Boss O'Driscoll facing tough decisions as Forest players find their fitness
THE headlines, over the last few days, have been dominated by the unexpected return of Simon Cox to fitness.
But, when it comes to team selection, the striker's remarkable powers of recovery are not the only thing to leave Sean O'Driscoll with a significant festive headache.
As well as figuring out where to potentially fit the striker back into the equation over the coming weeks, the manager suddenly finds himself with a rejuvenated squad that is packed with options.
Polish midfielder Radi Majewski has demonstrated his own restorative powers by recovering from his own ankle injury in double-quick time.
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While, in the back four, Greg Halford will join Daniel Ayala in pushing for a first-team return after shaking off his calf problem.
With Cox having forged an encouraging partnership with Billy Sharp in recent weeks, he is likely to find himself back in the starting line-up at some point in the near future – even if Dexter Blackstock's performance against Burnley was probably enough to merit him retaining his shirt when Nottingham Forest face Brighton tomorrow.
But it is in the back four where O'Driscoll admits he has the most significant choices to make, as he looks to bolster a defence that has kept six clean sheets in 21 matches but, as the manager admits, has also looked vulnerable at times.
"You need to have competition, because it keeps people on their toes," said O'Driscoll.
"So having choices to make is a positive.
"We had a clean sheet on Saturday so, if you have the shirt, you have done your utmost to keep it.
"We have looked vulnerable at the back at times but, when you are trying to put a back four together, that is always going to be your Achilles heel.
"But, when everyone is fit going into a busy Christmas period, it is exactly what you want.
"You want a fully fit squad or a squad that is as fit as possible – and that is almost what we have got.
"Daniel is a centre-half, that is his position. But Greg is more flexible, that is his asset. Both players can slot in.
"Greg has trained all week, so he is available. There are decisions to make."
One thing that O'Driscoll is certain of is that it will be a tight game on the south coast, against another side on the fringes of the play-off race.
With only five points separating Watford, who occupy sixth place, and Burnley in 17th, it is an incredibly tight division.
And the manager is convinced that is reflected in many matches in the Championship.
"It is no surprise to anyone that it is closely fought in the Championship," he said.
"I don't know if it makes for great games, because they are so tight. There is little free-flowing football, because you fight for everything.
"You fight for possession, you fight for space . . . which makes it a different type of contest.
"It is those sides who are flexible, who can win their battles, then play and make themselves hard to beat, when they are not playing well.
"You need to have the ability to score goals when you are not playing well or when you do not have a lot of possession.
"There are a lot of boxes that need to be ticked for every team, which is why it is so close, because not many teams can do that.
"You need to be a team for all seasons, which is a difficult thing to do.
"Even the clubs who have splashed out in the past on transfer fees or wages have no guarantee of success.
"The teams with good infrastructure and the teams who have come down from the Premier League and managed to keep what they have got are usually the ones who have found momentum in the division.
"There are other teams in the division, who have been there for a number of years – like us – who are still struggling to find what is the best way of playing.
"There is no wrong and no right. It does make things interesting, if a little frustrating."
One club who O'Driscoll believes have got it right, however, is tomorrow's opponent's Brighton.
"They are a club who have come from League One and developed over the last two or three seasons," he said.
"They have a magnificent new stadium and have tried to embellish the team sensibly, rather than just throwing money at it.
"They are trying to develop it in a way where they can keep playing the way they want to play, while bringing better players in.
"They are a role model, in a way, if you are going to develop a team and a club. If you are going to do it, it is better to do it over the long term rather than throw money at it and never build anything.
"The new owners had a vision of how they want to progress the club.
"We are in a similar situation, in that we are trying to build the club and build a way of doing things.
"That gives them an identity and we can take a lot from that."
Significantly, O'Driscoll believes the Brighton fans have brought into what manager Gus Poyet is trying to achieve as well.
"The crowd there are very patient. They will accept them passing the ball along the back, there is no great clamour to get the ball forward as quickly as possible," added the Forest boss.
"That has been built up over a period of time.
"Like Swansea, they are used to the way they do things and, when the players are not under pressure (from the crowd) to do things, it does make things a little bit easier.
"They can keep the ball, probe and try to manipulate openings. That is their strength."
Tomorrow, the tough task facing O'Driscoll is how to best utilise Forest's strengths.