|Forest confirmed their play-off credentials this afternoon as they came back from a 2-0 deficit to beat play-off hopefuls Ipswich 4-3 in what has to have been one of the most entertaining games of the season so far.
The importance of this game was reflected by the 29,503 record crowd for Portman Road as an all-seater stadium. The previous record of 29,112 had been set when Ipswich’s arch-rivals, Norwich, were there back in September.
Both teams were well aware of the importance of this game as well and it showed in the way they started the game – at pace. Both sides had early chances, but it was Ipswich who scored first, on 14 minutes, as Pablo Counago laid siege to the Forest goal. Michael Dawson cleared his first shot and Darren Ward made a fine save for his second. However, the loose ball fell to Tommy Miller who made no mistake as he shot from six yards out.
Ipswich were given the chance to double their lead less than two minutes later when a mistake by Jon Olav Hjelde let the dangerous looking Counago through, but he shot straight at a grateful Ward.
Despite the action in the Forest area, Ipswich were not finding this easy and on 16 minutes David Johnson (applauded by all four stands as he took the pitch at the beginning of the game) stole the ball off Richard Naylor and slipped it through to Marlon Harewood. Somehow, Andy Marshall managed to pull off a superb save with his legs as Harewood fired on goal from 10 yards out.
Riccy Scimeca had been ill earlier in the week with a stomach complaint and on 19 minutes he seemed to take ill in the centre of the pitch. He was rushed off for treatment and John Thompson came on to replace him.
The next few minutes were truly bizarre though and it started when the referee – incorrectly, it has to be said – adjudged that Andy Reid had felled Counago in the Forest area. He pointed to the spot while Reid protested his innocence.
Miller stepped up to take the kick and Ward pulled off a fine save low to his left side. The ball came back out off the post and as Ward grabbed it Counago piled in and forced both Ward and the ball into the net. As the Ipswich fans celebrated, the referee disallowed it, booked Counago for his troubles and awarded a goal kick to Forest.
As Ward prepared himself for the goal kick all hell broke loose as the referee, after consulting with his assistant idiot, decided that the spot kick should be taken again.
Forest protested loudly at the injustice but all this achieved was a booking each for Darren Huckerby and Harewood. It looked as if Ward might be heading for a booking as well as he tried a few mind games with Miller, but for some reason the referee decided to show some common sense and simply told Ward to pack it in. Miller made no mistake with his second chance and Ipswich were now 2-0 up.
Within a minute of Ipswich’s second goal they had pulled one back through Thompson who fired in a bullet of a shot from 20 yards out.
Two minutes later Forest had pulled level as Harewood miss-kicked the ball, which fooled Marshall and rolled under his body. It was a very fluky goal, but hey, a goal is a goal and Harewood wasn’t complaining – it was his 20th this season.
The third goal arrived on 32 minutes as Harewood pulled off a great turn and shot at goal. Marshall parried the ball away, but it came out to Thompson who fired it straight back in. Naylor stuck out his leg to block the shot but all he did was put the ball straight into his own net.
It says a lot about the confidence and attitude that Paul Hart has instilled in his side that when faced with a two-goal deficit they can go on the attack and within six minutes of Ipswich’s second goal, find themselves leading 3-2.
Forest continued to apply pressure to a clearly rattled Ipswich side, but despite there being over six minutes of added time there were no further goals.
Nothing had changed at the start of the second half and both teams were playing at a pace. But it looked as if it might be Ipswich’s day when they equalised on the hour through Marcus Bent. Jim Magilton sent a speculative ball over the top and Bent was the quickest to it, sliding his shot under the diving Ward.
Forest had a call for a penalty when Holland appeared to bring down Andy Reid, but the ref was having none of it and he waved play on.
A few minutes later they had a second and much clearer call for a penalty when Naylor clearly brought Huckerby down before playing the ball. The referee waved play on again – indicating that Naylor had played the ball first – this guy need to get to the opticians ASAP.
The referee finally decided to give Forest something when Naylor brought down Johnson. It was an easy decision for him – after all it was outside the area.
Reid took the free kick and the ref must have regretted awarding it as Harewood rose in the centre to head the ball home.
Two minutes later the travelling fans thought they had a fifth as another Reid free kick hit the top of the net.
Jack Lester came on for David Johnson on 85 minutes and Johnson left the pitch as he had arrived – to an ovation from all four sides of the ground.
Ipswich were not going to lose this one without a fight and they pressured Forest for the equaliser. It was the longest five minutes I can ever remember and the additional three minutes of injury time didn’t help the nerves of the travelling fans.
The relief was unbelievable when the final whistle blew and though Paul Hart may not want to say it yet – I think the team performance today has all but guaranteed a place in the play-offs.