Nottingham Forest picked up their fourth consecutive clean sheet on their way to an excellent 2-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers on a cold Boxing Day evening at The City Ground.
Greg Halford and Andy Reid scored either side of the break to send Forest to 5th in the Sky Bet Championship.
Billy Davies made two changes to the side which claimed a third consecutive clean sheet at Birmingham City on Saturday.
Eric Lichaj and Gonzalo Jara came in for Dan Harding, who made the bench, and Simon Cox, who missed out altogether through illness. Lichaj and Jara occupied the left and right back spots respectively as Halford moved up front.
There was once again room on the bench for young Reds midfielder Ben Osborn, while Harry Redknapp handed starts to former Forest players Jermaine Jenas and Clint Hill.
Despite predominantly being regarded as a defender, Halford is no stranger to a striker’s role. And the former Sheffield United man found himself in dangerous positions three times within the opening 20 minutes.
He claimed the first shot of the night on two minutes, bobbling his 25-yarder wide but, after David Vaughan had offered a similar effort, Halford had a much clearer sight of goal on 20 minutes.
Bobby Zamora, making his first appearance since September, gave the ball away cheaply in the middle and Halford pounced, racing towards the visitors’ area and expertly skipping past Richard Dunne to bear down on Rob Green. The England international produced an excellent save low down to keep the scores level.
Forest were in control and Halford soon had another opportunity to break the deadlock. Lichaj did well to release Djamal Abdoun down the left and the Algerian cut it back for Halford, who had dropped into space on the edge of the area. The forward took a touch before ballooning the ball over.
Keen to halt the home side’s incessant pressure, QPR showed their threat for the first time on 21 minutes. Jack Hobbs did brilliantly to block Jenas’ effort in the area before Benoit Assou-Ekotto picked up the pieces and struck the ball well from long range. Darlow sprawled to his right to hold on well.
The Reds quickly rebuffed their opponents’ attempts to get a foothold in the game as Lansbury drove just wide of Green’s near post from the edge of the area.
And Forest had the lead they deserved on 29 minutes when, after some cheeky stepovers down the left, Abdoun crossed brilliantly with his right foot for Halford to head home from close range.
QPR’s star-studded line-up had so far failed to get a foothold in the match, but one of their many household names quickly set about levelling the scores.
Niko Kranjcar, capped 81 times by Croatia, tried the same trick as Abdoun had minutes before him, this time in a central position. The Reds’ back four could only stand him up on the edge of the ‘D’ and watch his low, curling effort just evade Darlow’s post.
But the hosts claimed the final notable shot of the half, Halford curling high over Green’s crossbar after Abdoun’s jinking run had been halted by a crunching Dunne challenge.
Forest’s first-half dominance was reflected in Redknapp’s decision to make two changes at the break, Zamora and Karl Henry making way for Andy Johnson and Junior Hoilett, and the visitors started the second half brightly.
After Lansbury had conceded possession in the middle, Matt Phillips concluded QPR’s quick break by blasting the ball over Darlow’s crossbar.
And the keeper was a mere spectator two minutes later when, after he had been fouled by Jara, Kranjcar’s free-kick from the left-hand corner of the area evaded everyone in the middle and zipped just wide of the post.
Darlow was called into action minutes later however. The ball dropped for Tom Carroll on the edge of the area and the Spurs loanee’s dipping half-volley appeared to take a deflection. Darlow backpedalled to tip it over from under his own crossbar.
Forest then reasserted their dominance by conjuring up two further opportunities for Halford.
The first came after Vaughan played a cute ball to Reid, allowing the Irishman to hang one up in the middle. It was always a tough ask for Halford however, who headed the ball over.
And Halford was on the end of another cross three minutes later. This time Vaughan did brilliantly to win possession before Mackie’s centre found Halford in the middle, where he looked certain to score. He failed to bring it under control however, and Green collected.
Vaughan had produced an excellent display as he stepped up his return from injury and he was given a standing ovation when he was replaced by Nathaniel Chalobah on 67 minutes.
And, while Vaughan had provided tremendous drive in Forest’s engine room, there was no sign of his side stalling.
With 20 minutes to play, Green spilled Reid’s free-kick from deep and Lascelles flicked it to Jack Hobbs in the area. The centre back powered his shot goalwards but the ball was blocked on the line by Hill.
QPR’s retort came in the form of a Jenas piledriver which deflected over Darlow’s bar, and after Dunne could only head the ball from the resultant corner straight at the keeper Forest doubled their lead in bizarre circumstances.
Halford let Abdoun’s ball into the left channel run for Reid. The assistant referee flagged, thinking Halford had flicked it on, but Reid was undeterred. He continued into the area and swept the ball beyond Green. Amid the visitors’ protestations, referee Keith Stroud consulted the linesman before confirming the goal.
QPR desperately sought a way back into the game. Hoilett and Kranjcar both curled wide and Hobbs blocked from Johnson as the clock ticked down.
But it was Forest who had the final attempt as, after Green spilled Lansbury’s effort, Man of the Match Reid blasted just over from the edge of the area.
Darlow, Lichaj, Hobbs, Lascelles, Jara, Vaughan (Chalobah 67'), Lansbury, Reid (c), Abdoun (Paterson 82'), Mackie (Derbyshire 86'), Halford
Subs not used: De Vries, Harding, Osborn, Majewski
Scorers: Halford 29', Reid 80'
Booking: Darlow 85'
Green, Simpson, Dunne, Hill (c), Assou-Ekotto, Phillips (Benayoun 76'), Carroll, Jenas, Kranjcar, Henry (Hoilett 46'), Zamora (Johnson 46')
Subs not used: Murphy, Traore, Wright-Phillips, Onuoha
Booking: Assou-Ekotto 49'
Referee: Keith Stroud
Attendance: 22,721 (Away: 748)
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