Three Nottingham Forest substitutes turned a two-goal deficit on its head to earn a dramatic 4-2 victory over Watford at The City Ground tonight.
Two goals either side of the break from Hornets centre-back Gabriele Angella had put the visitors firmly in the ascendancy but Simon Cox, Darius Henderson and Jamie Mackie each came off the bench to score, turning the game around and handing Forest a seven-point cushion in the Sky Bet Championship playoff positions.
Billy Davies made four changes to the side which drew with Preston in the FA Cup with Budweiser. Cox, Mackie, David Vaughan and Radi Majewski made way for Guy Moussi, Djamal Abdoun, Jamaal Lascelles and Dan Harding.
Lascelles’ inclusion saw Greg Halford return to a striker’s role. Gonzalo Jara started in midfield and Eric Lichaj switched over to right-back, Harding filling the gap.
The match began evenly with both sides enjoying early chances. Watford’s Troy Deeney claimed the first, bending the ball just over the bar on four minutes after Daniel Pudil had made strides down the left.
Forest’s first attempt at goal came courtesy of Andy Reid. His cross-cum shot was comfortably held by Manuel Almunia, but the keeper was a mere spectator two minutes later as The Reds came within inches of taking the lead.
Halford was fouled by Lars Joel Ekstrand in a dangerous-looking deep crossing position. Reid whipped the ball into the box where Moussi rose to keep it alive. Danny Collins reacted quickest, flinging himself at the ball and sending it crashing off the crossbar with his head.
The Hornets’ response came from centre-back Angella, who peeled away from his marker at a corner before flicking the ball over the bar on the volley.
It was an end-to-end match and Abdoun was next to try and break the deadlock. Harding’s perfectly-weighted cross found the Algerian lurking in the area, but he volleyed the ball into the turf and Almunia caught it comfortably.
The game then entered a lull, before Reid sparked it back into life on the half-hour with a purposeful run from midfield. He offloaded the ball to his right for Paterson to collect. The winger cut inside, shimmying past two Watford defenders before curling a low shot towards goal. Almunia was relatively untroubled by that effort, and a minute later Reid could only fire the ball over first-time after Abdoun’s pull-back.
Watford embarked on an attack of their own, David Faraoni benefiting from a mix up between Harding and Moussi before seeing his shot deflect out for a corner.
And it was from the subsequent set-piece the visitors took the lead. Ikechi Anya’s near-post delivery was met by Angella, whose clever flick with the outside of his boot sent the ball onto the underside of the bar and over the line.
Forest certainly hadn’t been at their free-flowing best, but they probably should have equalised on 37 minutes when Reid picked out Halford with an inch-perfect free-kick. The versatile forward had drifted into plenty of space but could only head the ball over from near the penalty spot.
Keen to double their advantage before the interval, Watford pressed again. Deeney’s dart towards the near post was met by Anya’s cross. The striker volleyed the ball just wide, kissing the side-netting.
Two minutes later Fernando Forestieri was afforded too much room and advanced towards Forest’s box menacingly. The Italian unleashed a shot but Collins was on hand to divert the ball behind.
Halford was replaced by Cox at the break and the striker almost made an immediate impact, coming agonisingly close to latching onto Paterson’s neat ball in the area within 20 seconds of the restart. Watford struggled to clear and, after Moussi had cleverly laid the ball into his path, Reid curled it precisely towards goal. Almunia dived to his left to push it away.
But Forest’s bright start to the second period was cut short when, on 47 minutes, Sean Murray’s free-kick found Angella unmarked in the area. The defender met the ball with a powerful header, leaving Darlow with no chance and claiming his second goal of the night.
Now facing an uphill task, The Reds won a free-kick on the edge of Watford’s area courtesy of Abdoun on 55 minutes. Reid looked set to cross but instead struck the ball towards goal. Almunia readjusted quickly and tipped it over.
But the deficit was soon halved. Jara spotted Moussi’s clever run into the area and found the Frenchman with a cute dinked pass. Moussi headed the ball into the six-yard box where Cox was able to slide in and guide it home.
Boosted by the goal Forest took the game to their now nervy-looking opponents. The visitors will have been even more disconcerted to see their former striker Henderson replace Abdoun on 69 minutes.
And they were right to be wary - four minutes later he scored the equaliser. Reid’s cross was as unorthodox as it was delightful, cutting across the ball on the half-volley with his left foot and sending it beautifully towards Henderson, who had run to the back post. Almunia scampered off his line to narrow the angle but the striker nodded the ball past him to make it 2-2.
And it looked for a moment like Henderson was going to notch a second with quarter of an hour to play. Paterson sent him through one-on-one with Almunia but the Watford stopper was quick enough to rush out and clear the danger.
The visitors managed to slow the pace after that and began to make tentative advances towards goal once more. Marauding wing-back Pudil shot the ball over from inside the area to remind the hosts of their threat.
Forest’s manager turned to fresh legs in the way of response, sending Mackie on for Paterson, and on 82 minutes yet another substitution paid off.
Reid stood the ball up perfectly from the byline and Mackie had the simple task of nodding the ball over the line from point-blank range, sparking scenes of jubilation in the stands and on Forest’s bench.
And in the final minute of normal time The Reds wrapped it up. Henderson tried to flick a forward pass into Cox’s path but Doyley inadvertently did it for him, releasing the striker into the area. Cox showed excellent composure to send the ball beyond Almunia and into the right-hand corner of the net.
Deeney drew a good save from Darlow soon after the restart and Cox nearly scored a hat-trick, cutting in from the left and seeing his shot from inside the area saved by Almunia - the final action of a quite incredible evening on Trentside.
Darlow, Lichaj, Lascelles, Collins, Harding, Jara, Moussi, Paterson (Mackie 80'), Reid (c), Abdoun (Henderson 69'), Halford (Cox 46')
Subs not used: De Vries, Majewski, Derbyshire, Tudgay
Scorers: Cox 58', 90', Henderson 73', Mackie 82'
Booking: Cox 90'
Almunia (c), Doyley, Angella, Ekstrand, Faraoni, Murray, Battocchio, Pudil, Anya (Fabbrini 80'), Forestieri (Abdi 59') (Cassetti 73'), Deeney
Subs not used: Bond (GK), Merkel, Bellerin, Hall
Scorers: Angella 33', 47'
Bookings: Ekstrand 36', Angella 42', Cassetti 80'
Referee: Simon Hooper
Attendance: 18,510 (Away: 517)
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