A late winner saw Leicester City beat Nottingham Forest to the final play-off spot. Greg Hall offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground.

Less than 24 hours after having been ecstatic at the chance to write a report on Forest’s final league match of the campaign, it suddenly seemed like less of a privilege at the final whistle. Still, there was to be no meaningless last day of the season at the City Ground with players’ minds on beaches and tans.

Having travelled the week before to a distinctly unintimidating New Den I perhaps should have been less confident today. In my opinion, Forest laboured against a very poor Millwall side. But, as the banner proudly displayed from the Brian Clough Upper to the travelling Foxes, ‘It’s only Derby we hate’.

And Leicester has fond memories for me. From Scot Gemmill’s exquisite missile from 93/94 to Earnshaw ruling the roost on my eldest lad’s first Forest match, I quite like Leicester. So I got off the train without the usual ‘derby day’ nerves and instead a sense of quiet expectation that Forest would at least do the job that was required of them.

The ground was heaving too and, with the sun trying its hardest to provide the customary last day of the season weather, it just reminds you of how grateful we all should be that we haven’t succumbed to the types of Lego grounds that our visitors today have to go home to.

Talking of our visitors, they’d obviously sold out their allocation and most were adorned in bright blue free t-shirts ‘designed to go over jackets and jumpers’. I do like it when any club comes up with some marketing that is a bit different but the need to orchestrate a ‘sea of blue’ was probably unnecessary. Besides most of our friendly foxes seemed more focused on chanting that we’d stolen their seats in protest.

In truth the atmosphere between both sets seemed boisterous and expectant and, to be honest, I was pretty glad when they did us a favour of trying to drown out Billy’s pre-match impression of Henry V. These stunts always make me cringe a little and, like Leicester’s free nighties, wasn’t necessary – especially when the red masses belted out probably one of the best renditions of ‘Mist rolling in…’ that I have heard in a long time. The electricity sparked and the players felt it.

Forest started like a train. They seemed comfortable, focused, and completely together. The confidence in the ground at seeing Forest start with no nerves at all was clear. Within a minute we had a free-kick 20 yards out that tested before the City Ground witnessed a near miracle of Forest scoring early at home. It wasn’t a classic but boy was Cox happy do you think?

He may have been goal-shy for so so long but I think he’s been an immense presence for us this year and, aside from obviously being over the moon for taking the lead, I was also glad his drought doesn’t cross the close season. For the next 10 minutes or so I sat convinced another was to follow. Then Leicester woke up out of their coma.

It would be the most biased Forest fan who claimed that Leicester didn’t deserve their half-time lead. In fact, had they gone in at half-time with a bag full to the good I wouldn’t have begrudged them. It’s true they were lucky with the first which seemed to deflect and although I haven’t seen any replays yet, I was convinced the ball had gone out of play in front of the Main Stand before it was crossed in for the lead (and Reid in particular seemed incensed). But before this Leicester had corner after corner as Forest fell back into their old default pattern of absorbing pressure.

From dominating we seemed clueless and Leicester’s dominance was not reflected in the score. I was one of those that sang from the rooftops upon Billy’s return. Sure, he’s divisive but he’s driven – just what we needed as results since his arrival show. But why oh why must we pack 11 men in the box for every corner that we face? It just invites the inevitable and despite Raddi’s introduction on 33 minutes, offering a different shape, I for one greeted half-time with a sigh of relief.

We had the usual public humiliation of ‘man failing to kick ball into goal’ at half-time and, with results elsewhere suggesting that Sky Sports News had written the script, we entered the second-half convinced Leicester couldn’t dominate as much – and Forest couldn’t be as poor as those 30 minutes to half-time.

Well they couldn’t and we weren’t. I actually quite enjoyed the second half in some strange dream-like way. The football at times was crisp. It wasn’t a reversal of the first-half and Forest didn’t steamroller Leicester but I certainly felt we were the better side for large parts of it. True, Ward made quite possibly the most spectacular clearance off the line that defied physics and the Forest defence still periodically attempted their impression of being the butter in the face of a hot knife. But the men in garibaldi produced some of the best football I’ve seen since our run of wins came to a halt.

Can I just say at this moment what a revelation Darlow is potentially turning out to be? He single-handedly kept us in it in the first-half and in the second dominated his area and his calm and lightning distribution caused Leicester no end of problems. I hope he gets the opportunity to grow next year as No.1.

At this point Jeff Stelling picked up his pen and finished the script. Just as the four minutes added-on time went up our players appeared to have decided to go on holiday early and leave Knockaert and his pals with the freedom of the city. In our shock there was still time for the old-fashioned last day false rumour to circulate that Bolton had scored a winner and the travelling Foxes were bombarded with chants of ‘You’re not going anywhere’. They believed us as well. We were wrong. They cheered a lot at the end.

Despite that I still don’t know how we didn’t equalise in the eternity that seemed to last until the final whistle. I reckon we must have had a good three clear-cut chances. But to be honest, in my opinion, over the 90 minutes we didn’t quite deserve it and we could probably apply that to our season.

Four managers in 10 months reflected a club in crisis and a very talented squad has underperformed. I walked down the steps out of the ground thinking we probably all would have said you were insane if, in January, you’d have said we would enter the last game with a chance of the play-offs. But… it’s been a weak Championship this year with a staggeringly little 14 points separating Leicester and Peterborough. Leicester sneak in despite trying to replicate their form of 2008 over the past few months. ‘If onlys’ litter today’s thoughts as I sit down to crack open the Saturday night beers.

Next season should be more promising with the latest Nottingham Forest odds suggesting betting at Youwin could offer decent returns on a top six finish, or better. Of course we wait and see, there’s a whole summer to get through yet.

So, well done Leicester. As the Brian Clough Upper told you at the start, it really is ‘only Derby we hate’. Followed by Liverpool, Tottenham, Sheffield United… you get the gist. I feel no malice in you seizing your opportunity. I, in fact, wish you well and expect to see your surprised elation take you into the promised land. As I hit my second beer all I feel is a strange pleasure that we nearly hit such heights from such depths of despair this season. Being a Forest fan really should come with a health warning.

You can follow Gregg on Twitter: @77Hall

Image: Courtesy of nuttakit/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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