Nottingham Forest were beaten 4-3 by Walsall in the first round of the Capital One Cup this evening.
A hat-trick from Saddlers striker Tom Bradshaw helped the visitors to a victory which appeared to have slipped from their grasp after Michail Antonio came off the bench to score twice, restoring parity at 3-3 in injury time.
But, with the game looking destined for extra time, Kelvin Wilson conceded a penalty and Bradshaw made no mistake from the spot to send Walsall into the second round.
Bradshaw’s goals put Walsall 2-0 up early in the first half before young Forest striker Tyler Walker scored to halve the deficit.
Walsall substitute Romaine Sawyers was the man to extend the away side’s advantage to 3-1 on 79 minutes before Antonio’s heroics gave Forest a lifeline.
Dougie Freedman brought Walker, Wilson, Chris Burke and Jamie Paterson into his starting 11.
Wilson, who was suspended for Friday’s trip to Brighton, captained the side and was partnered by Jack Hobbs in central defence.
The Reds lined up in a diamond formation with Dorus de Vries in goal, Eric Lichaj and Danny Fox at full back, Michael Mancienne in defensive midfield with David Vaughan and Burke ahead of him in central midfield. Jamie Paterson played behind a strikeforce of Walker and Jamie Ward.
And the summer signing from Derby had a good chance to put Forest ahead on nine minutes when he met Walker’s low cross at the near post, only to send the ball over the bar.
Walsall responded with an attack of their own and won a free-kick in a good shooting position when Hobbs felled Milan Lalkovic, earning the centre back a yellow card. Sam Mantom’s set piece saw the ball deflect low off the Forest wall and towards de Vries’ bottom corner, but the Dutchman managed to trap it at the base of his post.
A minute later, however, de Vries was beaten. Again Lalkovic was pivotal, sending the ball across the face of goal with a cross-cum-shot from the left to present Bradshaw with a tap-in.
And it was 2-0 shortly afterwards when Mantom’s cross from the left saw the ball loop up off a Forest defender and into the middle of the goalmouth. Bradshaw did well to turn it over the line.
Freedman opted for a change in shape as Ward came into attacking midfield with Paterson drifting left and Burke right.
It was Ward who offered Forest’s first attempt of reducing the arrears. He received the ball from Lichaj, who had made a strong run forward from right back, but could only sent it wide from 20 yards.
The game then hit a slight lull as the visitors looked to settle the tempo of the match, but it was they who next threatened.
On 29 minutes Bradshaw received a low cross from the right, turned away from goal and offloaded the ball to Kieron Morris just inside the area. Morris opted for a first-time effort but could only fire it well wide.
Forest came within inches of making it 2-1 a minute later when Burke’s low, drilled ball across goal flicked up off a Walsall man and on to the crossbar.
But Freedman’s men didn’t have to wait much longer as, on 32 minutes, Paterson’s low cross following a short corner found Walker at the back post, who made no mistake in turning the ball home from close range.
Walsall quickly set about trying to restore their two-goal advantage, and they nearly did so with nine minutes to play in the half. Marauding left back Rico Henry played the ball to Lalkovic in the area. He showed terrific close control to fend off the approaches of Forest’s defence, working a tight shooting angle. De Vries made a strong save at his near post.
Three minutes of added time were allocated at the end of the half and Forest came agonisingly close to scoring an equaliser before the whistle.
Ward’s corner was headed back across goal by Mancienne and perfectly into Paterson’s path. The former Walsall man volleyed the ball from eight yards but could only crash it off the post.
Walsall keeper Neil Etheridge punched the resultant corner away but The Reds kept the ball alive. Fox sprinted towards the edge of the area and struck a low shot towards goal, but Etheridge was equal to it and Forest went into the break 2-1 behind.
There were no changes for either side at the break and Forest began the second half on the front foot. Burke supplied Paterson in the area and the ex-Walsall man span away from his marker to buy space for a shot on his left foot. He struck the ball well but sent it a yard over the bar.
Walsall were forced into a change on 53 minutes as their captain Adam Chambers hobbled off with an injury. He was replaced by Sawyers, who had a chance to score shortly after his arrival following neat build-up play by the Saddlers. He could only curl the ball over the bar from the edge of the ‘D’.
Burke was proving Forest’s most potent attacking threat and he linked up with Paterson again shortly after the hour mark. The Scotsman slid the ball through for his team-mate but he struck the ball into the side-netting.
Next it was Burke’s turn to have a go. He beat Henry by cutting in from the left but the Walsall keeper was equal to his strike from outside the area.
Freedman’s next change saw Dexter Blackstock replace Paterson, but it was the visitors who attacked next. De Vries did well to push Mansom’s low shot to safety.
The Reds boss then opted for an injection of raw pace by sending on Antonio and youngster Oliver Burke. They replaced Chris Burke and Ward.
But there was nothing the pair could do as, shortly after their introduction, Forest fell 3-1 behind.
De Vries could only parry Morris’ powerful shot and The Reds failed to clear the ball from their area, presenting substitute Sawyers with the chance to lash it home from close range.
It didn’t take Antonio long to make his mark, however. Almost immediately after the restart he picked up the ball on the left, raced past all on-comers and lashed the ball into the top corner from 25 yards.
The match was wide open and Walsall were refusing to bow down. Substitute Jordan Cook had a good chance to score with five minutes remaining but couldn’t generate enough power on his shot, presenting de Vries with a comfortable save down at his near post.
Forest’s dominance was increasing more and more as full-time approached, however, and the home side were given encouragement when five minutes of added time were indicated.
And they only needed one of those minutes to make it 3-3. It looked like the chance was gone when Walker’s header was nodded off the line by Henry following a corner. But Hobbs’ lashed effort towards goal kept the ball alive and Antonio was on hand to back-heel it over the line.
There was still plenty of added time left for either side to find a winner, with Forest looking far the more likely side to do so.
Antonio showed his threat yet again when he embarked on a powerful run down the left before fizzing the ball across goal. Sadly for The Reds, there was too much pace on it for them to benefit.
The fourth minute of added time presented substitute Burke with an opportunity to grab the headlines. Walker flicked the ball into the winger’s path and his pace took him into the area. Burke appeared to be slightly off-balance, however, and he fired the ball wide, prompting supporters to prepare themselves for extra time.
But, in the dying seconds, Bradshaw drew a foul from Wilson in the area to give himself the chance of scoring the most dramatic of hat-trick goals. He smashed the ball home from the spot and there wasn’t enough time for Forest to find another equaliser.
Forest: De Vries, Lichaj, Wilson (c), Hobbs, Fox, Ward (Antonio 78'), Mancienne, Vaughan, C Burke (O Burke 78'), Paterson (Blackstock 71'), Walker
Subs not used: Evtimov, Mills, Lansbury, Grant
Goals: Walker 32', Antonio 81', 90'
Bookings: Hobbs 10', Mancienne 75'
: Etheridge, Demetriou, O'Connor, Downing, Chambers (WalsallSawyers 54'), Mantom, Bradshaw, Henry, Lalkovic (Forde 74'), Flanagan, Morris (Cook 84')
Subs not used: MacGillivray, Baxendale, Preston, Kinsella
Goals: Bradshaw 12', 14', 90', Sawyers 79'
Booking: Demetriou 83'
Referee: Darren Handley
Attendance: 5,237 (669 away)