Nottingham Forest secured a dramatic 3-2 win over Barnsley as league action returned to The City Ground this afternoon.In a game which on the balance of play could have swung much further in favour of the hosts, Forest were twice pegged back after going ahead before substitute Darius Henderson headed home a deserved winner with six minutes to play.
Forest’s lead, thanks to Simon Cox, was cancelled-out by Chris O’Grady’s penalty, before Kelvin Etuhu's own goal sent The Reds in to half-time 2-1 up.
A sensational Tomasz Cywka free-kick restored parity after the break but in the end Forest’s dominance was met with the reward it deserved.
Billy Davies made two changes to the side that started against Wigan a fortnight ago. Guy Moussi stepped into the defensive midfield role vacated by Adlene Guedioura, who has joined Crystal Palace, while Cox made his first league start since the opening day win over Huddersfield.
And Cox, who had been away on international duty during the week, so nearly fired The Reds in to a tenth-minute lead.
After Andy Reid had been blocked off on the edge of the area, Radoslaw Majewski had the presence of mind to flick a delightful ball around The Tykes’ defence and perfectly into Cox’s path. Racing in to the area, Cox’s low, curled effort beat Mike Pollitt but not the post.
And it was the Irishman’s turn to play provider five minutes later. His through ball for Jamie Mackie’s perfectly-timed run sent Mackie clear of Barnsley’s defence with only Pollitt to beat. Covering his near post with his considerable frame, the veteran stopper made an excellent save.
Cox and Mackie wouldn’t relent their pressure on the 41 year old’s goal, and on 18 minutes they had a breakthrough.
Mackie’s shot from the edge of the area was too hot for Pollitt to handle and Cox was first on the scene to slide the rebound home from six yards.
On another day The Reds could have been 3-0 up - instead, they were pegged back two minutes later.
David Perkins was blocked off by Moussi in the area and referee Iain Williamson pointed straight to the spot. Chris O’Grady finished emphatically from the spot.
The hosts sought about quickly restoring their lead and nearly did so twice in quick succession three minutes after Barnsley’s equaliser.
Reid, who opened the scoring at Wigan with a similar effort, saw his excellent free-kick crash off the bar. Cox was once again the first to react to the loose ball but he saw his effort smothered on the line.
Forest continued to control proceedings but were left to rue another good Pollitt save on 33 minutes.
Perkins could only divert Eric Lichaj’s superb cross in to the path of Majewski in the area. The Pole generated excellent power in his strike only for Pollitt to save strongly.
It would have been something of an injustice had The Reds headed in to the break level and in the second of two added minutes they had the lead they deserved.
Mackie was felled by Ramage down the right and Reid’s subsequent dangerous delivery was turned into his own net by Etuhu's.
The big Frenchman was replaced by Martin Cranie at the break while Forest emerged unchanged.
Dale Jennings, a summer signing from Bayern Munich, gave Karl Darlow his first real open-play test of the afternoon shortly into the second half. The keeper had to shuffle across to meet Jennings’ 20-yard effort but he held on comfortably.
Forest responded immediately with a Henri Lansbury shot which trickled wide of Pollitt’s post from the edge of the area.
The visitors had started the second period with purpose, however, and almost had an equaliser in very unorthodox fashion 11 minutes in to the half.
Jim O’Brien raced on to a short Reds back pass and looked likely to fire past Darlow, but the keeper did well to block his effort, which looped towards goal and was headed away by Jack Hobbs.
Forest regained a firm grip on proceedings after that - Chris Cohen’s cross-cum-shot licked the top of the bar before Lansbury shifted on to his right and curled into Pollitt’s arms from 20 yards.
But they were hit with yet another sucker punch on 69 minutes.
After Moussi had tripped Stephen Dawson, for which the Frenchman was booked, Cywka, on for O’Brien, blasted into the top corner from 35 yards, leaving Darlow stranded and restoring parity.
Majewski made way for Jamie Paterson shortly afterwards as The Reds again set out to restore their lead.
And within minutes the former Walsall man had skimmed the post with an excellent effort from range - the third time Forest had hit the woodwork in the match.
Barnsley went down the other end and saw O’Grady’s shot on the turn curl wide, before Forest came agonisingly close to retaking the lead in bizarre fashion.
Cox’s long-range effort took Pollitt completely by surprise - the ball squirmed out of the keeper’s control and inches wide of the post. From the resulting corner, Cohen turned neatly in the area and sent a right-footed effort towards the top corner only for it to be headed away by Perkins.
Henderson and Djamal Abdoun were then introduced in place of Cox and Moussi respectively, and with seven minutes to go Abdoun had Pollitt scrambling to his back post to tip his cross out for a corner.
And it was fellow substitute Henderson’s header from Reid’s subsequent delivery which sparked scenes of jubilation around The City Ground - the big front man powering his effort beyond Pollitt from six yards to put The Reds 3-2 up and secure a deserved victory.
Forest: Darlow, Lichaj, Wilson, Hobbs, Cohen(c), Moussi (Abdoun 77'), Lansbury, Majewski (Paterson 72'), Reid, Cox (Henderson 77'), Mackie
Subs not used: De Vries, Jara, Halford, Derbyshire
Scorers: Cox 18', Etuhu (og) 45', Henderson 84'
Bookings: Moussi 68', Henderson 85'
Barnsley: Pollitt, Ramage, Kennedy, O'Brien (Cywka 64'), Dawson(c), O'Grady, Perkins, Wiseman, Jennings (Dagnall 68'), Mvoto (Cranie 46'), Etuhu
Subs not used: Steele, Scotland, Mellis, Noble-Lazarus
Scorers: O'Grady (pen) 20', Cywka 69'
Bookings: Ramage 26', Cranie 65'
Referee: Iain Williamson
Attendance: 21,181 (Away: 918)