Nottingham Forest suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Millwall at The City Ground this afternoon.
Jamie Paterson’s second-half header appeared to have given The Reds the momentum they needed to turn around a two-goal deficit forged by Scott Malone and Lee Martin before the break.
But the visitors held firm to claim a valuable three points in their battle for Sky Bet Championship survival.
Gary Brazil made one change to the side that earned a creditable draw at Ipswich last weekend, Dan Harding replacing Danny Fox. The latter was absent from the squad altogether, however there were returns to the bench for long-term absentees Henri Lansbury and Kelvin Wilson. Brazil’s selection also saw homegrown midfielder Ben Osborn and Leeds loanee Lee Peltier make home debuts after the pair made their bow at Portman Road.
Both sides struggled for control in the early stages but it was the away side who conjured up the first shot of the afternoon. Stefan Maierhofer brought the ball down in the area under pressure from Harding and forced Darlow into making a good close-range save.
The keeper was helpless ten minutes later however. Malone’s cross-cum-shot took a wicked deflection off Gonzalo Jara, sending the ball past a wrong-footed Darlow at his near post.
Forest were offering very little in the way of attacking threat and their first genuine attempt at goal came from Radoslaw Majewski on 25 minutes. The Pole’s acceleration took him into space but he failed to strike the ball cleanly with his left foot, sending it trickling wide from just outside the ‘D’.
Millwall are a side fighting for Championship survival, an objective reflected in their resolute style of play, and they doubled their lead six minutes before the break. Martin, who had a spell on loan at Forest earlier in his career and was sent off in last season’s reverse fixture, cut in from the left and curled the ball low into the far corner of the net. Greg Halford was down injured as the goal went in and he was replaced by Wilson at the subsequent stoppage, the former Celtic man making his first appearance since October.
It had been a frustrating half for the hosts and no-one will have been hurting more than Jamie Mackie, who was furious with Alan Dunne after the pair clashed off the ball in the first of two added minutes. Referee Mark Brown spoke to both players before calling time on the first half.
Forest knew they would have to produce something special if they were turn the game around in the second half and Brazil turned to Lansbury in the hope the midfielder, who had been missing since early February with a fractured lower back, would be able to provide the spark The Reds had failed to find in the opening 45 minutes.
But it was Millwall who threatened first after the restart, Woolford passing up a wonderful opportunity to make it 3-0. The midfielder was picked out in the middle with a low cross from the left but he failed to control the ball at the first attempt. Harding did well to get in front of the ball, rebounding Woolford’s shot back off the Millwall man and out for a goal kick.
The Reds responded however and had a goal back on 53 minutes. Good work by Osborn near the left corner flag led to Harding drilling a cross into the middle, where Paterson was on hand to direct the ball into the far corner of the net with his head.
The breakthrough raised the City Ground roof and, spurred on by the noise, the hosts attacked almost immediately after the restart. Mackie’s mazy run took him to the byline but he couldn’t quite squeeze the ball to Lansbury who was lurking near the six-yard box.
Millwall appeared to have been rocked by the goal but Owen Garvan’s confidence clearly hadn’t been affected as he attempted a Wayne Rooney-style lob from inside the centre circle. The ball was well on course but Darlow adjusted his feet quickly to hold on to it comfortably.
There had been a feisty edge to the game from the off, with the imposing Maierhofer regularly featuring as the pantomime villain. The German had been involved in a number of incidents before eventually being booked for a late challenge on Harding. An altercation with Lansbury shortly afterwards signalled the end of his afternoon as Ian Holloway saw it fit to replace him with fellow striker Steve Morison.
And the Wales international drew a strong save from Darlow minutes later, powering the ball towards the top-right corner after controlling it in the area.
Forest’s final change saw Darius Henderson replace Greening after Lansbury had been bundled over by Lee Beevers. The substitute smashed the subsequent free-kick just wide, the ball rattling off the stanchion.
The Reds nearly worked a golden opportunity a minute later after neat interplay in Millwall’s final third led to Harding laying the ball off for Henderson in the box. The striker couldn’t quite control it under pressure and Millwall managed to scramble clear.
Forest were well in the ascendancy but time was beginning to tick away. A Millwall man was penalised for a high boot on Lansbury as the midfielder raced on to a one-two with nine minutes to play. The substitute’s free-kick was tame however, the ball hitting the wall.
A long ball into Lions territory was flicked on by Henderson moments later but Mackie was unable to control it in the area.
Lansbury’s influence had certainly given his side fresh impetus and he won yet another free-kick on the edge of the area with three minutes of normal time remaining. His delicate delivery was dealt with once again.
It had been a backs-to-the-wall job for the visitors for large parts of the second half but they had a chance to kill the game off in the dying seconds of normal time after Osborn conceded a free-kick on the edge of his own ‘D’. Woolford curled the ball harmlessly over before five minutes of added time were indicated.
But it wasn’t enough for Forest as their play-off hopes suffered a major blow.
Darlow, Jara, Halford (Wilson 40'), Collins(c), Harding, Greening (Henderson 69'), Peltier, Osborn, Majewski (Lansbury 46'), Paterson, Mackie
Subs not used: De Vries, Gomis, Derbyshire, Cox
Scorer: Paterson 53'
Bookings: Greening 51', Lansbury 77', Peltier 90'
Forde, Dunne(c), Bailey (McDonald 72'), Woolford, Martin, Upson, Beevers, Malone, Garvan, Maierhofer (Morison 61'), Edwards (Robinson 79')
Subs not used: Williams, Jackson, Abdou, Bywater
Scorers: Malone 19', Martin 39'
Bookings: Maierhofer 59', Morison 72'
Referee: Mark Brown
Attendance: 22,077 (Away: 625)
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