Goals from Oliver Burke, Matty Cash and Nikolay Todorov helped Nottingham Forest’s title-winning Under 21s to a 3-2 victory over Barnsley at Oakwell tonight.
The Reds came from one-goal down to take a 3-1 lead, and a spirited display despite conceding one more ensured they head into the playoffs in fantastic form.
Jimmy Gilligan made three changes from the side that drew 1-1 with second-placed Huddersfield Town last week.
The hosts came into the game on the back of seven straight defeats and that showed early on as The Reds had the first opportunity of the match, but Joe Worrall headed over an inswinging delivery.
James Thorne looked menacing and he had an effort from distance that pulled just wide of Christian Dibble’s right-hand post. But Forest received a blow when Barnsley took the lead in the 11th minute.
George Maris collected the ball and unleashed an unstoppable strike from 25 yards past an outstretched Tim Erlandsson. Soon after, Oliver Burke sprung into life, cut inside and had a left-footed chance held by the Tykes’ keeper.
A superb teasing cross set up Thorne who came excruciatingly close to an equaliser, but his close range prod was instinctively stopped.
And Gilligan’s side found their equaliser after a fantastic dribbling run from the halfway line. Burke sprinted rapidly beyond the hosts’ defence and showed composure to place into the bottom corner.
Barnsley could’ve taken the lead moments later following impressive approach play, although Erlandsson was on hand to save with his legs. Maris nearly had his second of the night, however is audacious effort from wide cannoned off the crossbar.
And the table-toppers took the lead on the stroke of half-time, due to more good work from Burke. The winger reached the byline on the counter-attack and teed it up for midfielder Matty Cash who nipped in before the defender to poke the ball home.
Nikolay Todorov replaced Diemantis Petravicius at the break and the opening exchanges of the second period were relatively quiet, with neither side testing the keepers.
And the visitors extended their lead after the former took advantage of some slack goalkeeping. Dibble dallied on the ball, attempted a pass which was read well by Todorov who reacted well to pounce, divert the ball away from the keeper before calmly slotting in.
But the hosts responded quickly to reduce the deficit as Phil Gannon leapt highest to get enough power on a header to get it past Erlandsson despite a desperate dive.
The Yorkshire outfit fought well in the final 20 minutes but couldn’t find an equaliser past a valiant Forest defence marshalled by Roger Riera and Worrall and Gilligan’s side ended the season in winning fashion. It’s now only one defeat since mid-October for the Under 21s.
The Reds now face a one-legged play-off semi-final at home against the second-placed team from the South division.
Forest: Erlandsson, McQueen, Worrall, Riera, Iacovitti, O Burke, Cash, Crookes (Yates 72'), McEneff (Kelly 60'), Petravicius (Todorov 46'), Thorne