PREVIEW: Nottingham Forest v Luton Town
With 19 games to go, Nottingham Forest looked well set to mount a serious promotion challenge back to the top flight where they last played some 20 years ago, whether that be automatically, or through the play-offs.
After defeating Luton 2-1 at Kenilworth Road in November, they hit some real form, beating fierce rivals Derby County 1-0, drawing at Bristol City and then returning from Loftus Road with a thumping 4-0 victory over QPR.
That was enough to see Sabri Lamouchi's team sitting fourth, five points off second with a game in hand.
However, those hopes were then momentarily blunted by a run of five without a win, beaten at home by Cardiff, and comprehensively thrashed 4-0 at the City Ground by Sheffield Wednesday.
They also went down 2-1 at Huddersfield to make it just two points out of a possible 15, dropping to ninth, 16 points adrift of leaders West Bromwich Albion.
But Forest are made of sterner stuff this term, bouncing back to reel off three straight victories, starting at Hull and then getting their home form back on track, beating Wigan and Blackburn.
A third round 2-0 FA Cup defeat at Chelsea was no disgrace and they almost had a fourth successive league triumph last weekend, taking the lead in stoppage time at Reading, only to concede just 60 seconds later in a 1-1 draw
However, they remain handily placed, fifth in the table, eights points off Leeds United in second spot, but still with a game in hand on the top two.
With the window open, Forest's main desire is to bring in another striker to share the load with 14-goal frontman Lewis Grabban, as Joe Lolley on just four is their next highest scorer.
A move for Brighton forward Glenn Murray now seems unlikely, while interest in Southampton's Che Adams and Eddie Nketiah from Arsenal has been rebuffed, while another target, Aston Villa's Jonathan Kodjia expected to complete a move to Qatar.
However, keeping hold of their young talents is also just as vital to boss Lamouchi during the window.
Ever-present full back Joe Worrall, who came through the academy at the City Ground, has been linked with a number of top flight clubs including Arsenal but the Reds chief has stated that won't happen while he is in charge.
On the prospect of selling Worrall, Lamouchi said: "No way. With me, it is impossible.
"Don't talk to me about money, don't talk to me about challenge - Joe Worrall is from Forest.
"We started a job together and I will never give permission to do that (sell the player).
“The owner wants to give our fans the best league - the Premier League - and to achieve that he has to invest a lot of money. But it is not enough; we need to do a little bit more.”
One player who has left Forest this month is Spanish forward Rafa Mir who has returned to Wolverhampton Wanderers after his loan ended, failing to score in any of his 13 appearances for the club.
Young Jordan Wright has also departed, heading to Alfreton Town on a month’s loan.
Team news: Hatters midfielder Izzy Brown is pushing for a place in the squad after making his comeback from injury in the behind closed doors friendly on Wednesday afternoon.
Dan Potts and Danny Hylton also played, although the latter will need some more minutes before being considered for the Championship.
Martin Cranie and Callum McManaman are still doubts, while Brendan Galloway (patella) is out for the season.
For Forest, Tendayi Darikwa is out for the season after injuring his anterior cruciate ligament.
Fellow defender Carl Jenkinson is back after a lengthy ankle injury, with Michael Hefele also available again.
Top scorers: Hatters: James Collins (9). Forest: Lewis Grabban (14).
Milestones: Both Andrew Shinnie and Elliot Lee are one away from their 100th game for the Hatters.
The pair have reached 99 during loan spells and permanent stays with the club, Shinnie scoring 10 goals so far and Lee 28.
Kazenga LuaLua could reach his own milestone of 50 appearances for Luton if he features too, the winger on target five times so far.
Man in the middle: Tony Harrington - Refereed 22 games this term, with 57 yellows and three reds.
Third match for the Hatters this term, having had the 3-0 EFL Cup win at Cardiff in August and then the horror show at Brentford in November, Luton beaten 7-0.
Took Town back in April 2016, a 2-1 win at Carlisle in League Two, while also had two Hatters matches in the 2014-15 season, a 2-1 win at Stevenage and 2-1 FA Cup loss at Cambridge.
