Max Gradel - Two goals for the Whites in the 4-1 victory over Forest in April 2011. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
LEEDS UNITED 4 NOTTINGHAM FOREST 1 – 1st April 2011
Leeds United and Nottingham Forest met in a fractious encounter in April 2011 which provoked much ire between the two sets of supporters on social media outlets in the following days. Leeds won the match 4-1 but the match hinged on the sending off of Chris Cohen just before half time.
Both sides were in the hunt for the play-offs, with Forest in a poor run which had seen them slip out of the automatic promotion places and look like missing out completely on the chance of promotion. For Leeds United, this would be a false dawn, as despite the win, would eventually slip out of contention in the closing weeks as their form deserted them completely.
The match had a little added spice with Forest managed by Billy Davies. Ever since his infamous "job done" comment following his Preston side’s play-off semi-final draw in 2006, he had been one of the most disliked of opposition managers. There had also been a fracas between the two sides in the reverse encounter at the City Ground at the start of the season, when Chris Gunter stamped on Sanchez Watt, earning himself a retrospective three match ban.
With the game selected by the BBC for live TV coverage, the nation was treated to a terrific game, full of incident and entertainment.
Gunter was once again at the centre of the action in the opening minutes, committing three early fouls on Max Gradel, possibly in an attempt to provoke the notoriously short fused Ivorian. It set up a scrappy opening which saw chances at a premium, Luke Chambers having the first effort volleying over the cross bar on 8 minutes.
Forest gained the upper hand as the first half wore on, pushing Leeds further and further back and dominating possession. Loanee striker Kris Boyd fired well over the bar, before Radoslaw Majewski curled an effort wide of Kasper Schmeichel's goal.
In the 20th minute Forest claimed for a penalty as under challenge by Marcus Tudgay, Robert Snodgrass inadvertently handled the ball, provoking loud appeals from the visiting support in the South Stand. What they hadn’t realised was that referee Mark Halsey had already penalised Tudgay for a push on the Leeds winger, therefore negating the handball claims.
Two minutes later Tudgay had a superb opportunity, just failing to make contact as he slid in at the back post to try to get on the end of a low cross by Joel Lynch. "It’s all Forest at the moment" said Guy Mowbray in the commentary box.
With 10 minutes to go before half time the game turned in Leeds United’s favour with two key incidents. Firstly Forest wasted a gilt edged chance as Majewski cut the ball back to an unmarked Tudgay completely taking Schmeichel out of the game. However the Forest striker’s weak finish was blocked by Leigh Bromby allowing Leeds to scramble the ball away, with George McCartney running the ball away from danger. As the Northern Irish full back moved away from the penalty area he was met by a flying lunge by Chris Cohen. With the incident occurring just in front of the dug outs, Simon Grayson came on to the field to appeal to the referee, and players from both sides came rushing in for a bout of handbags. After the kerfuffle, referee Mark Halsey consulted his linesman and showed Cohen the red card.
It’s a wild and reckless challenge and while contact if anything was minimal, it’s clearly intent which did for the Forest player. "There’s just no need for it from Cohen" according to Martin Keown on co-commentary duty and it did look like a tackle borne out of frustration at the missed opportunity seconds earlier.
Leeds came out for the second half looking much more positive. With Billy Davies making no changes to shore up the Forest defence, there was much more space for Leeds to attack, and with Gradel and Snodgrass on the flanks, they had the ideal men to capitalise.
However it would be full back Eric Lichaj who would be the man to take first advantage of the space on offer on the right six minutes into the second half. Sprinting in behind his opposite number, the US international pulled the ball back with Jonny Howson ghosting into the box to control the ball and fire past Lee Camp in the Forest net.
Five minutes later United doubled their lead. A free kick given for a foul on We Morgan was floated to the back post where it was met by Bradley Johnson, his header blocked behind by Camp for a corner. From that Leigh Bromby was found, his header came back off the post, but Luciano Becchio reacted the quickest of all to nod home the rebound.
Leeds were now in total control, Snodgrass going close to number three with a delightful curled effort off the crossbar, but it would be Forest who would score next to put the game back in the melting pot.
Substitute Nathan Tyson out jumped Bromby in the middle of the park, pulling the Leeds central defender back as he tried to get away from him. With the two of them getting involved in a wrestling match, the ball fell to Gareth McLeary who from 20 yards curled a superb effort beyond Schmeichel into the top corner.
Tyson and Bromby clashed again a moment later, the Leeds man claiming to have been butted by Tyson, reacting by grabbing the striker by the throat. With a chance to even up the sides probably in the referee’s mind, Bromby could consider himself fortunate to escape with a yellow card.
The goal certainly sparked Forest into life, and Leeds had Schmeichel to thank for keeping them in the game, making a superb save, twisting in mid-air to palm over a header from Morgan on 71 minutes.
It was a key moment in the game, as United woke up and began to take the game back to Forest. With 17 minutes to go Max Gradel put the game beyond the visitors, collecting the ball on the edge of the box and flicking the ball into the air before volleying past Camp to make it 3-1.
With 15 minutes remaining, Leeds brought on debutant midfielder Jake Livermore to replace Barry Bannan. It would probably be the only decent 15 minutes Livermore would play in a white shirt and he soon made a telling contribution with involvement in United’s fourth.
It came with three minutes left on the clock and the move started with Bromby chasing a lost cause to keep the ball in play, finding Livermore. The Tottenham man showed great skill to create him some space to get in a shot which Camp did well to save. The Forest keeper was up quickly to deny Becchio from the rebound, only to see the ball loop to Gradel who gleefully tucked the ball away.
At the final whistle, Forest assistant David Kelly petulantly refused to shake the hand of Simon Grayson, whilst Billy Davies also ignored the Leeds boss to acknowledge the Forest support.
After the game BBC’s Damian Johnson asked Grayson about his reaction not only to Cohen’s challenge, but also to his exuberant reaction to United’s goals: "I celebrate like that every time we play … its just passion." before commenting on the sending off: "It was a blatant red card … I’m sure if it was a Leeds United player making that challenge, the Forest bench would have been up."
At that point it appeared that the wheels had fallen off the Nottingham promotion band wagon, but unfortunately the opposite was true. It was Leeds who began to fall apart, whilst Forest recovered their form, pipping Leeds for the final play-off place, before they too eventually capitulated to Swansea in the semi-final, a result which saw Davies get the sack. Once again he had failed to get the job done.