NOTTINGHAM FOREST have been the best team in the Championship since Steve Cooper took over — but I fancy Sheffield United to get promoted in the play-offs.
The stats show that had the season started on September 21 — the day the Welshman got the City Ground job — Forest would this morning be sitting pretty at the top of the table on 75 points, with Fulham on 74 and Bournemouth third on 67 points.
They are the best coached team and I would go as far as saying Cooper has been the best manager in the entire EFL, such is the impact he has had on a team that was bottom when he took over.
Forest now have a clear identity and you can see what they’re trying to do.
When you look at the four clubs currently occupying the play-off positions, Luton have been the biggest surprise of all, so fair play to them.
While the other three are all big clubs. Huddersfield have been in and out of the Premier League over the past few seasons.
Then you have Forest and Sheffield United, who both had stinking starts to the season.
But Paul Heckingbottom has done a fantastic job at Bramall Lane.
I remember watching them in the FA Cup against Chelsea towards the end of last season when Heckingbottom was in caretaker charge.
They looked like a good outfit who created a lot of chances and you could see what he was trying to do.
Most read in Football
FREE BETS AND SIGN UP DEALS – BEST NEW CUSTOMER OFFERS
I just have this feeling Sheffield United are going up.
If you were to ask me which team you’d not want to play, I’d say Nottingham Forest because they’re so well drilled and coached.
But I just think the Blades have the know-how — and when you throw their talisman Billy Sharp into the mix, you absolutely cannot write them off.
He may be missing with injury today but can still play a vital role in the play-offs.
And also you have to take into consideration the fact that Forest have to overcome the disappointment of not quite managing to get over the line to grab that second automatic promotion spot, after their 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth on Tuesday night.
Over these past few months, they have been quietly going about their business with no real pressure on their shoulders.
Whereas now, they go into the play-offs as the clear favourites, with a reputation and expectations on their shoulders.
Nottingham Forest remind me a little of Manchester United in terms of a club that have not been the same since losing a legendary long-term manager.
FOREST STILL DREAMING
There are still people at Forest who can reference the glory days of Brian Clough, just like Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.
Luton — if they keep their play-off position — will have a free hit.
Sometimes it works for managers at certain clubs and that is what has happened with Nathan Jones, who won them promotion from League Two.
Although he left for Stoke, it was his team that got promoted from League One.
He then returned to save them from relegation and now has them competing for a place in the Premier League.
And he has achieved that on a modest budget — getting his players performing to the best of their abilities, producing eight-out-of-ten performances consistently all season.
It’s crazy when you think my club, Birmingham, have turned them over 5-0 and 3-0 this season.
Carlos Corberan has done a good job with Huddersfield but I don’t think they’re as strong as Forest and Sheffield United.
ALL TO PLAY FOR
Middlesbrough and Millwall are two other clubs we must keep an eye out for on Saturday as both could possibly gatecrash the play-off spots if they win and other results go their way.
I like Boro, their manager Chris Wilder and what they’re all about. I know quite a few of the lads there, too.
But they probably need another transfer window, so even if they do get into the play-offs, I don’t think they would be ready.
Their ex-manager Neil Warnock had brought in his people but they’re not going to be in the position to help Wilder and the way his teams play.
He’ll need to get rid of five or six in the summer and bring in three or four of his own.
Millwall, meanwhile, have been defying the odds under manager Gary Rowett and his assistant Paul Robinson, who I know really well.
Rowett is someone who really is squeezing every last bit of juice out of the orange at The Den.
There are not many in the side who would walk into a top-six Championship club but they are getting eight-out-of-ten performances by having a structure, having an organisation.
In the game, there are so many managers who change players to fit their style rather than ones who change their style to the players they have available to them.
They are also getting the best out of Benik Afobe because they’re playing to his strengths, like they also do with Oliver Burke and Tom Bradshaw.
Playing at Millwall is a hard task at the best of times but when they get that place jumping like they’re currently doing, no one will want to go there in the play-offs.