Dexter Blackstock and Michail Antonio were on the scoresheet as Nottingham Forest beat Rotherham United 2-0 at The City Ground this evening.
Antonio sparked a quiet first half into life by providing Blackstock with the chance to lob Rotherham keeper Adam Collin before doubling the scoreline two minutes later with a magnificent solo effort.
The win, which narrowed the gap to the play-offs to eight points, was Forest’s fifth in as many home matches under Dougie Freedman. The manager named an unchanged side after last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Leeds United.
There was a change on the bench however, with Swansea loanee Modou Barrow taking Lars Veldwijk’s place.
Former Reds Matt Derbyshire and Jack Hunt were handed starts by Millers boss Steve Evans.
The first chance of the game went to Forest when the ball dropped for Antonio in Rotherham’s final third. The winger curled it just wide of the far post with his right foot, much to the relief of the stranded Collin.
It was an otherwise quiet opening to the match with observers having to wait until the 26th minute for the next chance of note. Eric Lichaj, continuing at left back, cut inside on his right foot before blazing the ball high over the bar.
Three minutes later Forest were appealing for a penalty when Antonio appeared to be barged over in the area after doing well to make himself available for Lichaj’s pass.
Referee Michael Bull waved play on in that instance, but that was to be only the beginning of a busy period for the man in the middle. He booked Richard Smallwood for a foul on Henri Lansbury before awarding Antonio a free-kick after he had gone down in similar circumstances to his penalty appeal. This time he fell outside the area and Lansbury could only loft the ball over the bar from the free-kick.
Mr Bull was reaching for his cards again on 38 minutes, Gary Gardner the recipient of a booking for a foul on Smallwood near the corner flag. Moments later, Daniel Lafferty became the next player in the book after tripping Chris Burke down the right.
It had been a scrappy first half, somewhat epitomised by Antonio cutting in from the right wing before blasting the ball high over the bar three minutes before the break.
But The Reds managed to spark the match into life before the whistle came.
Antonio played an outstanding ball over the top for Blackstock who allowed the ball to bounce before looping it towards goal with his left foot. Backpedalling, Collin managed to get a hand to it but couldn’t prevent the goal.
And within two minutes of the restart, Antonio decided to go it alone. He beat Hunt near the halfway line and Rotherham’s defence had no answer to his pace and power. Space opened up for him on the edge of the area and he lashed the ball low to Collin’s right, finding the bottom corner and sending his side into the break 2-0 up.
There were no changes for either side at the break but within two minutes of the restart Hunt was forced off with an injury. Frazer Richardson was his replacement.
Forest nearly had a third goal when Antonio’s mishit cross forced Collin to tip the ball over his own crossbar at the very last moment.
But Rotherham, desperate for points to distance themselves from the relegation places, fought back with two good opportunities for their skipper Lee Frecklington. His first chance came when Ben Pringle picked him out with a cross to the back post, but Frecklington could only volley the ball harmlessly wide with the side of his foot.
The Millers kept up their pressure, winning a throw deep in Forest territory a minute later. Kari Arnason’s long throw was initially dealt with by Forest’s defence, but the ball came out to Frecklington on the edge of the area. He struck it goalwards but was denied by the post.
Forest were soon back in the ascendancy, however, and shortly after Gardner had fired the ball wide after playing a one-two with Blackstock, Antonio caused yet more problems.
He did brilliantly to get away from Conor Sammon and Richardson and into the area, where he rolled the ball across the face of goal. A Rotherham defender nipped in just ahead of Burke to turn the ball behind. Osborn picked out Jamaal Lascelles with the resultant corner but the defender could only guide the ball off-target with his head.
All eyes were on Antonio once again moments later when he received the ball on the halfway line with space ahead of him. The covering defender managed to show Antonio the outside line as he entered the area and he could only fire the ball into the side-netting.
It looked like the stuffing had been knocked out of Rotherham but they fired a warning shot with 13 minutes to play. The ball dropped for Sammon in the area and his deflected effort looked destined for the net only for Darlow to produce an excellent reaction save. The ball came all the way through to Frecklington from the resultant corner but he saw his shot blocked.
Derbyshire was given a warm round of applause when he was replaced by Jordan Bowery with quarter of an hour to play, before Barrow came on for Blackstock to make his debut.
The switch saw Antonio move up front with Barrow taking his place on the left, and the pair came within inches of linking up for the third goal.
Barrow raced on to an incisive Osborn pass and saw his cross from the left-hand side of the area deflect up off a Rotherham man and into the middle. The ball flew just past Antonio and Burke’s effort at the back post was deflected out for a corner.
Rotherham were beginning to look tired, as exhibited by the amount of time Gardner had to weigh up his shot from 22 yards with less than ten minutes to play. He curled the ball inches wide of the far post.
Three minutes of added time were indicated at the end of the match, in the second of which Tyler Walker was handed his senior debut when he replaced Burke.
And Forest saw out the rest of the match to record another important victory on home soil.
Forest: Darlow, Lichaj, Wilson, Lascelles, Mancienne, Antonio, Gardner, Lansbury (c), Osborn, Burke (Walker 90'), Blackstock (Barrow 79')
Subs not used: Evtimov, Collins, Fox, Paterson, Vaughan
Goals: Blackstock 43', Antonio 45'
Booking: Gardner 37'
: Collin, Lafferty, Arnason, Broadfoot, Hunt (Rotherham
Richardson 48'), Rawson, Smallwood (Milsom 57'), Frecklington (c), Pringle, Sammon, Derbyshire (Bowery 75')
Subs not used: Thompson, Green, Morgan, Hammill
Bookings: Smallwood 30', Arnason 38'
Referee: Michael Bull
Attendance: 20,569 (1,025 away)