Ben Brereton dispatched a late penalty to help Nottingham Forest's Under 18s to a 1-1 draw against Brentford in their opening league fixture on Saturday.The Reds were dominant throughout despite being reduced to ten men following the sending off of Joe Boyd, while Bees' substitute Reece Cole was also given his marching orders in a frantic encounter at The Nigel Doughty Academy.
Second-year scholars Alex Iacovitti, Frederik Nielsen, Ryan Yates and Gerry McDonagh were unavailable for action meaning there were a host of individuals making their Under 18 debuts with Jack Lester beginning his first full season as manager.
Forest were looking dangerous in the early exchanges as both teams began with purpose and it was the hosts with the first chance of the game. Brereton slid Kieran Hayes through but the livewire couldn't muster enough power on his shot to trouble Jordan Carey in the Brentford goal.
The hosts were playing some neat and tidy football with Toby Edser, Jake Taylor and Tom Gamblen at the heart of the midfield and the latter had a tame long range effort saved. Lester was forced into an early change when Hayes was replaced by Liam Adams on 24 minutes, but that didn't stop the momentum.
Brereton led the line exceptionally and he caught sight of goal with a stinging drive that went inches wide and that was a sign of what was to come from the ex-Stoke City man, while Gamblen and Adams came close with attempts of their own on the stroke of half-time.
Continuing in the same vein, Brereton showed brilliant awareness to turn his marker and race towards goal at the start of the second period although he saw his thunderous effort palmed away to safety. Soon after, Ismael Diallo sent in a cross for Elvis Otim who could only direct it wide with his chest.
The visitors bounced back thanks to Luke Dunn firing wide but Brentford's threat was no more than a whisper. Brereton, who replaced McDonagh's similar attributes at the forefront of the attack making his presence known and bringing others into play, was again involved as he pulled it back for Adams whose shot was pushed wide.
And to add variety to his play Brereton dragged his marker wide and teed it up aerially for Otim's head but it was directed just over, before the former lashed past the post as he sought a goal to give his all-round display the crowning it deserved.
An off-the-ball incident saw a largely untested Boyd receive a red card and gave the West London outfit a fortunate sighter of the game, with Jordan Wright going between the sticks as Gamblen was sacrificed.
But Lester's men were doggedly undeterred as they carried on piling on the pressure as Brereton's clever link-up play held extra importance and he wasted a golden opportunity to give The Reds the lead, which was soon punished.
Caurtney Austin kept his cool to round Wright and pass it into the net to give his side the lead with only six minutes remaining on the clock. And just when it seemed like it wouldn't be Forest's day, they got the slice of luck they needed with substitute Cole getting his second booking of the game bringing the numbers level.
Upping the ante was the aim for the hosts and 14-year-old Arvin Appiah was introduced to make his league debut at Under 18 level.
And the urgency was rewarded as a controversial penalty was given as a swarm of bodies in the box forced a clumsy challenge.
Brereton stepped up and buried confidently to put Forest level and tails were well and truly wagging for the remainder of the game. The Reds poured men forward and the goalscorer found himself in a dangerous position and fizzed it across goal unsuccessfully looking for a teammate to make contact to divert in.
A last-gasp winner didn't come but the never-say-die attitude on display on the opening day will serve the squad well as the season progresses.
Supporters can follow every game of the Under 18s' season with live match updates on Twitter via @NFFC_Academy.
Lester's squad are next in action against Huddersfield Town at The Nigel Doughty Academy, Wilford Lane on Tuesday 18 August (11.30am kick-off). Supporters are encouraged to attend and entry is free to everyone for all home games at the training ground this season.
Forest: Boyd, Diallo, Gabriel, Crookes, Re (Appiah 88'), Taylor, Edser, Gamblen (J.Wright 71'), Otim, Hayes (Adams 24'), Brereton