“I wanted Nottingham Forest fans to take to me, as one of them”

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Robert Earnshaw was always a popular player at Forest, and the goals he scored against Derby were a huge factor in that.

He scored five goals in six games against his former employers, and that exuberant head-over-heels celebration – just at the moment when fans were head-over-heels with excitement – further endeared him to the adoring supporters. 

“I wanted to score so much in Derby games,” Earnshaw told me.

“One of the reasons for that is that I wanted fans to take to me, as one of them. I wanted to prove that they should warm to me and that I was one of their own.”

Games against the Rams were often quite spicy at that time – particularly with Billy Davies and Nigel Clough in opposition dug-outs, while the odd FA Cup draw increased the number of matches in a season too. 

With Davies, Earnshaw and goalkeeper Lee Camp having journeyed down the Brian Clough Way, there was often a bit of needle to them.

“It is a little bit different. It’s a team you’re familiar with and you might want to prove a point against.

“It was no different actually in terms of the aim of the game, but a lot of the focus was on me, Lee and Billy and there was a fair bit of stick that came our way.

“That fuelled it for me, I wanted to score goals in those games because they were so big. I knew what they meant, and because I understood the opposition players (having previously been team mates), I seemed to know where there was a bit more space and then score goals.”

Earnshaw was part of the Forest side that did the double over Derby in the space of a month at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011. 

The Welsh international scored twice in the 5-2 victory at the City Ground (probably my most enjoyable match to present at), as well as hitting the only goal in the 1-0 win at Pride Park weeks later.

“Those wins showed where we were as a team. With those games and those results, it showed we were above where Derby were at that time.”

Those results against Derby came after Davies had replaced Colin Calderwood as Forest manager at the start of 2008. 

But you may remember there was a short gap before the appointment of the Scotsman as manager.

With Davies watching on from the stands, caretaker John Pemberton oversaw the 3-0 win at Manchester City in the FA Cup, as well as a league win over Norwich City.

But it felt like things would be changing at the club. Because of their previous relationship with Davies at Derby, what would the future be for goalkeeper Lee Camp and striker Rob Earnshaw, two of the better performers that season?

“At this moment in time I’ve got no intention of moving anyone out or changing anything. What has taken place in the past, as far as I’m concerned, stays there,” Davies told me on his arrival at the club.

Earnshaw admits there was an amount of uncertainty, however.

“Even though I knew him from before, I didn’t know in which direction he’d go. We’ve all seen it where a manager comes in and makes changes.

“Everyone was wondering ‘what’s going to happen next?’ but I got on fine with Billy and his staff – there were no issues, to be honest.

“We had good conversations when he first came in. But he made it pretty clear, suggesting he wanted me at the club, to carry on as I was, and to be a part of what we’re trying to build in what comes next.

“Quickly, we got to work and got on with it. We sorted it out, but there were never any fallings out. 

“Inside the dressing room, there’s always disagreements about what you should have done better. But we got on very well, much better than we had at Derby.

“I think that was because I was a bit more mature, but also me understanding what the manager wanted and the style he wanted.

“He looked at every detail,” says the Welshman.

“Inside the first week, we were videoing training sessions and there was analysis of everything we were doing.

“When he first came in, the team could work a lot harder and be more physical. And he definitely changed the way we ‘managed’ the game, which improved results.”

Davies led Forest to safety in the Championship that season, before a play-off bid was launched the following campaign.

“We did a lot of the ground work for the next campaign in pre-season,” says Earnshaw.

“It’s actually very good for me now as a coach to look back, because we spent nearly two full weeks on how we would improve. I remember a lot of the things as a coach now.”

Earnshaw is studying for his UEFA licences with the Welsh FA, and aims to get back into coaching soon – having enjoyed stints in Vancouver, and Fresno, California.

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Pics – Dan Westwell

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