area at Deepdale.
Forest went for a change at the top last month, O’Neill’s appointment representing a change of direction.
But it was the return of a club legend, the Irishman in the Forest squad which won the League title in 1977/78 and then the European Cup twice.
O’Neill’s playing style is a lot different than that which Karanka encouraged.
PNE boss Alex Neil ran the rule over Forest in their 2-2 draw at West Bromwich on Tuesday night.
Neil said: “Forest are a very different proposition now.
“Aitor Karanka’s teams had a lot of rotation, passes and movement.
“They were expansive to open the game up, with two wide players rolling in and a No.10 to stretch the game.
“Martin’s teams are more linear in terms of staying in position, shuffling across the field and sucking up pressure.
“They try and counter you, play on top of you, so it will be a very different game to the last one at their place.
“I went to watch them on Tuesday and we know exactly what is coming – they will be difficult to break down.
“Forest will defend from the front, get guys behind the ball.
“They have a lot of good players – Lewis Grabban in the last calendar year was the highest scorer.
“I had Lewis at Norwich and he was excellent.
“They have got Joe Lolley, who has been one of the finds of the season for me.
“Jack Colback and Ben Watson are guys who have played in the Premier League.”
O’Neill should be quite well versed with North End’s Republic of Ireland players, having given Sean Maguire and Alan Browne their debuts at international level.
He and No.2 Roy Keane ran the rule regularly over the Lilywhites.
Said Neil: “I didn’t have much contact with Martin when he was the Republic of Ireland manager.
“I know Martin, I’ve met him at a couple of games and been in his company.”
Forest sit in ninth place, five points shy of the play-offs which seems to be minimum target for City Ground chiefs.
The fact they were not right up there in January led to the departure of Karanka.
On Tuesday night they drew 2-2 at West Bromwich in controversial circumstances.
They led 2-1 until the 89th minute, only to be pegged back by a Jay Rodriguez penalty.
It was Dwight Gayle who won the spot-kick and he has since been charged by the FA with ‘successful deception of a match official’.
Ryan Yates had put Forest 2-1 up, with them benefiting earlier from an own goal.
Grabban is their top scorer with 15 Championship goals, while Lolley has netted seven.