Hope hurts the most for Nottingham Forest fans

Forest manager Martin O'Neill, right, and his assistant Roy Keane,
Forest manager Martin O'Neill, right, and his assistant Roy Keane,

It's the hope that hurts most for Nottingham Forest fans.

It's been a long time since Forest enjoyed a seat at the top table of English football.

In fact you have to go back to the last Millennium for the last time Nottingham Forest were playing Premier League - or Premiership as it was then - football.

But, promotion or not, the feelgood factor is re-appearing at the City Ground.

Stunning new ground development plans, a rising in fan engagement through groups such as Bandy & Shinty and Forza Garibaldi, a decent home record - four straight home wins, including a victory over the rivals down the A5-2 - a club legend in charge and another as his assistant and the play-offs firmly in sight.

All are helping put a smile on the face of the most miserable Tricky and ensured a sixth sell-out of the season for the visit of Aston Villa.

Villa's Premier League memories are far more recent, but recent form shows they are coming to terms with their second season of Championship football, highlighted by their latest result, a 1-0 win at their Second City rivals and fellow play-off hopefuls Birmingham, a game overshadowed by the disgraceful on-pitch attack on Villa captain Jack Grealish.

And so excitement was mounting as the biggest club in the East Midlands welcomed their West Midlands equivalent, the reverse fixture of a 5-5 thriller and a clash between two former European Cup winners with three vital Championship points at stake and a chance for Forest to record back-to-back league wins for the first time this season.

And the ground was rocking after just three minutes when Jack Colback's cross-shot after a mazy dribble by Joe Lolley put Forest ahead.

However, that was as good as it got, as two John McGinn strikes inside the next 15 minutes turned the game on its head.

In truth, Villa, led by Grealish, McGinn and Chelsea loanee striker Tammy Abrahams looked the more confident side, consistently putting Forest's back four under pressure in possession and forcing keeper Costel Pantilimon to go long toward Karim Ansarifard.

Forest came back into the game to dominate the end of the first half and the early part of the second, without forcing keeper Jed Steer into a save of note.

Still, it was a surprise when Villa made it 3-1 as everyone watched a free-kick across goal apart from Kortney Hause, who chested in unmarked at the back post.

In truth, three-one flattered Villa against a hard-working Forest side, but their extra quality and big-game knowhow showed through, killing the game at every opportunit to protect their lead. Did Forest deserve to lose? Possibly not. Did they deserve to win? Definitely not.

Next up, a trip to bottom club Ipswich Town...

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