Did four Luton games when they were in the Blue Square Bet Premier, including defeat at York, draws with Cambridge and Southport, plus the 2-0 loss at Wrexham sending off John-Paul Kissock.
Assistant referees are Andrew Fox and Darren Blunden, with the fourth official Carl Boyeson.
In charge: Sabri Lamouchi, started his professional career with Alès in France, also playing for the likes of Auxerre, Monaco, Parma and Inter Milan, as he made over 400 appearances in total.
Earned 12 caps for France, before on retiring, became manager of the Ivory Coast national team in May 2012, leading the Elephants in the 2014 World Cup.
Took over at French side Rennes in November 2017, leading them to fifth in the table, before leaving in December 2018, and was named head coach of Nottingham Forest in June 2019.
View from the opposition: Boss Sabri Lamouchi talking to the club's official website: “We need to focus on our performance. It is a trap game; it will not be an easy game, for sure, so we have to be careful.
“They have some good players, they will have a reaction so it will be a tough game.
"It is not easy to play a team that is fighting to stay in the league, so we need to play our football and produce a big performance.
“We are in a good moment, at home and away.
"The players are working well, there is a nice atmosphere so we just want to take care to put the right pressure and focus on our job in the next game, and only think about the Luton game.”
One to watch: Sammy Ameobi - The unpredictable 27-year-old is the younger brother of ex-player Shola, as they both began their careers with Newcastle United.
Sammy went on to play over 50 times for the Magpies during his seven years on Tyneside, with loan moves to Middlesbrough, Cardiff and Bolton during that time.
Signed for the Trotters in July 2017, scoring eight goals in 67 league games, which saw Forest make their move in the summer once his contract had ended.
Has caught the eye with some fine displays, as he leads the way with assists, five so far, also scoring twice, one coming in the 2-1 win at Luton.
Friendly faces: Back in 2004, Town head of recruitment Mick Harford moved from his role as director of football at Kenilworth Road to become Joe Kinnear's assistant at the City Ground.
When Kinnear left a few weeks later, Harford was named caretaker manager for a month, winning two, drawing one and losing three of his six games in charge.
Despite making a good impact with Forest fans, he left once Gary Megson was appointed in January 2005.
Played for both: Jorge Grant - midfielder started his career at Nottingham Forest, having loans spells with Notts County and then Luton in the summer of 2018.
Played 22 times for the Hatters, scoring four times, but his move was cut short in January and he went to Mansfield, netting four in 18 games.
Was sold to Lincoln in the summer for an undisclosed fee, as he has made 29 appearances, scoring two goals so far for the Imps.
We've got form: Town have struggled badly over the years during their trips to Nottingham Forest, winning a measly six games out of 29.
They started with a 1-0 Division Two defeat in April 1938, although did win their next visit, a 4-2 success in December of the same year.
Town had a great 5-1 victory in December 1954, while it took until 1971 for a first draw, Malcolm MacDonald scoring in an FA Cup clash that finished 1-1.
That was part of a five game winless run though, Town not triumphing until a 1-0 success in September 1978.
They followed that up with another victory, Ricky Hill's strike enough to settle a Division One encounter in 1983.
However, Luton have not won since, the previous 11 matches seeing Forest victorious on six occasions, the other five draws.
Town's last goal was back in 1992 as well, Mark Pembridge scoring, as in total, Hatters have won six, drawn seven and lost 16, scoring 30 and conceding 46.
Last time out: Town were defeated by a single goal on their most recent trip to the City Ground, that a League One clash in April 2008, Nathan Tyson scoring the winner on 67 minutes.
Hatters: Dean Brill, Ed Asafu-Adjaye, Sol Davis, Lewis Emanuel, Matthew Spring, Keith Keane, Steven O'Leary, Don Hutchison, Paul McVeigh (Calvin Andrew 76), Darren Currie, Sam Parkin.
Subs not used: Marlon Beresford, Richard Jackson, Richard Langley, Steve Robinson.
Referee: Danny McDermid.