Football: Cooper in at the last for Forest

Nottingham Forest 2 Blackburn Rovers 2
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The Independent Online
An injury-time equaliser by Colin Cooper salvaged a point for Nottingham Forest in an intensely fought battle between two of the Premiership's endangered species at the City Ground last night, wresting victory from Blackburn Rovers after early second-half goals by Kevin Gallacher and Jason Wilcox had overturned a first-half deficit.

Forest, inspired by the leadership of Stuart Pearce, making his 500th League appearance, will draw from the courage with which they maintained the fight, but the road ahead remains treacherous for both teams, with considerable work to be done if the threat of relegation is to be banished. Forest, in particular, face a daunting few weeks, with matches against Wimbledon, Newcastle, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United following one after the other.

Typically, it was Pearce who set a fearsomely competitive example to his beleaguered troops, the Forest captain tackling with ferocity in a first half, at least, in which he was the outstanding figure. He was cautioned, quite rightly, for a ghastly foul on Gallacher, after which Tim Sherwood, wearing the Blackburn armband, had to be restrained, but made an impact in more worthy ways, also.

It was his scorching free-kick after 20 minutes, bringing a fingertip save by Tim Flowers, which the referee, awarding a goal-kick, failed to acknowledge, that pumped passion into the contest and sparked a period of pressure that brought his side the lead a minute before half-time. Fittingly, it was he who broke the deadlock from the penalty spot, sending Flowers the wrong way after Jeff Kenna had brought down Chris Allen.

On recent form, this was a turn-up. Although the sides entered the match with identical records, four of Blackburn's eight points had come in their last two matches, a win over Liverpool and a draw with Chelsea. Forest, by contrast, had taken just one point in five matches.

A response from Blackburn, denied in the first half when Mark Crossley pushed Sherwood's goal-bound shot over the bar, was therefore to be expected, although two goals in four minutes was more than anyone foresaw.

Gallacher's equaliser, after 54 minutes, was a lovely goal, curled past Crossley with the outside of the right foot after Graeme Le Saux had driven a pass into the penalty area. The Scot's left foot created the second, although there was sympathy for Crossley, who pulled off a magnificent save only for Wilcox to reach the rebound first.

To their credit, Forest refused to wilt, the centre-back Steve Blatherwick, lending his height at a corner, forced the ball in only to be ruled to have handled; then Colin Hendry, the rock on which his side depended, headed the ball out from under the crossbar after Alf Inge Haaland's header had struck the woodwork.

It did seem, however, that Blackburn would gain the points to leave their rivals adrift at the bottom. But, with only seconds remaining, Allen drove towards goal from the left flank, with support from Kevin Campbell, whose shot spun into the path of Cooper, who forced the ball over the line despite Le Saux's efforts to resist.

Nottingham Forest (4-3-3): Crossley; Lyttle, Blatherwick (Lee, 67), Chettle, Pearce; Cooper, Phillips, Haaland; Saunders (Roy, 78), Campbell, Allen. Substitutes not used: Fettis (gk), Jerkan, Howe.

Blackburn Rovers (4-3-3): Flowers; Kenna, Berg, Hendry, Le Saux; Sherwood, McKinlay, Flitcroft; Gallacher, Sutton, Wilcox. Substitutes not used: Ripley, Bohinen, Fenton, Given (gk), Croft.

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).