After four successive clean sheets Nottingham Forest finally conceded a goal. However, and more importantly, they were able to bounce back from letting in a late equaliser to record a hugely significant victory over playoff hopefuls Leeds United at the City Ground.
The Reds made one change from the impressive victory over QPR on Boxing Day, with Radoslaw Majewski replacing David Vaughan in midfield, meaning that Henri Lansbury had to take the more defensive role in the Forest engine room. Simon Cox had recovered well enough from his virus to take a place on the substitute's bench whilst Greg Halford kept his position as the lone striker in Forest's 4-2-3-1 formation.
It was Halford who was involved in the first action of the afternoon as he chased down a short back-pass and clattered into Leeds keeper Paddy Kenny. The referee gave a foul but Halford was entitled to go for the ball. Play continued after a lengthy stoppage for treatment to the portly stopper, but this very much set the tone for a scrappy and niggly start to the game.
Michael Brown clearly retains all the charm he learned at Sheffield United and escaped an early booking for hacking down Andy Reid. He wasn't so lucky a few minutes later though. Another wild lunge at Reid this time resulted in a yellow card and a free kick to Forest mid way in the Leeds half. Reid got up and swung in a super, deep cross which Halford headed home powerfully to give Forest the lead. This advantage was nearly doubled a couple of minutes later when Reid's long-range shot went narrowly over.
Forest were well on top now and the only disappointment in the first half was that the lead wasn't greater. Majewski forced a low save from Kenny before a great run and cross from Djamal Abdoun found Jamie Mackie, but he couldn't guide his low drive on target. So, 1-0 it was at half time then.
The visitors came out stronger in the second half, enjoying more of the ball without ever looking really threatening. The introduction of highly-rated right back Sam Byram gave them more impetus and they started attacking more regularly down that side, but they still didn't force Karl Darlow into any serious action. Then, late on, came the passage of play that eventually settled the game.
Andy Reid strode forward and thumped a glorious long-range shot which cannoned off the post and behind for a goal kick. Leeds attacked again down their right, and a through-ball found Byram in space. His cross was cleared off the line but the ball ricocheted in the area and landed right at the feet of the hitherto ineffective Ross McCormack. The Leeds striker slotted home calmly to give the visitors a goal they barely deserved and it looked like Forest would again be punished for missing chances.
Billy Davies threw on striker Simon Cox but it was another substitute, Matt Derbyshire - who had earlier replaced Abdoun - who was to have the final say. Straight from the restart Henri Lansbury played the ball forward where the third Forest substitute Nate Chalobah helped it on to Derbyshire. The former Olympiakos man took one touch and lashed a stunning shot from outside the box right into the top corner. It was a tremendous strike and gave Kenny no chance at all and, barely more than a minute after surrendering the lead, Forest had it back.
This turn of events seemed to knock the stuffing out of Leeds and they never looked like pulling level again. Forest closed out the game easily to record another three points and cement their place in the playoff positions at the end of 2013.
This was another impressive performance from Forest. Halford reprised his role as striker impressively again. Jamie Mackie never stopped running and harrying and Reid was, as usual, at the heart of everything Forest created. The defence looked solid with Jack Hobbs again outstanding but my Man of the Match was Henri Lansbury. In a fast and frantic game he always seemed to have time on the ball and whilst others would play it quickly and aimlessly he'd control, look up and almost invariably find a red shirt.
The big matches continue for Forest with Reading away next. Whatever the result we'll remain in fifth place; nicely positioned to - hopefully - strengthen the squad in January and start on the final push for the promised land in early 2014.
Happy New Year to you all.