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Nottingham football shines in a week of darkness - Nottingham Forest v Notts County

Wednesday 10th August 2011
In a week that has seen terrible scenes across the country, many football matches have been postponed, the most high profile of which is England's friendly with Holland at Wembley. But one game that surprisingly went ahead in the Carling Cup was the Nottingham derby between Nottingham Forest and Notts County at The City Ground.

Nottingham Forest 3 (AET) 3 Notts County

Nottingham Forest win 4-3 on penalties

It was feared that the match, like many across London and Bristol would be called off on police advice, with trouble escalating in Nottingham overnight, but both clubs took advantage and served up an absolute treat.

When Nottingham Forest and Notts County were drawn in the first round of the Carling Cup, there was an immediate sense of excitement. It would be the first time the two clubs had faced each other in a competitive game since February 1994, and it was well worth the wait. Notts County manager Martin Allen said he cried when he heard the draw and said that ‘his dream had come true' and at his first press conference as Nottingham Forest boss, Steve McClaren also said he was eagerly looking forward to the tie.

Notts County's team was unchanged after their 3-0 opening day win away at Carlisle United. This meant talismanic striker Lee Hughes, who had been a doubt, started the game up front. Forest made four changes, with Paul Smith and Brendan Moloney replacing Lee Camp and Chris Gunter, who were away on international duty with Northern Ireland and Wales respectively. Radi Majewski replaced George Boateng in midfield and Robbie Findley replaced David McGoldrick as the loan striker. Three players were lining up against their former clubs as Notts players Craig Westcarr and summer recruit Hamza Bencherif both started their careers with Forest, while Brendan Moloney had spent time on loan at Meadow Lane in 2009.
The game started off frantically with both teams attacking and end to end football being played. It really started off as your typical cup tie. Forest had the first chance, but Paul Anderson could only side-footed just wide from a Robbie Findley cross. The visitors then began to grasp the early momentum and created their first chance of the game, as left back Alan Sheehan set in an in-swinging cross from the right and Lee Hughes climbed above every to flick towards goal, but the quick reactions of Paul Smith tipped the ball away for a corner.

Notts County were pressing hard and closing down Forest very quickly whenever they had the ball. Bencherif was playing a holding midfield role and it looked like he'd been instructed to man mark Forest danger man Lewis McGugan and initially the Algerian did a good job of nullifying him.

Then, County's early hunger paid off when Alan Sheehan again whipped in a cross from the right hand side and after a scramble in the box, centre half Mike Edwards prodded the ball home. It was a scrappy goal, but a goal that County deserved as they really flew out of the traps.
But Forest managed to fight back and strung together some very good passing moves. Andy Reid was showing his class as he floating in some brilliant crosses, including one that Wes Morgan latched onto after grabbling with a County defender. The impressive Stuart Nelson in the County goal managed to parry the ball over.

While Forest made the occasional silly error, sometimes poorly controlling the ball or misplacing a pace (much to Steve McClaren's annoyance), they were starting to step it up a notch. Lewis McGugan showed his trickery by skipping past three county players, before being tripped by the fourth, with the ball seemingly glued to the midfielder's foot. McGugan has developed a reputation for scoring free kicks from distance after scoring a 40 yard screamer against Ipswich last season, which was one of twenty nominations for European Goal of the Year.  This one wasn't quite as spectacular, a more modest 25 yards, but he still managed to beautifully drive the ball into Nelson's top left hand corner, striking the bar on its way in.
With the scores at 1-1 Forest looked to extend their lead, and nearly did so immediately, as Forest broke from the restart and Radi Majewski shot just wide from distance. You could sense Forest were beginning to find their feet, and all the nearly moments from the season opener on Saturday were turning into chances. This time, Radi Majewski picked out the unmarked Andy Reid at the back post with a pinpoint cross, but Reid's powerful head flicked the fingertips of Nelson and was turned over for a corner. Had Reid headed the ball down, it would have almost certainly been 2-1.

