Jorge Grant scored a stunning goal as Nottingham Forest’s Under 21s were knocked out on penalties in the play-off semi-final after a 3-3 draw with Swansea City.
The Reds took a two-goal lead in the first half with goals from Grant and James Thorne, but were pegged back in the second period and it took a strike from Alex Iacovitti in the closing stages of second-half extra-time to send the tie into penalties.
And the latter saw his penalty devastatingly stopped to ensure the Welsh side ran out 5-4 penalty winners past a spirited Forest Under 21s side who can still boast the Professional Development League Two North title after a fantastic season.
Jimmy Gilligan made five changes to the side that beat Barnsley 3-2 at Oakwell in their final league outing of the season, with Dimitar Evtimov, Ilias Polimos, Josh Rees, Jorge Grant and Tyler Walker all coming into the side.
The Reds came into the game on the back of one defeat in 18 games, and that showed early on as they sprung into life. James Thorne found a pacey Oliver Burke who curled in a teasing cross that was well cleared by Alex Gogic.
Forest set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Walker up front on his own, supported by Burke, Grant and Thorne just behind. And the hosts took the lead on nine minutes.
Grant collected the ball in space 25 yards out and unleashed a piledriver into the bottom corner past an outstretched Oliver Davies in the Swansea net. Forest’s dogged pressing frustrated the visitors in possession, as they got little success in behind.
Raheem Hanley delivered a cross from the left in a rare foray forward which was well held by keeper Dimitar Evtimov. Shortly afterwards, captain Henry Jones saw an opportunity to strike but hid long range effort flew over.
Despite growing gradually into the game Swansea weren’t creating any clear-cut chances to threaten and they were punished midway through the first period. Grant turned provider this time, executing an excellent inswinging free-kick for Thorne to head back across goal and into the corner.
And the same pair were involved again as Grant sent in another free-kick from further out, but Thorne could only head this one onto the roof of the net under pressure. Walker came close to adding a third after bringing the ball down superbly, but the striker was smothered rapidly by keeper Davies.
Grant got in on the action once again, shrewdly passing inside for Burke who fired powerfully goal-bound, but Davies was on hand to make a save. Burke then broke with deadly speed to ghost the defender and cross for Walker, who controlled well but struck tamely at Davies.
Swansea, who finished second in Professional Development League Two South and pipped to the title by Crystal Palace, were looking composed in possession as the first period drew to a close but weren’t worrying the Forest backline, as Joe Worrall and Roger Riera remained unfazed.
Polimos threaded a ball through for Burke approaching the 18-yard-box, but his sliding pass was desperately cleared away as the Reds looked to end the half in ruthless fashion.
Forest began the second half in the same vein as the first as Walker had a shot blocked and Grant’s cross nearly found its way past a nervy Swans’ keeper who let it trickle under his body.
Admirable approach play from the visitors saw them have a sighter of goal, however they failed to capitalise with Jay Futton’s effort going well wide of Evtimov’s right-hand post.
Thorne could’ve had his second of the match cutting inside from the left, but his long range thunderous effort was spilled out for a corner by Davies who was struggling to handle in the slippy conditions. Futton escaped a couple of Forest defenders before having his shot blocked and cleared for a corner.
Gilligan was forced into his first change as Deimantas Petravicius replaced the injured Oliver Burke on 59 minutes, with the hosts coping relatively well with the Swansea sporadic pressure.
The Welsh outfit started to pin Forest back and press in an effort to reduce the deficit, but continued to find it difficult breaking Gilligan’s men down, with Adam Crookes doing a fine job protecting the back four.
Kenji Gorre found room inside the box to fire one towards goal, but like so often in this encounter the ball was blocked heroically out for a corner as the Forest backline defended wholeheartedly to maintain a clean sheet.
Swansea pressed forward and had a couple of chances in a short space of time, with Kenji Gorre firing wide and Adam King blasting past Evtimov’s left-hand post in acres of space in the centre of the goal.
With ten minutes left Thorne was replaced by the tireless work ethic of Gerry McDonagh, stepping up from Jack Lester’s Under 18s side, while Matty Cash came on for Grant as Forest tried to disrupt any flow the visitor were building.
Gorre raced clear of Riera and into the box, but he saw his right-fotted cross evade everyone and run away from danger. And the visitors ensured a nervy final few minutes with a well taken goal to halve the deficit.
Henry Jones escaped the attentions of the Forest defence, received the ball and tucked it emphatically through the legs of Evtimov. And they carried on upping the ante on Forest forcing them back, allowing space for the Reds’ attackers to exploit.
Walker broke free on the left and reached the edge of the box before spooning over the bar. In the additional five minutes at the end of the second period, Swansea found their leveller.
Alex Samuel raced clear and struck low past Evtimov who struggled to get enough behind it to keep the ball out and the substitute sent the game into extra-time.
The nippy Samuel raced away in the opening exchanged of extra-time, but Evtimov got enough behind it to handle comfortably. Both teams were conserved as the extra-time progressed, suffering slightly from the energetic latter staged of the second period of normal time.
Worrall let a deep cross go as he showed superb awareness to relieve the danger, while Jones had a 25-yard drive tipped over by Evtimov. And the visitors took the lead on 103 minutes.
A lofted ball was played over the top and Samuel took advantage of hesitation to nip in and stroke the ball home with composure. Fresh from a Gilligan team-talk, Forest looked proactive in their search for an equaliser in the final 15 minutes.
But Swansea refused to lay down and take pressure, playing slick passing football to try and tire out the hosts. Substitute Petravicius served up a treat from the left, with a beautiful curling cross that McDonagh and Walker were inches from connecting with.
With the clock ticking, Evtimov was sent forward for a corner and the Forest pressure soon told as they found their equaliser with only minutes remaining in second-half of extra-time.
Defender Alex Iacovitti stayed a predatory forward position as the cross came in, and Davies tipped a Cash header in his direction and he took advantage, powerfully thumping into the back of the net to level proceedings.
And this pulsating encounter went through to penalties, and with nerves tingling amongst the supporters in The Main Stand. Walker, Crookes, Worrall and Cash netted coolly for Forest despite Roger Riera seeing his effort saved, and the hosts were knocked out cruelly with Iacovitti needing to score the fifth penalty, but he saw his strike saved impressively by Davies.
Forest: Evtimov, Polimos, Worrall, Riera, Iacovitti, Burke (Petravicius 59’), Crookes, Grant (Cash 83’), Thorne (McDonagh 80’), Rees, Walker
Goals: Grant 9', Thorne 23', Iacovitti 116'
Bookings: Burke 39', Iacovitti 120'
: Davies, Roberts, Hanley, Futton, Gogic (Rodon 75'), Gallifuoco, Jones (c), King, Fallon (James 46'), Maric (Samuel 32'), GorreSwansea
Goals: Jones 85', Samuel 90', 105'
Referee: Ben Cooke