LEWIS McGugan came off the bench to score a penalty for Nottingham Forest on Saturday as the Reds stretched their unbeaten run to 10 games with a 1-1 draw against 10-man Blackpool, writes Shaun Wheatcroft.
In a low key first period it was the Seasiders that took a shock lead courtesy of midfielder Ludovic Sylvestre after a long spell of possession from the home side failed to provide them with a goal.
But, in a second half that saw Isaiah Osbourne sent off controversially by referee Craig Pawson, the Reds came to life and salvaged a point thanks to another late spot-kick from the in-form McGugan.
Ahead of the match Reds boss Billy Davies made four changes to his side, with Adlene Guedioura, Radi Majewski, Simon Cox and Darius Henderson all returning to the starting line-up following the 1-1 draw at Burnley on Easter Monday.
The away side sat just three points above the relegation zone going into the game and were forced to sustain some early pressure from Forest as they looked to preserve their current form in what proved to be a quiet start in Nottingham.
But it was the Bloomfield Road outfit that had the first real opportunity, when Nathan Delfouneso cut inside the penalty box down the left before curling in an effort that bounced off the crossbar with Reds’ keeper Karl Darlow well beaten.
Forest had won six and drawn three of their last nine games and were in control of possession in the early stages of this one - with the Tangerines seeing very little of the ball.
Davies’ men came close to netting themselves when Henderson and Cox combined with a neat one-two before Cox unleashed a well struck effort towards goal from 25-yards – the ball fizzing just inches over the bar.
Yet, it was Paul Ince’s men that took a surprise lead following a lapse in concentration from the Forest defence. Sylvestre finding the ball at his feet with space before the Frenchman curled it into the net past Darlow - giving Blackpool the opening goal, just before the half-hour mark.
Forest looked to get straight back into the game and should have done better when Henri Lansbury’s dangerous ball across the six-yard box nearly fell for Henderson - Elliott Ward rolled the ball back only for Seasiders’ keeper Matt Gilks to collect.
Moments before the interval Blackpool nearly doubled their advantage when a quick break from Matt Phillips down the right led to a mix-up between Ward and Halford - the ball fell to Blackpool’s star man Tom Ince, but his deflected shot flew wide of the goal.
After the teams emerged from the tunnel for the second period it was the Reds who looked to get a foothold back in the contest, as they rediscovered their own threat on the attack.
Andy Reid’s first time cross was headed clear for a corner by Stephen Crainey, but Ward struggled to connect with Majewski’s resulting corner. And soon after Forest skipper Chris Cohen also went close to putting the scores level, but his strike was straight at Gilks.
Blackpool’s advantage was then put in jeopardy further when former Reds’ loanee Osbourne was given a harsh straight red card on the hour, after being deemed to foul Halford with a challenge amid a crowd of bodies on the halfway line.
And the City Ground men looked to make their numerical advantage count when Guedioura’s cross picked out substitute McGugan whose effort was well saved by Gilk’s legs before the talented midfielder struck another just over moments later.
It was the home side who looked the better of the two sides on the attack – and they found the elusive equaliser when they were awarded a spot-kick after Chris Basham brought down Cox who was clean through on goal with 10 minutes remaining.
There was only going to be one man to step up and take it, and it was Forest’s super-sub McGugan who marched towards the ball before hitting it right-footed into the goal for his sixth goal in as many games.
In seven minutes of stoppage-time the home side went in search of a late winner with a barrage of attacks inside the Blackpool half. However, the visitors held on producing their own flair through Ince junior, and the game finished all square.
The Reds remain in fifth position in the Championship table on 62 points. In their next outing they take on table-toppers Cardiff in Wales at the Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday 13th April. Kick-off is at 3pm.
Nottingham Forest: Darlow, Jara, Ward, Halford, Cohen, Guedioura (Sharp, 79), Lansbury, Reid (McGugan, 66), Majewski (Blackstock, 72), Cox, Henderson.
Blackpool: Gilks, Baptiste, MacKenzie (Cathcart, 53) Broadfoot, Crainey, Basham, Sylvestre, Osbourne, Ince (Eccleston, 90), Delfouneso, Phillips (Harris, 85). Sent Off: Osbourne (58’)
Man of the match: Chris Cohen
Referee: Craig Pawson
Attendance: 22,814 (away, 627)