Moments later, everyone thought it was 2-1. Chris Cohen, who had an impressive game at left back, surged forward and dinked a cross into the box, that was headed home by Robbie Findley. The linesman then raised his flag and the goal was chalked off for offside, and it looked a very close call.

At half time Forest went in the happier team having shown promising signs with some good passing moves. However, County had risen to the occasion and Martin ‘Mad Dog' Allen would certainly fire up his players at half time. It was a brilliant first half of cup football, but it was about to get better.

As they did in the first half, County started the brighter as the ball fell to Mike Edwards in the box, but the ball was prodded away at the vital moment by Chris Cohen, denying Edwards his second of the game. Paul Smith was proving why he is a very capable understudy to Lee Camp as he showed his shot stopping ability by tipping over a fierce drive from Lee Hughes. However, Smith's frailty of not dealing with crosses very well has stayed with him.

The first substitution of the night saw the quiet Paul Anderson be replaced by Joe Garner as Forest changed from a 4-4-1-1 formation to a 4-3-1-2 formation. Although Robbie Findley did a very good job of holding the ball up (he has quite a good spring in his step and won a fair few headers), the two forward up front seemed to suit Forest better. Robbie Findley had the ball in the net for the second time that night minutes later, but this time, it would stand. The American, making his first Forest start was picked out at the far post by another terrific Andy Reid cross, and Findley side-footed the ball back across goal into the far corner, with Nelson grounded. The striker came close soon after when a long ball over the top was not dealt with by the County defence and Findley struck a fierce dipping volley at goal, but Nelson was able to turn it away for a corner.
Despite chants from the Forest fans of “County, give us a song”, the visiting fans fell silent for the first time in the match. It needed the introduction of lively new signing Cristian Montano to revive the County faithful, as the striker on a month's loan from West Ham become part of County's now three pronged front line. Joining Montano and Hughes up front was ex-Red Craig Westcarr, who came on for right back Julian Kelly, as Martin Allen looked for a way back into the tie. To combat this McClaren brought on George Boateng to solidify the midfield, bringing off goal scorer Lewis McGugan and testing Radi Majewski in the hole behind the two forwards.

Martin Allen's substitutions were to pay off, as Craig Westcarr controlled the ball in the Forest box and despite being surrounded, turned and shot low past Smith into the corner of the goal, bringing the scores level. It was a very well taken goal and Westcarr immediately ran toward A Block, holding his hands to his ear, provoking the Forest fans. The celebration was a clear message to Forest who earlier had been chanting “You used to play for a big club.” While it was, with hindsight a possibly dangerous celebration during a heated derby, fortunately, it didn't spark any problems.
The equaliser caused yet another shift in momentum, as County now searched to take the lead. Forest were forced to defend much deeper as County attacked hard, but Smith was equal to efforts from Karl Hawley and Lee Hughes, the latter missing a sitter from just 4 yards out.

McClaren made another attacking move, bringing Marcus Tudgay on for his first appearance of the season, as he replaced the tiring Andy Reid, who had a decent game, producing some excellent crosses. Forest finished full time the stronger, and Marcus Tudgay had the ball in the net, but he was flagged offside after Forest caught County off guard with a quick free kick. Towards the end of the half, County were committing a lot of fouls and one brought about the last chance of normal time, as Radi Majewski fired just inches over from a 25 yard free kick, with the keeper beaten.

So with this being a League Cup tie and both teams being level after 90 minutes, the game would be decided by extra time, rather than a replay seen in the FA Cup.

Exra time took a more tactical approach, as neither team had managed a last gasp equaliser. But in the 98th minute, Forest's defence was caught napping as Karl Hawley thread a nice through ball into the path of Lee Hughes, who took a touch before curling the ball past the diving Smith in the Forest goal, with a bit of help from the post. Hughes' trademark celebration then followed as the County fans were sent into delirium.
But Forest hit back and tried to get themselves level. Forest's defence had let them down with some bad defending, as the right subs were made, but Forest were left chasing the game. Joe Garner's deflected shot was tipped just over by the scrambling Nelson and Wes Morgan climbed from a corner, but could only head over. It seemed to be another night of frustration for Forest, a word that has summed up their season so far on and off the pitch.

