Given that Nottingham Forest have never won at the New York Stadium, and taking three points away from another side battling relegation was almost imperative, this was the sort of game that you’d expect the Reds to drawn at best. But not under Chris Hughton.
Following on from the performance-but-not-result against Swansea and a 1-0 win against Blackburn on Saturday, Forest have now reached the heady heights of 15th in the Championship — 10 points from relegation, 10 points from the play-offs. And in the form table over the past 12 games, we currently sit fifth with 22 points.
Even if you write off the forthcoming games against Watford, Reading, Norwich and Brentford next month — and we shouldn’t — there are still 10 games to amass the 12 or so points that should guarantee safety this season. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but an eye on finishing in the top-half of the table is now a feasible goal.
There is, at the risk of repeatedly repeating ourselves, still a long way to go — finishing and converting chances, for example. But tightening up at the back is where you start, and carrying this momentum into next season is where the journey continues.
Reflective of how thick and fast the games come in the Championship — and for the type of game you’ll experience in South Yorkshire — Hughton shuffled the pack last night with a more physical selection which saw Luke Freeman, Ryan Yates and Gaëtan Bong in the side at the expense of Alex Mighten, James Garner and Yuri Ribeiro.
The wind was also a factor early on and 20 minutes in, it was evidently a classic Championship match — but by no means a classic. Having weathered Rotherham United’s early storm (ahem), Forest started to get a grip on the game and came close after a corner, but Yates was offside after attempting to convert Filip Krovinović’s shot.
A 10-minute spell just before the half-hour mark saw the away side dominating with 73% possession as they looked to take the lead. Cyrus Christie, who had an excellent game, came close from well-worked shot. And Murray was next to be offside, after his header found the back of the net from Bong’s superb cross.
Yates dropping back allowed the full-backs freedom to get forwards — with Murray, Knockaert and Krovinović all lively — but Cafu seemed a little off the pace and Garner’s passing range was missing from the game; the midfield open to speculation for Friday’s match against Derby County.
The second-half continued in the much the same vein. From Knockaert’s free-kick, Murray forced a sensational save from Viktor Johansson but, again, was offside. And the Swedish goalkeeper was alert to many of Forest’s efforts.
And in a game of offsides, when the breakthrough finally came after 67 minutes there was a suggestion of offside about it. Knockaert’s corner to Christie was drilled into the box, and the defensive header fell to Tobias Figueiredo who poked it to Yates for a deft finish.
Rotherham remained a threat though, and should’ve scored with 15 minutes to go when the ball dropped to Freddie Ladapo, who missed from just yards out. But Forest’s defence remained resolute for the clean sheet.
Lyle Taylor, on for Murray, almost made it two after he flicked on Krovinović’s ball, turned and through on goal fired just wide. But just the one goal was enough for the three points.
The manager added: “Only an early goal would really have opened the game up because they play in a direct way and they’re very good at it. In the second half we were able to exploit the wide areas, especially with Cyrus, and what we have to look at is the qualities we showed to defend well and keep a clean sheet because Rotherham press you really well all over the pitch.
“It was good to have Ryan Yates back in the side because he was a mainstay in the team earlier in the season and playing really well. He provides further competition in the middle of the park and knowing the type of game this was going to be, we needed his aerial strength and to get the goal as well, that just capped off his performance and I think he deserved it.”