Abi Davies reports on the first leg of the nPower Championship play offs and potentially the first foot on the road to Wembley.
After play-off heartache at this stage of last season, Billy Davies Nottingham Forest went into Thursday’s semi-final first leg hoping for better fortune, as they faced a Swansea side who are bidding for promotion to the promised land after a 28 year absence. Forest had lost four of their previous six play off games, winning just one.
Having scored 10 goals in their last four games whilst conceding just one, Swansea are showing that they are real contenders for promotion, posing a bigger threat in front of goal as well as looking solid at the back.
Swansea had kept back to back clean sheets ahead of their tie at The City Ground however they knew they would face a tough challenge trying to add to this as Billy Davies’ side had been in rich vein of form in front of goal scoring 14 goals in their previous four games.
Brendan Rodgers kept faith with the eleven that claimed an emphatic 4-0 victory over Sheffield United last Saturday, as Ashley Williams lined up to make his 150th start for The Swans.
The visitors got the game under way, but with under a minute on the clock Swansea were dealt a blow as full-back Neil Taylor saw red after a lunge on Lewis Mcgugan . Despite the challenge being reckless and high, red could have been deemed a little harsh on the Welsh international, with the challenge coming so early on in the game.
Stephen Dobbie was immediately sacrificed in order to bring on Garry Monk, who slotted into the heart of defence alongside Ashley Williams as Alan Tate moved out to left back. The club captain had been left out of the starting line up after struggling with back problems throughout the week, however this his injury problems were not evident when he we introduced at The City Ground as Monk looked as solid as ever.
Brendan Rodgers side kept their composure, and following a short period of Forest pressure, began to dictate the game with Alan Tate being presented with the away sides first shooting chance- however the defender’s shot did not test Lee Camp in the Nottingham goal.
The Swans next chance came shortly after, with Nathan Dyer combining well with Fabio Borini who fed Angel Rangel on the right wing- his cross fired just wide of Camp’s goal.
Swansea were not playing like a side with 10 men as they applied great pressure on Forest, both on and off the ball. Leon Britton, Joe Allen and Nathan Dyer in particular showed great hunger and determination to regain possession and not allow the home side any time on the ball. The Swans were pushing high up the field, forcing errors out of their opponents who were, along with their fans looking worried.
Mid way through the first half, Camp was called into action yet again. After Nathan Dyer was fouled just outside the area, Fabio Borini stepped up to take the resulting free kick from the opposite position in which he scored against Norwich City earlier in the season.
With 10 minutes of the first half remaining, Forest created their best chance of the half as Boyd picked out Earnshaw in space inside the area, his shot tested De Vries who was quick to react and clear the danger despite rarely being tested in the first half.
Brendan Rodgers should have been delighted going in level at the break, with his side dominant in possession whilst posing the bigger threat in front of goal- they had reacted incredibly well after going a man down.
Forest were the quicker out of the blocks in the second half, with two corners in quick succession the home side were looking more like a side trying to gain the upper hand with a man advantage.
7 mins into second half Lewis Mcgugan’s swerving shot from 30 yards out forced De Vries to parry the ball away, denying Forest’s top scorer his 14th goal of the season.
Forest may have felt aggrieved, having their claims for a penalty turned down after Cohen’s strike was seemingly blocked by the outstretched arm of Alan Tate. However referee Mike Dean gave a corner.
The home side thought they broke the deadlock from this set piece as Earnshaw’s header found the back of the net. However the striker had not beaten the off-side trap and the goal was disallowed.
The home side were starting to impose themselves on the game, with further efforts coming from Earnshaw and Mcgugan, however Swansea were working as a unit, playing with 10 men behind the ball a number of times- an approach that we rarely see from Brendan Rodgers side but with the early sending off it was great to see Swansea adapting to suit the situation.
Swansea had their best chance to pinch an away goal when second half substitute Luke Moore played through Nathan Dyer who took his shot early, trying to catch Camp off guard- the Forest keeper got down well to keep the formidable Dyer’s shot out.
Swansea had the home side rattled for the most part of the game, and despite usually providing a threat from set pieces, Forest failed to cause any real concern for The Swans back line from the 10 corners that they had.
Leon Britton showed signs on Thursday that he is back to his best and back where he belongs, after commanding the holding midfield role and intercepting a lot of Forest’s play. Whilst Nathan Dyer put on a display which demonstrated exactly why the wide man received Swansea’s player of the season award- with his offensive and defensive abilities prominent.
With Taylor’s dismissal, Scott Sinclair struggled to make a real impact on the game. With two defenders constantly marking the winger, Neil Taylor so often provides support on the overlap, therefore with he and play-maker Dobbie out of the game Sinclair was at times a little isolated.
The 0-0 draw was a great achievement for Swansea, after going a man down within the opening minute, they did not change their game plan and showed they had no intentions of defending for the rest of the match. Nottingham now travel to The Liberty on Monday where The Swans have only conceded 13 goals all season