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Ask Steve Claridge

Steve Claridge
Claridge is the BBC's Football League expert

Nottingham Forest are one of the form teams in the Championship right now.

This week I examine their promotion chances, and those of another team who had a big win at the weekend, Middlesbrough - as well as looking at how any newly-promoted team can hope to fare in the Premier League.

I also take a belated look at Colchester's challenge at the top of League One and tackle a question about whether any rules could be brought in to make games more exciting.

If you have a question for Steve, you can submit it through Twitter at http://twitter.com/AskClaridge or use the form on the top right of the page.


Surely, after sweeping aside Doncaster (4-1) and highly-touted Leicester (5-1) in consecutive games and having won seven and drawn four of their last 11 games - including beating leaders Newcastle - Nottingham Forest now have to be taken seriously as promotion contenders?
Steve Long, UK

He's answered his own question there! Yes, of course they do. Forest had a poor start to the season, although they probably didn't get the results that some of their performances merited, but they're in good form now.

Robert Earnshaw

Nottm Forest 5-1 Leicester

The board has backed their manager Billy Davies and he's made the most of it, no doubt about that. As you can see from their results, his side have definitely got goals in them - they have got five or six proven goalscorers at Championship level whereas others are struggling to find one or two.

Forest have got a really strong squad and now they are playing very well. They look full of confidence too - they know they have got a team that can hurt the opposition which always gives you confidence going into a game.

Billy had a similar situation at Derby, when he took them up to the Premier League in 2007. And, although he keeps saying it's too early for Forest, it's never too early to get promotion because it might not happen for them next year, or the year after that - you've got to do it when you get the opportunity and this season is certainly a big chance.

Can they make the top two? Well, Newcastle or West Brom are going to have to falter for that to happen. But they look good for a top-six slot and, if anyone had offered Forest that at the start of the season, they would have bitten their hands off.

Steve, please can you explain why, given Colchester's position in League One and the fact they have been beaten only once in 16 games, you do not given them any mention in last week's appraisal of who will go up from League One. Could it be that you are still smarting from a poor reception from the Layer Road crowd years ago?
Paul, England

Ha, no it was not to do with anything like that! I have to apologise because I did actually forget about Colchester. It was a question put to me about automatic promotion and we were talking about the bigger clubs in League One - my apologies to Colchester because they were the one side that I did leave out of the equation. I certainly should have mentioned them.

And yes, of course, with the form they are in, they have got a chance. They are clearly a tough side to play against.

Colchester 1-0 Bristol Rovers

Colchester 1-0 Bristol Rovers

Also, by all accounts - and their manager Aidy Boothroyd is saying this constantly - there seems to be a nice balance to the way they play - they have got a little man-big man combination up front and Kevin Lisbie is in great form.

They are trying to keep Lisbie, who is on loan from Ipswich, and he is keen to stay - which might ultimately be the difference between them making the top six, pushing for the top two, or neither.

Aidy has done very well since succeeding Paul Lambert and has probably - rightly - been wondering why it has taken him so long to get back into the game after he left Watford.

They are right in the hunt for the play-offs, definitely. But will they make the top two? I'm not sure. I just think that the bigger clubs in League One will have the bigger resources when push comes to shove.

I don't know what to make of Middlesbrough this season. They have some of the best players in the division, yet they find themselves outside the play-off places. With the quality they've got they should really be challenging Newcastle and West Brom; can you still see them finishing in the top two at the end of the season?
Michael Peet, England

Michael asked this question before Saturday's superb win at QPR, which could be the turning point for Middlesbrough.

QPR 1-5 Middlesbrough

QPR 1-5 Middlesbrough

That game was like men against boys - and it showed what Boro can do when everybody in their team plays well. They have a really good spine, and some players like David Wheater, Emanuel Pogatetz and Gary O'Neil really stood out.

Boro have left themselves a lot to do but there is no reason why they can't go on a really really good run and, if they play like they did at QPR, then they will be looking at pushing that top two.

Firstly, though, they will certainly have to play better at home and show more resilience because their home form is what is letting them down. And when teams cannot play in front of their own fans, I don't put that down to ability, I put that down to not having enough character.

But Saturday will have given them a bit of belief. Now they have to produce that level of play consistently.

What can be done to encourage teams to play more exciting and attacking football. During Blackpool's 1-1 draw with Preston last week, there were 39 attempts at goal and hardly any passing along the back four or back to the keeper. Why can't all games be like this? Do you think banning passing back to the keeper in any circumstances would make the game more exciting?
Geoff Dixon, England

That was a fantastic game of football. But it was played under pretty exceptional circumstances because you had two managers who aren't under much pressure, and it was a local derby between two sides who knew a win would have a huge - and positive - effect on their season. There was also a great atmosphere and both sides fancied themselves to win the game.

What stops us from getting us more games like that is fear.

Blackpool 1-1 Preston

Blackpool 1-1 Preston

If either of those sides were in a relegation battle then you might have had Preston going there and shutting up shop or Blackpool trying to stop Preston from playing. It is pressure that brings negativity, not the rules of the game.

I'm not sure I'd want to tamper with the rules any more anyway - if you're stopping backpasses then you're stopping the natural flow of the game.

All the little changes before now haven't stopped flow - they have added to it. This time, Geoff is suggesting that you cannot pass the ball to someone else which is different. I wouldn't like to see that.

We already stopped keepers from picking up backpasses and they also have to get rid of the ball quickly when they do get hold of it anyway - there is very little opportunity for people to waste time and referees just stop the clock immediately if it does happen.

My question is this - which teams, if any at all, do you think are well-equipped enough to survive in the Premier League if they got promotion this year? which teams currently pushing for promotion do you think wouldn't stand a chance in staying up?
Leigh Ford, Pontypool

When you go up, to stay up you have to already have five or six players in your side who are good enough to play in the Premier League. You cannot buy a whole new team - that's impossible.

So, half of your side have to be good enough already, otherwise you are going to get relegated - that's the easiest equation to make.

When I went up with Leicester in 1996, we had seven or eight players who were good enough to play in the top flight and we finished ninth and tenth in the next two years and won the Carling Cup in 1997 because all our manager Martin O'Neill had to do was add to that existing squad. He bought four or five players each summer but the majority of the side stayed together and was clearly easily good enough to stay up.

Of the teams in the race for promotion this season, Newcastle and West Brom would certainly be competitive against the lesser sides in the Premier League, even with the squads they have got now.

With those two teams, and Boro too, at least some of their players have been there and done well in the past, despite being relegated last season.

But with Forest and Leicester - for example - they have clearly got very good Championship teams but they are not proven yet in the Premier League and so could find it very difficult to make the step up.


Steve Claridge is a BBC Football League pundit who played more than 800 matches for 15 clubs over the course of a 24-year playing career. He was talking to Chris Bevan.



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