While Wayne Rooney seemed to be the main focus of this much-anticipated fixture, the bearded veteran played second fiddle to the story of Nottingham Forest’s season in a microcosm. Dominant and in control for much of the match, the Reds conceded a 97th-minute equaliser to 10-men Derby County.
Sabri Lamouchi, with a full squad available, put out a strong first XI featuring both Samba Sow and Nuno da Costa following Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Bristol City. Ryan Yates wearing a mask, and a stitched-up Matty Cash, the hardened battle survivors fit to play.
It was a cagey first five minutes, with Samba Sow keeping a careful eye on Rooney but not sticking with him. And a few early interceptions showed what we’ve been missing — his presence in the team allows Ben Watson to drop back between the centre-backs, giving the full-backs licence to go forwards.
The Derby defence backed off a few times when Forest attacked, allowing us to play in their half. And after a couple of long-range efforts from da Costa and Cash, Joe Lolley seized the opportunity to shoot from 25 yards.
His left-foot drive snuck in the far post and was a deserved lead for the away side, after being in the driving seat since kick-off.
A Rooney free-kick on 17 minutes, floated high and wide from 40 yards, epitomised the home side’s efforts. And Forest, sensing Derby’s reluctance to play, continued to press with Rooney stuck in his own half.
A goal up enabled the Reds to keep their shape, with Derby at arm’s length. Da Costa again impressed as he continued to be an outlet when under pressure, often switching sides with Lolley.
Derby began to see a lot more of the ball before half-time, but were largely kept at bay; Forest’s back four resilient. And while the home side looked like they were keen to get back into it at the beginning of the second-half, the game quickly resumed to its previous pattern.
A lot of action some 20 minutes before the end saw Lewis Grabban and Tiago Silva both come close, the latter hitting the post. And Grabban should’ve made it two on 78 minutes as Cash crossed the ball and, finding space, the striker hit his shot over the bar from close range.
Alex Mighten, on for the final minutes, nearly finished the game off three minutes into added time. Silva played the youngster through, but he lost his footing as he was about to shoot.
There was a straight red card for Martyn Waghorn, who had only been on for 25 minutes, after a studs-up challenge on Yates. And that should’ve been that. But Joe Worrall was booked unnecessarily just inside the Forest half and the resulting free-kick saw Chris Martin equalise with barely a minute left.
Assistant coach Bruno Baltazar said: “It’s hard to take. Once again in the last minute of the game we are losing points. It happened earlier in the season and again today. We came here with a plan, we stuck to the plan until the 96th minute but unfortunately we didn’t manage to hold the score until the end of the game.
“We try to analyse every performance and every game. Obviously, we analyse this lack of concentration at the end. It is tough to find an explanation for it and to understand what happened. But we need to be focused and concentrate until the last seconds, not the last minute and we need to work on this.”
But the play-off dream remains very much alive, and with eight points from 12 we remain unbeaten since the Championship returned.