After somewhat controversially appointing Alex McLeish on Thursday, Nottingham Forest came back twice to take a point off Ian Holloway’s Crystal Palace. James Bolton offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground.
A turbulent 2012 for Nottingham Forest ended in suitably dramatic fashion as Billy Sharp scored an injury-time equaliser in the first game of the Alex McLeish era.
Despite the very significant split of opinion regarding Sean O’Driscoll’s sacking and McLeish’s appointment, the new manager received a warm welcome from the near 24,000 strong crowd. While we may not all agree with the decisions made in the boardroom over the past week or so, it was good to see the togetherness on display and that can only be a good thing.
The Scot was forced into making one change for the visit of high-flying Crystal Palace, bringing in Dan Harding for Alan Hutton who, after putting in a terrific performance against Leeds, was suffering from illness. McLeish oversaw proceedings from the Main Stand as Rob Kelly and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink took to the touchline.
After just nine minutes, with their first attack of the game, Crystal Palace grabbed the lead. A fine spell of possession led to Dean Moxey whipping in a low cross from the left and when Danny Collins failed to clear in his own six-yard box, Glenn Murray slid home.
Forest were struggling to get into their stride and a low Sharp effort, forcing Julian Speroni into a smart save, was the only real pressure from the home side early on. Palace looked assured in possession and dangerous on the flanks with Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie not afraid to run with the ball.
It was another Sharp chance that sparked Forest into life. He outmuscled Jonathan Parr at the far post to meet Radi Majewski’s cross, but his header hit Speroni’s far post. That really got the crowd going and for the final 15 minutes leading up to half-time, Forest were creating something of a barrage.
Andy Reid was frequently whipping in crosses from the left, and with the Palace defence shaking and begging for half-time, it was Reid who gave Forest a deserved leveller. The ball sat up nicely for him 25 yards out to lash home an unstoppable effort past Speroni.
Forest might have even gone in at half-time in front were it not for Peter Ramage’s last ditch efforts to block Elliott Ward’s goal-bound effort in the penalty area. The first-half had been almost a carbon copy of the Leeds game three days earlier, with Forest falling behind early on but fighting back just before the break.
The hosts had the better of things when play resumed, Chris Cohen forced another smart save out of Speroni while, at the other end, Zaha went close after his cut inside from the left to fizz a shot just wide of Lee Camp’s far post.
The game became quite feisty as Sharp and Parr had a ‘handbags’ moment which resulted in a booking for the Forest striker. With 10 minutes to go, the match was precariously balanced, with both sides looking capable of scoring a winner. It was the visitors who looked to have grabbed it, through Murray’s 22nd goal of the season.
Jermaine Easter’s speculative flick into the area found Murray whose looping header caught Camp off his line, with the goalkeeper unable to scramble back and prevent Murray from doubling his tally.
But as it was announced there would be five added minutes, the crowd rallied again and they were rewarded as Forest snatched an equaliser they richly deserved. Harding’s deflected punt up field was cushioned perfectly by Dexter Blackstock into the path of Sharp, who tapped into the net after his first effort came back off the post.
McLeish said there was a lot to be pleased with during his first performance as manager, but there is still plenty to work on for when he takes to the touchline for the first time on New Year’s Day away at Blackburn Rovers.
Without getting into the O’Driscoll debate, this was his team and it was clearly effective against an in-form Leeds and could have easily earned all three points against a very accomplished Palace side. Guedioura has put in two terrific performances in a more holding role. He is more skilful on the ball and has more industry than Simon Gillett in that position, and Radi Majewski has been effective in the free role behind the front two.
If McLeish can harness the attacking talent we have available but add a defensive stubbornness to our game, we may well be pushing for a play-off place come May.
And a big well done to the ground staff for getting the game to go ahead considering the weather over the past few days and secondly, well done to the fans. You could actually feel the crowd making a difference in the run up to both equalisers and contributed to a thoroughly entertaining afternoon.
You can follow James on Twitter: @bolton0301
Image courtesy of nuttakit/FreeDigitalPhotos.net