Nottingham Forest sent Dave Bassett and his Yorkshire high fliers scurrying away from The City Ground with their tails firmly between their legs tonight, with a second half performance that would have seen off most of the sides in this division. On a night when weather conditions made things difficult for both sides, the first half was predictably quite poor, with both sides guilty of over hitting the ball on a slick surface.
Forest welcomed back Petrachi after his injury layoff and he almost opened the scoring after 6 minutes but his angled shot was deflected behind for a corner. From the kick Forest again almost took the lead, as Freedman stole in to plant a firm header against the bar.
Petrachi however was only to last for 22 minutes before limping off with what looked to be a recurrence of his previous injury, and he was replaced by Carlos Merino, who made his League debut. Little did we know at the time the impact that this lad was going to have on the match. Immediately the Reds seemed to have more balance, Merino's vision giving Forest many more options.
For the remainder of the first period, although chances were created by both sides, the only clear cut chance fell to Forest. Mannini burst through from his own half, played a one- two with Prutton but from a good position he could only fire over the bar.
Forest came out after the break and it was obvious from the start that they were determined to take the game to Barnsley. Merino slipped a ball through to Freedman, but his shot was straight at Miller. From Miller's kick the Reds were right back at them, and again it was Merino who was the instigator. This time a lovely weighted ball was played into the path of Ian Wright, who was marginally off side.
Despite all the pressure, Forest should have gone behind on 60 minutes. Morgan put through Hignett who was one on one with Crossley, but from 20 yards he sliced his shot at least 10 yards wide and could only hang his head in shame. His error was to come back to haunt him only 8 minutes later.
Crossley released Rogers down the left and 'Tank' was away. His run took him deep into the Barnsley half, but with everyone expecting him to pass to Merino, he instead unleashed a shot from 30 yards that zipped along the turf and beat Miller low down at his left hand stick to find the back of the net.
Forest now had Barnsley firmly on the back foot, would they go on to kill off their opponents? 5 minutes later we had the answer and yet again Merino was involved. Despite being fouled he managed to stay on his feet and collect the ball. Showing a maturity beyond his years, he looked up to see Bonalair lurking on the edge of the box and sent over a pinpoint cross. Bonalair never even broke his stride, meeting the ball full on the volley and hammering it past Miller into top left hand corner of the net.
Barnsley thought they were back in the match after 86 minutes when substitute Hristov took the ball around Crossley and put the ball into the net, but he had quite clearly used his hand to control the ball. Shortly after, Crossley produced a magnificent save to deny Hignett, diving low to his right to push Hignett's powerful shot around the post.
Forest ended the night on a high by scoring their third goal after 88 minutes. Following a bit of a scuffle between Quashie and Jones that saw both players yellow carded, the resulting free kick saw Rogers float the ball into the box and Freedman slammed the ball home from close range for his sixth goal of the season.
A highly satisfying evenings work for the Reds, who finally showed that they do indeed have the ability to put teams away when they have them on the ropes, and the performances of Merino and Prutton will have given David Platt enormous pleasure. These two look like the real deal.