Nottingham Forest may have swept aside Sam Allardyce’s beleaguered West Ham to claim a Premier League scalp in the third round but Preston of League One proved an altogether tougher nut to crack in last night’s FA Cup fourth-round tie her.
Billy Davies, the Forest manager who took Preston to the Championship play-offs twice in his Deepdale days, has lost only once to his former club in nine matches with Derby and his current employers. However, he now faces a difficult replay after Simon Grayson, the latest Preston manager, supervised a well-organised an highly disciplined display that earned the result entirely on merit.
Having restricted Forest to a handful of clear chances, they were able to pose a threat of their own going forward and were close more than once to land an upset on the night as Karl Darlow, in the home goal, struggled against a slippery ball.
Simon Cox had tested Declan Rudd early with a snap shot the Preston goalkeeper did well to beat away. Yet the visitors, a division below Forest but in the play-off positions in League One, shrugged off this scare confidently, making it difficult for the home side, without the suspended Henri Lansbury, to dictate play from midfield.
There was much to admire, too, in the way they kept their defensive shape and it was the 38th minute before Forest mounted another real threat, a move along the right ending with Jamie Mackie firing a shot over the bar.
At the other end, a back four missing Jack Hobbs after his recall from loan by Hull City were keeping close tabs on Joe Garner, the former Forest forward whose 12 goals in 12 games include the 20-minute hat-trick that brought Preston a Championship scalp when they knocked out Ipswich in a third-round replay.
Forest looked to move the ball forward more quickly in the second half, seeking also to stretch the visitors by using the full width of the pitch. For a while Preston were forced to defend deep, but when they broke away Garner went close and then Paul Gallagher caused a problem with a long-range effort that momentarily squirmed away from Darlow, who subsequently found his handling tested again by a Gallagher free kick.
Davies gave Preston’s back four something new to think about by introducing Djamal Abdoun and Darius Henderson with half an hour left, although before they could have any noticeable impact there were signs that Preston’s confidence was growing as Forest again struggled for control in midfield.
Nottingham Forest (4-1-3-2): Darlow; Jara, Halford, Collins, Lichaj; Vaughan; Mackie (Abdoun, 60), Majewski (Derbyshire, 74), Reid; Cox (Henderson, 60), Paterson. Substitutes not used: Harding, Moussi, Lascelles, De Vries (gk).
Preston North End (4-4-1-1): Rudd; Wiseman, Clarke, Wright, Buchanan; Humphrey (Holmes, 71), Welsh, Kilkenny (Hume, 82), Gallagher; Brownhill; Garner. Substitutes not used: King, Stuckmann (gk), Laird, Beavon, Keane.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).