With just minutes to go, County cleared from a Forest corner, and the ball fell perfectly to Joe Garner on the edge of the box, but his first time volley was just inches wide. There was evidence of clear County timewasting and it would come back to haunt them. As is the case with all games, there is always one last chance, but what happened next, was to be the faintest sniff of a chance. In stoppage time of extra time, the ball was pumped forwards and after Robbie Findley chested the ball down, it sat up for centre half and fan favourite Wes Morgan, who unleashed a firecracker from 25 yards out. The ball flew towards goal; hit the bar and the rustled the back of the County net, sending the Forest fans into ecstasy.  Wes Morgan won't have hit a sweeter shot in his whole life and it turned out to be the very last kick of the game. Morgan had added another twist to an already extraordinary game of football and it would then, all be decided with a penalty shootout.
The Forest captain Luke Chambers and his County counterpart Neal Bishop flipped a coin with the officials, and the spot kicks were to be taken in front of the Forest fans in the Trent End.

Forest got off to the worst possible start, as Jonathan Greening's effort cannoned off the post and away. Craig Westcarr then stepped up to score and give the visitors the advantage. Despite Nelson getting a glove to Marcus Tudgay's penalty, it hit the back of the net, as his did Karl Hawley. Joe Garner then struck the best penalty of the shootout low and hard past Nelson. Next up for County was Hamza Bencherif, who couldn't score against his former employers as he blazed way over. That took the score to 2-2 after three penalties each. The American Findley and County left back Alan Sheehan both coolly converted their spot kicks, taking the score to 3-3.

Next up for Forest was George Boateng. His run up was unconvincing and his placement predictable considering how he approached the ball. Nelson dived low to his left to palm away the kick. The chance to win the game for Notts County then fell to Lee Hughes, who slowly made the walk from the half way line. Unfortunately for County, he was to do what Bencherif had done and glare the ball high and wide of the goal. The scores remained 3-3 after five penalties each, sending the tie into sudden death, making an enthralling game even more dramatic.

Responsibility fell to Forest captain Luke Chambers, who despite having a bandage covering part of one eye sent Nelson the wrong way and struck a great penalty into the roof of the net. Chambers roared to the crowd before crossing paths with County captain Neal Bishop. After a short and nonchalant run up, Bishop curled his shot over, in the exact spot where Hughes and Bencherif had.

Forest had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in a terrific advert for cup football. There was delight for Forest, and commiserations for County. You get a sense that while Forest weren't at their best, particularly in defence, it's a big win for McClaren, who would have been under some considerable early pressure had Forest lost. Hopefully a win will help the fans get over the collapse of the Verhoek transfer and it will add some momentum to McClaren's side.

After a truly brilliant game of football, Forest showed sportsmanship by clapping off Notts County, who played very well at times and really rose to the occasion, as they so often have in the cup in recent years.
With reports of violence around the city of Nottingham that night, of the staggering 21,605 (over 6,00o of which were away fans, an almost unheard of attendance for round 1 of the cup) that were fortunate enough to witness the game, there was not a single arrest or major incident before, during or after the match involving football fans, which is testament to both sets of supporters. This was recognised by the Nottinghamshire Police.

In a dark week for England, Forest and County showed local pride and produced an outstanding game. Even though Forest are in the hat for the next round, Nottingham football as a whole was the real victor, with tremendous sportsmanship, footballing drama and impeccable behaviour and respect all on show at The city Ground.

My Man of the Match for Forest - Brendan Moloney. Before the match he looked the weak link on the Forest teamsheet, but he kept his winger quiet and even bombed forward in attack.

My Man of the Match for County - Stuart Nelson. He made some brilliant saves for County, which kept County in the game at times. He did well in the shootout, saving two penalties, but was let down by his teammates who were unable to convert theirs.

Written by James Bolton

Follow me on Twitter - @Bolton0301

Photos by Nottingham Forest Football Club and Notts County Football Club. Extended Forest gallery can be found here and an extended Notts County gallery can be found here.
James Bolton

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