Lewis McGugan came off the bench to earn Nottingham Forest all three points against nine-man Ipswich on a misty night at The City Ground.The substitute had been on the field for 21 minutes before seeing his strike from outside the area deflect kindly into the net.
The visitors had seen both Lee Martin and Richard Stearman sent off either side of the break but had defended stoutly until McGugan’s breakthrough.
Billy Davies named an unchanged starting line-up for the first time since his return to the club last month, but there was space on the bench for recent returnee Sam Hutchinson.
The game had to wait until the 16th minute for its first incident of note and it came in the form of a late lunge on Simon Cox by Town defender Richard Stearman. The ex-Wolves man was perhaps lucky to escape with a booking.
Five minutes later, Martin shot just over from 25 yards to claim the first effort at goal in an until-then quiet encounter.
The game then came to life, and after Simon Cox had seen his effort deflect off a defender and into Stephen Henderson’s arms, Henri Lansbury darted into the area and produced a good save by the Ipswich ‘keeper.
On 27 minutes, Martin showed good feet to win a free kick right on the edge of Forest’s area, but the winger saw his cleverly-worked set piece blocked.
The visitors came close nine minutes later when Michael Chopra capitalised on Radi Majewski’s sloppy pass in midfield. The striker raced towards the edge of the area and appeared to catch Karl Darlow off-guard with his shot, but the ‘keeper managed to save well with his foot.
It was the closest either side had come to scoring, and Forest set about producing an immediate response. Andy Reid’s cross from the left found Dexter Blackstock at the back post but he sent his header well wide of goal.
But with five minutes to play in the half, the match took a dramatic twist.
Martin again proved difficult to handle on the edge of The Reds’ area, and after Lansbury had felled him the winger lashed out at the ex-Gunner with an elbow. Referee David Webb handed the Town man a straight red card, while Lansbury was booked for his part in the scuffle.
Forest seemed content to see the half out before regrouping at the break, but they would have gone in behind had Daryl Murphy managed to control Elliott Ward’s misjudged header after running through one-on-one with Darlow.
Neither side made a change at the break, and the first chance of the second half fell to Cox after Adlene Guedioura had played a lofted ball into the Ipswich area. The striker cut back on to his right but pulled his shot wide of Henderson’s near post.
The ten men were doing an excellent job of containing The Reds, and Davies sent on McGugan in place of Lansbury on 63 minutes to see if he could spark the hosts into life.
But Ipswich, who had done so well to contain Forest all night, made their own task much harder on 69 minutes.
Reid went down clutching his head after he clashed with Stearman on the touchline and the referee produced a second yellow card to reduce the visitors to nine men.
Jonathan Greening then replaced Guedioura before Hutchinson came on for Jara with just under 15 minutes to play.
The Reds’ advantage was now clear for all to see and Reid came within inches of an incredible individual effort twelve minutes from time.
Majewski gave it to him with his back to goal, the Irishman chipped the ball up, spun and sent a tremendous volley at goal only for Henderson to get a crucial fingertip to it to turn it wide.
McGugan fired straight at the ‘keeper after the resultant corner but the substitute did find the net six minutes from time, albeit in slightly fortuitous fashion.
He picked the ball up outside the area, switched on to his left and saw his low effort deflect past a helpless Henderson and into the net.
The assistant referee signalled six minutes of added time and both McGugan and Cox went close as the clock ticked down, but they could not extend their lead before the referee called time on an eventful evening on Trentside.
Forest: Darlow, Jara Reyes (Hutchinson 77'), Collins (c), Ward, Cohen, Lansbury (McGugan 63'), Guedioura (Greening 70'), Majewski, Reid, Cox, Blackstock
Subs not used: Evtimov, Moussi, Lascelles, McLaughlin
Scorer: McGugan 84'
Bookings: Ward 6', Lansbury 41', Hutchinson 86', Reid 89'
Ipswich: Henderson, Cresswell, Chambers (c), Stearman, N'Daw, Chopra (Hewitt 73'), Martin, Drury (Brown 73'), Hyam, Smith, Murphy (Nouble 77')
Subs not used: Loach, Kisnorbo, Mings, McLean
Bookings: Stearman 16'
Sent Off: Martin 40', Stearman 69' (2nd booking)
Referee: David Webb
Attendance: 19,458 (Away: 694)