This was an unbearably tense affair, in which every player was called on to give everything and did so. In the end, Derby had a little bit more in the tank than Forest and won by the determined application of constant pressure, rather than with a moment of great skill.
I arrived just before kick-off, after scoffing down a jerk chicken dinner from the Windrush Café on Woods Lane (recommended). The first thing I realised while scanning our eleven on the pitch was that Tom Carroll wasn’t there, for which I offered silent thanks to Nigel Clough.
For all Carroll’s considerable merits, the East Midlands Derby was obviously no place for such an inexperienced player, so Craig Bryson returned to his rightful position in the centre. Nathan Tyson lined up on the right, presumably so he could have a go at left back Greg Cunningham, with Ben Davies on the left.
Very few chances were created in the first half, but of course, it was enthralling nonetheless. The BBC have described this period of the game as ‘poor’, but that was only the case if you didn’t support one of the two teams. For myself – and I assume for everyone inside the ground – the action was gripping. I spent the whole time clapping like a demented seal if we did anything even remotely right.
Many moons ago (or so it seems now), I wrote a frantically cross blogpost about the Tyson signing, stating my belief that I didn’t think he should have been considered for Derby due to Flag-gate at the City Ground a couple of years ago. But months later, I finally feel ready to forget all that and accept him as a Derby player. The fact is, he’s putting in the effort and ultimately, could prove to be a useful forward for us.
He came out on the wrong end of more than one crunching tackle and at one point in the first half, it looked like he was going to be withdrawn, to the huge joy of the Forest fans. To a man, they produced the rotating hands ‘substitution’ symbol, while chanting ‘Same old Tyson, always injured’ and ‘He’s shit and you know he is’. Tyson shook it off and kept going. Meanwhile, Guedioura and Moussi both picked up ‘professional’ bookings for deeply cynical tackles designed to prevent dangerous counter attacks.
The only moment of real quality came when Tyson produced a neat Cruyff turn to buy himself space for a pull-back which dropped to Ben Davies, who should have buried it. At the other end, Shackell and Green made a absolute Horlicks of dealing with an aimless long ball, making a present of it to Tudgay, who lobbed the ball into the stand.
Forest were in no mood to let us play and given their own total lack of zip in midfield, the game got bogged down. It was more like trench warfare than anything else, but I felt comfortable and relatively happy at half-time, because it had become obvious that without a howling Derby error, or a moment of inspiration that was looking ever less likely, Forest were probably not going to score.
It’s easy to say that with hindsight and of course, I was a nervous wreck for the entire game, but that was my gut feeling at the interval. I said to my Dad and Tommo (via text, as they were in different areas of the ground) that we just needed ‘one moment of quality’ to beat a team who were there for the taking. This turned out not to be the case – but more of that later.
Guedioura was then withdrawn for Greening, which I felt only improved our chances of nicking it. With Greening, Moussi and Andy Lard in midfield, Forest lacked mobility and were inevitably pushed back. Tudgay went into the book and then, as the Rams continued to press and with Forest trying to get an injured player back onto the pitch, Ben Davies won the ball with two fair sliding tackles, releasing Tyson on a burst through midfield which Blackstock halted with a monstrously crude hack.
From my angle, it looked like an horrendous tackle that merited a straight red and we were then treated to the now traditional Derby v Forest melee, with everybody getting involved – although Blackstock himself walked away cradling his head in his hands, presumably in the belief that he was about to be sent off. By this time, the atmosphere in the ground was caustic and Andy D’Urso waited for a seeming age before producing a yellow card for the lucky Blackstock.
Blackstock was substituted for Ishmael Miller soon after, possibly to prevent him from being sent off, or maybe just to add somebody else who hadn’t been booked, so that they could pick up a professional yellow for breaking up another attack.
Shaun Barker was then badly injured in a collision with Frank Fielding and Tudgay – credit to Derby lad Tudgay for staying with the stricken Rams skipper and encouraging the referee to stop the game. An extremely long break in play followed – enter Jake Buxton, who did very well against Watford and didn’t look out of place here either.
As the game ground towards the 90 minute mark, with a seemingly endless series of Derby corners and free kicks ricocheting around the Forest box but refusing to end up in the sodding net, Tudgay got his second yellow card for smashing into Bryson. There had been worse tackles, not least Blackstock’s, but he’d already been booked, it was late and he knew he’d gone as soon as it happened. It was a classic forward’s tackle, clumsy and ill-timed.
Tudgay apologised to Bryson before trotting off and the fact that Paul Green put a consoling arm around him speaks volumes. He’s a good lad and although of course, he got plenty of stick as he left the pitch, he got none from me. Tudgay is a good player and really, I’m not sure why we ever let him go in the first place. It’s a shame he ended up where he did.
On the plus side, his sending off allowed the Derby fans to remind the Forest lot of their rotating hands ‘substitution’ symbol from the first half.
To be honest, I can’t remember much else. All I remember is gripping the seat in front of me with both hands, my left leg jumping and bouncing around all over the place, regardless of whether I wanted it to or not.
It should be emphasised how bad Forest were. They offered next-to-nothing going forward and barely strung a pass together throughout the match. Although it took us 95 minutes to score, they allowed so many free kicks around the penalty area, so many opportunities for a cross, that in the end, something just had to drop for us.
Eventually, it did. As Ben Davies prepared to take the free kick, I muttered a little request for the boys to do it in spite of the Doughty chanters, not for them – and it worked.
Earlier in the half, I became convinced that if I took my hat off before we took a free kick, it would end up in the net, so I removed it with a flourish as the taker started his run-up. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but the ball either hit the wall, or failed to beat the first man. So I didn’t try the hat routine again.
And Ben swung in the free kick and the next thing I remember is seeing Camp standing there looking bereft and then realising that somehow, it had trickled in and seeing Jake… Buxton… of all people… running with both arms aloft in the direction of the West Stand. I was too shocked and confused to celebrate. It was a goal, but I had no idea how it was a goal. Then I could see Steve Davies down on the ground injured and physios running towards him – nothing has been said on the Davies injury, so hopefully, he’s OK – then I watched the Derby players piling onto Buxton in a massive heap and the Forest team were standing with heads bowed in a loose formation across their half of the pitch. Then I looked around me to take in the scenes of sheer jubilation in the East Stand.
If only we could somehow generate this sort of passionate atmosphere every game.
Then it was off to Jorrocks to listen to songs, sing songs and drink pints of pure celebration until late at night, easing the transition between the intensity of another fiery derby and the slower rhythms and gentler cadences of normal life.