Coventry hadn’t won away all season and, with Forest’s form, points were crucial for both teams. James Bolton reports from the City Ground.
Steve Cotterill made two changes to his starting line up with Andy Reid and Marcus Tudgay coming back into the side, with Ishmael Miller and Marlon Harewood making way.
The first-half was a tense affair, with players and fans on edge due to the importance of the game. Chances were very hard to come by and the only real efforts during a dire first-half were Coventry striker Alex Nimley firing wide from the edge of the box and Tudgay doing the same from a similar position.
At half time, Steve Cotterill made two changes, bringing on Dexter Blackstock and Robbie Findley for Scott Wootton and Tudgay.
Forest swapped to a 4-4-2 formation, allowing Chris Gunter back in at his preferred right-back, a position where Wootton had looked shaky. The rusty Tudgay had struggled up top on his own, so the introduction of two strikers gave the Coventry defence something to think about.
The changes worked straight away, as Forest looked much brighter in the second period. Gunter’s low cross was deflected up in the air and when Blackstock and City goalkeeper Joe Murphy went for the high ball, the latter couldn’t hold on and the ball bounced onto the post and away. Surprisingly, referee Mark Clattenburg deemed Blackstock’s jump a fair challenge.
Forest continued to be on the front foot and Lee Camp kicked a great pass out to Gunter, whose one-two with Garath McCleary gave the Welshman chance to get a shot away, but Murphy was quick off his line to pounce and save Gunter’s left-footed effort.
Coventry were still able to get their foot on the ball, and as the second-half progressed, you felt like it was a game that still could go either way.
A Coventry long ball was headed down by Clive Platt and without having to break stride, Irish midfielder Gary Deegan fired just wide of Camp’s post.
Blackstock then came close, heading just over from a Reid free-kick from the left, before Nimley saw his goal-bound effort blocked by Danny Higginbotham five yards out, after a drilled cross from the lively Carl Baker.
Forest then created arguably their best chance of the match. Blackstock held the ball up brilliantly in the box, played in McCleary who drilled a cross towards goal. Reid nipped in at the near-post and flicked goalwards with his left-foot, but Murphy saved, without knowing too much about it.
Forest had shouts for a penalty turned down when Findley skipped into the box after a through ball from Blackstock. But moments later, Forest broke the deadlock with 15 minutes remaining.
McCleary picked up the ball 15 yards into the Forest half after a poor touch from Gary McSheffrey and was given the freedom to run to the edge of the Coventry box before using a step-over to open up a shooting opportunity. The winger coolly slotted home into the bottom corner with his left-foot and the relief in the stands and in the dugout was clear to see.
Blistering pace, poor defending and brilliant composure had given Forest a crucial lead. However, after pulling up slightly with a hamstring problem, McCleary had to be replaced by Jonathan Greening. This was met with boos and chanting, but fans obviously didn’t see McCleary reach straight for a bag of ice and strap it to his leg.
As it happened, the substitution, although enforced, helped Forest. Greening put in some strong tackles down the left side as Coventry looked for a way back into the game.
Forest wrapped up the points with four minutes to go, when the Coventry midfield gave Reid acres of space in the middle and he was able to pick out Findley with a delicious pass. The American beat the offside trap, chested the ball down and poked the ball into Murphy’s net.
We know Findley’s touch can often be a bit scrappy at times, but this was a finish any striker would be proud of.
The whole team saw out the final minutes and Forest had won a vital three points in the fight for survival. Until Forest’s opener Coventry were probably good value for a point, but in a messy game like this one it often takes something special to break the deadlock, and McCleary provided it.
While Cotterill clearly got his starting formation and line-up wrong, in fairness, he made the right subs at the right time. Having two up front increased our attacking threat massively, and our defence looked a lot more solid with Gunter in his preferred right-back role.
Due to Portsmouth’s points deduction, we’ve climbed out of the bottom three, which should give everyone a huge boost along with today’s much needed result.
Man of the match – Andy Reid. Today showed why he simply has to play. His delivery and passing is a class above at times, as demonstrated by his assist for the second goal. His passion, desire and ability really stood out in a game where everyone put a good shift in.