Nottingham Forest manager Martin O’Neill believes their 1-0 victory over bitter Sky Bet Championship rivals Derby could be the trigger for a late play-off push
Yohan Benalouane, playing with a mask to protect a facial injury, scored his first goal for the club after just 70 seconds to ultimately sink the Rams, and that win has sent them to within three points of sixth spot.
“It’s all to play for,” O’Neill said when asked if he is looking at the play-offs now. “The win naturally gives the players a lot of confidence and I think every victory is terrific, so we’ll see where we go. Let’s give it everything we’ve got.”
Benalouane netted the crucial goal after Joe Lolley’s inswinging free-kick not dealt with.
“Benalouane probably had his best game for us and he has been doing very well,” added O’Neill.
“I am delighted to win. We defended strongly and both centre-backs played very well, with (Alex) Milosevic very steady too.”
The Rams should have levelled through Martyn Waghorn but otherwise O’Neill’s side never really looked in any danger of conceding, while Murphy ,Joe Lolley and Ryan Yates all went close to adding a second for the Reds.
“Obviously we got off to a fantastic start and the early goal gave us some momentum. Derby had a good chance about 15 minutes later and we spurned a good chance through Murphy, who I thought played very well for us,” said O’Neill.
In his first East Midlands derby as Forest manager, in front of a crowd of nearly 30,000, O’Neill harked back to the times when he played under Brian Clough at the City Ground
“I reminisced for all of 15 seconds,” he laughed. “It was a big game for us to win, although there are things for us to improve on. It was a great atmosphere tonight and the crowd were terrific for us and they forgave us a few times when we gave away the ball.”
Rams boss Frank Lampard bemoaned his side’s slow start to the game and their quality up front as they slipped to their third defeat in row.
“It was the deciding factor of the game in the first 70 seconds,” said Lampard. “It wasn’t a great foul to give away and then we didn’t deal with the ball into the box on two or three occasions.
“We absolutely played into Forest’s hands. They are a good organised team and like to sit back and counter attack and if you gift them a goal in the first moment in a game of this magnitude then it gives them the edge straight away.
“We had 89 minutes to get back into the match and although we controlled a lot of the ball, we ultimately didn’t do enough in the final third again and that one’s on us.
“I don’t think the quality was sky high in the game generally, and in three games now our quality has gone down considerably and it needs to come back quickly.
“Yes, we’re missing players through injury, but at the same time with the quality we have in the squad, it should be better than it what was today. We have to go back to basics.”
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