At long, long last. After 12 matches that have felt like an eternity, Nottingham Forest finally registered their first victory under caretaker manager Gary Brazil as they saw off Birmingham City by one goal to nil. Indeed the match itself felt like an eternity and the sense of relief when the referee blew the final whistle was palpable.
For some reason I can't quite explain I'd been really looking forward to this match. Given recent results and performances there wasn't much reason to. But when I saw the starting lineup I'll be honest and say that my illogical optimism started to wane. The absence of Messrs Reid, Lansbury and Wilson was desperately disappointing, though this was slightly tempered by the return of David Vaughan. The absentees meant that Danny Collins once again partnered Jamaal Lascelles at centre-half. Greg Halford played right-back in place of Gonzalo Jara and youngster Ben Osborn started in a five-man midfield with Vaughan and Lee Peltier. The two Jamies were to provide width behind the lone striker Matt Derbyshire.
And it didn't take long for Mr. Derbyshire to make his mark on the match. With less than two minutes on the clock he ran onto Jamie Paterson's through-ball and continued his late season renaissance by slotting calmly past City keeper Darren Randolph to give Forest the lead. Yes, you read that right, give Forest the lead.
After some Birmingham pressure following the goal, the Reds pretty much dominated the rest of the half, playing their best football in a long time. David Vaughan in particular was at the heart of everything Forest did well. Osborn headed a Derbyshire cross over the bar and he and Vaughan both went close with long range shots. At the other end, a lack of communication between Karl Darlow and Halford nearly gave City an opening but otherwise Forest were comfortably on top and could've led by more at half time.
The second half started in the same manner as Jamie Paterson spurned a great chance to double Forest's lead. He appeared to think he was offside and hesitated before hitting his shot straight at Randolph before Mackie lifted the rebound over the bar.
Unsurprisingly - due to his time spent out injured - Vaughan was subbed off early in the second half and just as unsurprisingly Forest started to wobble. Jonathan Greening replaced him but couldn't drive the home team on in the same way and subsequently Birmingham came more into the match. The stereotypical big galoot Nikola Zigic saw a good headed chance easily saved by Darlow before he too was replaced.
More substitutions followed, as did more Birmingham pressure but despite a couple of goalmouth scrambles they couldn't find an equaliser. Forest's attacks became more and more infrequent but Darius Henderson nearly sealed the points as his curling shot went just the wrong side of the post. A Birmingham leveller seemed just around the corner but, this time, the corner didn't come and Forest hung on for a long overdue victory.
In the first half especially this was a much improved performance. The defence still looked shaky at times but luckily weren't seriously tested. Mackie and Paterson gave their usual energetic performances and Osborn seems to have the makings of a decent player. Special mention though has to go to Matt Derbyshire and David Vaughan.
Derbyshire took his chance - the kind of chance Forest have been missing all too often this season - really well and gave another energetic performance. He may not be the answer to our striking prayers but, in my opinion, he's worth a new contract as a backup option. David Vaughan's 55 minutes were outstanding. As well as keeping the ball well and moving Forest forwards he showed some moments of genuine skill to beat players. The word is that he'll agree a two year contract when his loan expires. I really hope that's true.
So, it may not have been convincing but some pride was restored and, unlikely though it may seem, we still have a chance of making the playoffs. We'd need to win our last three matches but at least now we should have a bit more confidence. Leeds away on Easter Monday is next up and anything better than conceding five goals on TV again will be an improvement. Take all three points and well.....you never know.