Nottingham Forest broke a run of four successive draws against Derby County with a win, as they extended their unbeaten run on home soil against their bitter rivals to nearly 10 years.
For his first Forest versus Derby experience, Steve Cooper was forced to bring back a fit-again Max Lowe in place of Joe Worrall, who is suffering with broken ribs from Forest’s 1-0 win against Millwall. Wayne Rooney brought Colin Kazim-Richards and Lee Buchanan into his Derby team.
A sold-out City Ground raised their scarves in unison for Mull Of Kintyre, as Nottingham prepared to host its first East Midlands derby, with the Forest faithful in full voice, since 2019.
A cagey, derby-like opening was played out, as both sets of supporters rose to their feet to applaud the life of 6-year-old Forest fan Leo Blower, who sadly passed away following a battle with a terminal brain tumour.
With 15 minutes played, Derby were the first team to have a clear sight of goal. Tom Lawrence played a neat one-two with Kazim-Richards, but the Welshman’s shot from a good position in the centre of the penalty area went wide of the net.
After Forest began with a back three, Steve Cooper moved Ryan Yates further up the pitch, who added his commanding presence to the Red’s midfield. Yates then got on the end of a Keinan Davis backheel, but his shot from the edge of the box was tipped over by Derby stopper Ryan Allsop.
In the first half, both teams’ mentality was to not concede rather than to try and score, however it took Forest just two minutes of the second half to breach the Derby defence.
James Garner swung a free kick from the right over to the back post, which was headed back into the danger area by Scott McKenna. His header dropped to Steve Cook, and his deflected effort found its way to Lewis Grabban. The ‘bagsman’ made no mistake to grab his third goal in as many games, clinically sending the loose ball past Allsop from three yards out.
Forest one, Derby nil. The City Ground erupted with noise. Derby day was in full swing.
Substitute Ravel Morrison was swarmed by a sea of red when he had time to get a shot away inside the penalty area after 63 minutes, as his effort was blocked by McKenna. Grabban’s current confidence levels were shown nine minutes later when he unleashed an ambitious chip from the halfway line, which sailed over the goal and a backtracking Allsop.
From a Derby goal kick, the hosts retrieved the ball in midfield and Brennan Johnson lifted a lovely pass over the Derby defence to play in substitute Philip Zinckernagel. Johnson continued his run forward and slid in to get on the end of the Dane’s low cross into the penalty area, scoring his second goal against the Rams this season.
With nine minutes to play, Forest seemed to have secured a third successive win. In football though, it’s not over until the final whistle.
After 87 minutes, Tom Lawrence was brought down by a lazy Cook challenge inside the penalty area, allowing Lawrence to step up from the spot and send his penalty kick low past a stretching Brice Samba into the bottom right corner.
A wounded Samba proceeded to have a bust up in the goal with Lawrence, much to the enjoyment of the Forest fans. In what was a poor performance from the visitors, Derby failed to make six minutes of stoppage time nervous for the Reds.
A second bust up followed after a reckless late challenge from Morrison on Zinckernagel, resulting in referee Tim Robinson giving Morrison his marching orders. On the referee’s final whistle, the players came together to scrap again in a game where Forest were the better team all over the pitch, winning their individual battles and 50/50s.
While Cooper became the second quickest manager in Forest history to secure 10 league wins, Derby’s wait for a Derby Day victory carried on into its 1,560th day.
Cooper said: “The only objective today was to win, and that’s what we’ve done so that’s the most important thing. It was a very average game first half, I understand derby games can be like that so I’ll accept it a little bit, but it was an average performance.
“Second half, I thought we were good. It was good to score as early as we did, and we’ve created the real opportunities of the match. I’m disappointed Derby got a goal back as we should have managed that better, because overall we managed the game really well.
“I love the home games because of the history and nostalgia around what this club is. We feel responsible to do well. The fans really played their part, it was an amazing display while Mull of Kintyre was going on at the start. They dragged us home, and the place was rocking after we made it 2-0. The supporters are amazing, everybody played their part today from our club.”