GOALS. With both sides in such a rich vein of form in front of the sticks of late, the last result anyone would have predicted was a goalless first leg at the City Ground.
Instead of the free-flowing football Forest fans have come to expect in recent weeks, 27,000 spectators were treated to a dull, pedestrian-like game of chess.
Only the game clock didn’t seem to bother the home side, and their attempts to break the deadlock were swept aside with relative ease by Swansea, who were reduced to 10 in the first minute after Neil Taylor’s high-footed challenge on Lewis McGugan.
The left-back’s studs got nowhere near the ball and referee Mike Dean rightly brandished the red card.
The decision, however, did nothing to spur the Reds on and their only opportunity in the first half fell to muted marksmen Robert Earnshaw. The Welsh international, who could have been playing his last game in front of the Forest faithful, with his contract due to expire in the summer, saw his powerful effort palmed away to safety from 18 yards. It was his only real contribution as he and on-loan strike-partner Kris Boyd failed to show the necessary desire and movement to cause the Swans any trouble during the opening period.
Instead, it was Brendan Rodgers’ men who looked the more dangerous. The front trio of Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer and Fabio Borini twisted and turned the Forest backline throughout the course of the match.
The previously unshakable duo of Wes Morgan and Luke Chambers were petrified at the back as the away side used their pace and power to counter at every given opportunity. Italian Borini, who scored twice when the two teams met at the Liberty Stadium in March, was again impressive and came close with a 25-yard free kick, Lee Camp did well to tip over the bar.
Billy Davies’ side never looked like carving the Swans open and were grateful for the half-time whistle. A few choice words saw the Reds came out firing in the second half. They dominated possession as the tie succumbed to attack versus defend.
McGugan came close with a swerving, dipping drive.
Earnshaw then scooped over from the edge of the box.
Forest had a decent shout for a penalty turned down by the man in black, when Chris Cohen’s effort seemed to strike the arm of the onrushing Alan Tate.
Substitute Tyson also had a shot blocked in front of Dorus de Vries in the Swans’ goal as the home side built up some momentum.
Anderson and McGugan both saw their long range daisy cutters turned away by the opposition ‘keeper.
But, despite their best efforts, Forest were unable to find a goal and go into Monday’s decider as worthy underdogs against a full strength Swansea.
What was more damning was how comfortable Rodgers’ men coped with Forest’s man advantage.
The former Chelsea-reserve team manager, who progressed up the coaching ladder under Jose Mourinho’s spell at Stamford Bridge, is becoming an increasingly sought after commodity, and similarities with The Special One are never far from the column inches.
Though Davies’ stock, in contrast, will not have fallen after last night’s result, his players’ belief in his tactical decisions most certainly has.
On more than one occasion, star man McGugan could be seen arguing with his manager after another attack broke down. The player, who was on the verge of the team last year, has the creativity to punish any defence in the league.
He, and the rest of the side, missed the physical presence of Guy Moussi, who himself has become instrumental to Forest’s chances of success, as the starting 11 look to have outgrown the performances of 33-year-old skipper Paul McKenna.
Considering a month ago, however, Forest were without a win in nine and their play-off ambitions, let alone promotion hopes, were fading faster than the midst coming in off the Trent.
They had just been sliced open at home to fellow promotion rivals Reading, in a game which highlighted the stark contrast in form of the two sides, the Royals were riding the crest of the wave, whilst their opponents were drowning in desperation.
It left Davies’ side two places and four points adrift of sixth place Leeds, who had emphatically beaten the Reds in a 4-1 romp at Elland Road seven days prior.
But, let us not forget, the Reds had scored 11 in three and won four out five going into Thursday night’s game.
The turn around has been nothing short of extraordinary.
Now, they’re going to have to pull-off something similar to reach Wembley.