Nottingham Forest vs Derby County match report: In memory of Brian Clough, old rivals draw hectic conclusion

Nottingham Forest 1 Derby County 1

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The Independent Football

In the name of Brian Clough, the fierce East Midlands rivals set their differences aside as fans joined in a minute’s applause for their former manager, whose death 10 years ago this week left both clubs in mourning. On the pitch, it was business as usual: no-compromise tackling, hands-on marking, six yellow cards and one red, the sixth in the sides’ last eight meetings.

Moreover, referee Paul Tierney let go as much as he penalised, particularly in the penalty areas, where he seemed to regard grappling and shirt-pulling as legitimate tactics. Derby spent the last 13 minutes, including added time to allow for a long delay when three spectators entered the pitch, with 10 men after Jake Buxton received his second yellow card. His team-mate John Eustace might have been sent off before half-time had Mr Tierney been more consistent over which offences merited cautions.

Forest, the unbeaten Championship leaders, who had gone ahead after 72 minutes through Britt Assombalonga’s fifth goal of the season before Ryan Shotton scrambled an equaliser eight minutes later, could not find a way to make their extra man count. Derby had looked the brighter side in the second half and would have ill deserved to lose.

Stuart Pearce – the sixth Forest manager in seven derby games in a turbulent period by the Trent – described the way the intruders were dealt with as “pathetic, quite embarrassing” after the trio, two from Forest and one from Derby, were allowed to roam free for several minutes, one running the length of the field and back and only the one wearing the visitors’ colours encountering a robust response. It was on this ground in 1989 that Brian Clough took to the field himself to admonish two Forest fans who had run onto the field to celebrate. Safe to say that Pearce, nowadays a model of self-restraint, was not tempted to follow suit.

Britt Assombalonga puts Nottingham Forest ahead

The disruption probably worked in Forest’s favour. Having lacked, in Pearce’s words, “a bit of devilment, a bit of self-expression” in a first half short on quality – in which they lost both their captain, Chris Cohen, and playmaker Andy Reid to injury – the home side were struggling to deal with some good Derby football that was gaining momentum and the stoppage allowed them to take stock.

It was soon after the restart that Forest gained the advantage. Michail Antonio, their best player throughout, who had earlier seen a powerful deflected shot saved, set up Assombalonga, who turned Shotton superbly before striking the ball left-footed into the bottom corner.

Derby showed some character at this point, with Will Hughes exerting a growing influence. The equaliser came from a desperate scramble,  Richard Keogh thundering a header against the bar from a free-kick on the left, lunging forward for the rebound only to be beaten to it by Shotton, who was on the ground but was still able to swing a boot. Goalkeeper Karl Darlow grabbed the ball but lost it, then substitute Leon Best – Nottingham-born – knocked it in, although it had crossed the line anyway.

“It was a great atmosphere, the best I’ve known here even as a player and for the fans to be united for Cloughie was fantastic,” Pearce said. “I was just disappointed from a footballing aspect because it was a scrappy game.”

Derby manager Steve McClaren echoed that view in a way. “The disruption summed up a chaotic afternoon,” he said. “The second half had everything, good and bad; it was about character as much as football and from our point of view important not to lose.”