A last-gasp equaliser saw Nottingham Forest draw 2-2 with Brighton & Hove Albion as Billy Davies’ unbeaten run continues. Mark Rippey offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground.
For the final time this season, the international break was over and fans were happy to get club football back, particularly Forest fans who’d seen the side win a remarkable six consecutive games since the return of Billy Davies as manager, and were looking to equal a club record seventh in a row.
A match between two of the division’s most in-form teams was always likely to be a good game that provided much interest and excitement. However, the events of Friday added even greater importance to this fixture, with results of the day’s games turning Good Friday into Excellent Friday from both club’s perspective, with the three teams in the top six who played gaining just one point between them.
Forest v Brighton was now, arguably, the biggest game of the season for both teams, providing a chance to cement their play-off hopes and perhaps making a push for automatic promotion seem a realistic hope rather than an unlikely dream. With the game played in front of a full stadium, including nearly 3,000 travelling Brighton fans, it certainly felt that way.
History dictated that the game was likely to be tight; since Brighton’s return to the second tier two years ago games between the two haven’t been bad but have seen few goals: 1-0, 1-1 and 0-0.
Forest made one change, with Sam Hutchinson starting his first game since September, perhaps harsh on Lewis McGugan who had come off the bench to score in each of the last three. Brighton lined up very strongly despite missing the likes of Kuszczak, Mackail-Smith and Bridcutt.
Forest started the better side dominating the first 20 minutes as Brighton struggled to keep the ball. The passing was incisive and movement clever but nothing clear cut was created. They were still getting chances though – Simon Cox headed over, Kasper Ankegren smothered in the Brighton goal, Henri Lansbury had an effort parried and Andy Reid chipped over after running 40 yards to get on the end of a Cox pass.
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Brighton started to get back into the game and won a succession of free-kicks with lone striker Leonardo Ulloa proving a particular handful for Collins. He was unlucky not to get a free-kick on the edge of the area before being hacked down a minute later, a challenge that earned the Forest skipper a deserved yellow card.
The half struggled to get going again, aside the odd half-chance for Forest, and a couple of blocked attempts for Brighton.
There was time for some controversy before half-time though, as Kazenga Lua Lua reacted to a challenge and shoved Hutchinson to the ground in front of the dugouts. The winger was perhaps lucky to have only received a yellow card but it was more a shove than a push.
Forest were unlucky to not be leading at the break as they’d easily been the better side but they hadn’t really given the Brighton defence or keeper a real test.
Brighton started the first-half in a dominant fashion, creating as much in the first five minutes as they did in the entire first-half, with a good clearance by Hutchinson from the six-yard box after 15 seconds setting the tone.
It was no real surprise when they opened the scoring 10 minutes in, but again it was in controversial circumstances. Chris Cohen went in hard for a challenge and appeared to have won the ball, the ref appeared to wave play on but went with his assistant who’d signalled for a free-kick from a better position. A good delivery saw the ever-improving Ulloa strike which Collins headed over and from the resulting corner it was Ulloa who scored, first to the ball after the initial blocked shot.
Brighton seemed happy to sit back a bit more and Forest didn’t offer a great deal despite Billy making three changes with Jara, McGugan and Sharp coming on, playing with three strikers and three attacking midfielders. But it still wasn’t happening with tame shots from range and crosses going nowhere near their target (McGugan putting one in the upper tier of the Trend End). Whilst Ankegren was the busier of the two keepers it was Darlow who made the game’s best save at 0-1, tipping a Matt Upson header round the post.
But then an equaliser came from virtually nothing, Elliott Ward was allowed to run 40 yards towards the Brighton area before Reid’s excellent pass set McGugan free to score from what seemed an impossible angle with 10 minutes remaining.
The whole crowd was lifted and most seemed convinced Forest would grab another, but Brighton continued to send men forward and when the ball broke kindly to the right-back Calderon, he had plenty of time to cross, picking out Ulloa who brilliantly controlled, drew out the defenders and played a superb pass to Will Buckley who was free to slot past Darlow – a lapse in concentration and some poor defending from Forest.
There was still time for more drama however, a throw-in was taken quickly and Reid got his second assist of the game, teeing up Henri Lansbury to shoot from 20 yards. His shot was tame and should have troubled no keeper in the world but Ankegren inexplicably let the ball through his legs and it crossed the line in what seemed like slow motion. Both sides would push for a winner but no one came close during the four minutes of injury time.
There seemed to be a lot of grumbles about the ref both during and after the game, but it’s not an opinion I shared. I thought he did well in a game which plenty of fouls were made. The Lua Lua booking was lenient rather than wrong, and the Cohen foul made by his assistant, but the majority of fouls given against Forest, that fans around me were moaning about, seemed fair. And it was excellent to see a ref clamp down on time-wasting so soon, with Ankegren being booked for it within five minutes of his side taking the lead.
Overall it’s a point well-earned and well deserved for Forest, as Billy Davies’ impressive start continues with six victories and two draws so far, strengthening the play-off place. With Hull’s victory this evening, 10 points from seven matches seems to be too much to catch up to second, but stranger things have happened.
You can follow Mark on Twitter: @rippey89
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