No stranger to winning matches in front of a packed City Ground, Nigel Clough enjoyed the feeling again last night, although as manager of Forest's arch-rivals, his success was celebrated only by the 4,500 visiting supporters after Derby recovered from the loss of two early goals to book their passage into the fifth round of the FA Cup and a home tie against Manchester United a week on Sunday.
It could hardly have been a more painful experience for the home crowd, among whom there had been a strong lobby for Nigel to inherit the family business when Colin Calderwood was dismissed on Boxing Day. Not only did Clough get one over Billy Davies, the former Derby manager whom Forest ultimately preferred, but the winning goal was scored by Kris Commons, who left Forest for Pride Park last summer.
Despite his father's association with both clubs, Clough Jnr had insisted, despite his nine years as a player in the red shirt, that there were no divided loyalties. Yet, recognising the sensitivity of the occasion, he would not share his thoughts last night, passing that responsibility to another Forest old boy, his assistant, Gary Crosby. "You know the nature of the man," Crosby said. "Nigel is incredibly pleased with the result but does not want to be seen to be taking any glory whatsoever."
There was no such restraint from Commons, whose 73rd-minute deflected strike completed Derby's recovery after Chris Cohen had scored for Forest after 57 seconds and Nathan Tyson added a second, from the penalty spot, in the 13th minute. He ran towards the Derby fans at the Bridgford End of the ground then, and at the final whistle. Then again, he had delivered a fine performance as Forest, whose team consisted of the full complement of fit senior players available to Davies amid an injury crisis. Rob Earnshaw, whose goal at Pride Park had forced the replay was among the absentees.
Forest suffered another blow when James Perch, their captain, was carried off suffering from concussion after a clash with Rob Hulse, and with no player aged over 20 on the bench, Davies felt the depth in quality and experience of the respective squads was key. "We scored a good first goal and then go two up but then our naïvety kicked in," Davies said. "We allowed them to get balls into the box and did not deal with them. But against a side just out of the Premier League we have competed well and I'm only disappointed with the result."
Hulse had given Derby a lifeline after 27 minutes, sending a looping header over the goalkeeper Paul Smith after Forest had failed to cut out a Gary Teale cross. A quarter of an hour into the second half, Teale picked out Paul Green, who jumped unchallenged to nod in the equaliser.
By then, Forest were routinely conceding space and possession, not least to Commons, who had hit the woodwork with a thunderous shot minutes before he delivered the home side's fatal wound. Mark Byrne, summoned from the bench, missed a chance to take the tie into extra time but the result, on balance, was a just one.
Nottingham Forest (4-4-1-1): Smith; Chambers, Morgan, Breckin, Wilson; Thornhill, McGugan, Perch (Byrne, 70), McCleary (Heath, 80); Cohen; Tyson (Newbold, 88). Substitutes not used: Darlow (gk), Bencherif, Reid, Whitehurst.
Derby County (4-4-1-1): Bywater; Connolly, Albrechtsen, Nyatanga, McEveley; Barazite, Savage, Green, Teale; Commons; Hulse (Ellington, 81). Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk), Stewart, Villa, Sterjovski, Todd, Pearson.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).