The instinctive finishes. The front-flip celebration. The smile as wide as the Trent. Mention the name Robert Earnshaw to any Forest supporter and it’s likely they will recall his brace in the 5-2 victory over Derby, his winner at Pride Park three weeks later or his hat-trick in the 5-1 demolition of Leicester at The City Ground.
It was 5th December 2009 and The Foxes arrived on Trentside for a clash between two of the Championship’s early pacesetters and despite not being favourites, Forest came into the game on the back of a 4-1 thrashing of Doncaster and fired up for the contest against their neighbours.
Earnshaw said: “It was a huge game at the time and perhaps the biggest thing was the local rivalry between us and Leicester. We understood how important the game was to the fans. The second factor was the league positions, they were third and we were fourth, and both teams had good players on their side with plenty of experience who were chasing the same goal.
“We were the underdogs going into the game because Leicester had made some really good signings and we were this fearless team coming from nowhere. We approached the game with good tactics, understanding and energy and we were all really excited for it to begin.”
The Welshman had scored in his previous two matches against Middlesbrough and Doncaster and was feeling particularly sharp as kick-off approached. A crowd of over 28,500 began to pour into The City Ground to see if Earnshaw and his teammates could send out a statement of intent against a promotion rival.
“Personally speaking, sometimes I get a feeling in the first few minutes of a match that something special is about to happen. I had that feeling when I made my debut for Wales against Germany when I scored the winner and I had it again in the early stages of the Leicester game,” said Earnshaw.
“When I was warming up, I could just feel the energy in the stadium and for every club I played for, if I had that feeling then I knew something good was about to happen. After the first goal went in, I just knew there were going to be more goals for me on the day and I had to be in the right place at the right time when the ball dropped.”
Earnshaw’s first two strikes had Forest 2-0 up at the break and within four minutes of the second half he had sealed a hat-trick for the first time since March 2005. A natural goalscorer whose lethal finishes were pushing The Reds into the middle of the promotion race.
“Getting two goals in the first half just set the game up for us and to seal a hat-trick just after half-time was incredible,” Earnshaw recalled. “I knew after the first goal went in that we’d get more chances and as soon as it did, I was chasing the second and the third. It was just about putting my foot down from there and putting the ball in the back of the net.
“It was never a case of instinct, it was about allowing what I’d practised so hard every day to come out. The third goal was almost slow-motion for me because I felt like I had so much time to pick a finish and claim a hat-trick.
“To win the game in that manner, by five goals to one, was incredible. We played some good football with fantastic movement and we were ruthless so I still remember it to this day. I remember celebrating one of the goals in front of the soldiers who had come along that afternoon to support us so that was an amazing moment for me.”
Sadly, the season didn’t have the fairy-tale ending as Forest were beaten in the play-off semi-finals by Blackpool but ‘Earnie’ still harbours fond memories of a squad who dared to dream and who put everything on the line on a weekly basis.
He said: “That season was about building confidence and momentum as it went on. Not only were we putting results and points on the board but I could feel that the squad was believing in itself more as the season went on. At the beginning, I don’t think the boys thought they could reach those levels of consistency and quality and produce against the big teams in the division.
“We got on a fantastic unbeaten run in the league and as players we really started to believe that we could achieve something special and that we could compete with the top teams in the league. It was amazing to be a part of because I could see good players becoming great players as I stood next to them week after week.”
The second part of Earnie's interview will be available via nottinghamforest.co.uk later this week.