Nottingham Forest defeat Millwall to set up dramatic final day of season
In a scrappy first period it was the Reds that took an early lead when Halford headed home with just eight minutes on the clock. However, as the half progressed Millwall improved and threatened the Forest defence themselves before the interval.
But after the break the game fizzled out with both sides struggling to get any real foot-hold in the encounter and the Reds held out for what proved to be a crucial three points, sealing a 1-0 victory.
Reds manager Billy Davies was forced into two changes before the game in south-east London, with Halford and Dan Harding coming in to replace the injured full-backs of Chris Cohen and Gonzalo Jara.
Millwall were looking to steer further away from the relegation zone and caused the Reds a few scares in the opening minutes with the midfield-five lofting balls into the box that were dealt with well, as both Elliott Ward and Danny Collins cleared their lines.
But it was Forest who took the lead soon after when Andy Reid’s corner found the rising Halford at the far post to grab his third goal of the season, with a powerful header into the goal past Lions keeper David Forde.
After the opening goal the Reds continued to pressure and midfielder Radi Majewski soon forced a smart save from Forde when his low shot looked to be heading for goal until the Irishman reacted quickly to make a save.
Both sides looked dangerous but it was Reds’ frontman Simon Cox who nearly found himself through on goal following a quick break - his shot was blocked well by Millwall defender Karleigh Osborne.
And the away fans must have had their hearts in their mouths when keeper Karl Darlow collided with Harding after failing to collect a loose ball - talented midfielder James Henry saw the ball fall to him but was unable to make the most of the opportunity.
Yet, before the break Darlow made amends in the visitors’ goal, making himself big and coming out to claim the ball after Leicester loanee Sean St Ledger had burst forward towards goal with a pacey run.
When the teams emerged from the tunnel for the second half it was the hosts who had the first attempt on goal – Henry’s free-kick from just outside the box beat the wall but was straight into the hands of Darlow.
It was a cautious start to the half from both sides and Kenny Jackett’s men looked to pile the pressure on to the Reds just before the hour-mark - but neither side managed to get any real efforts in on goal.
Substitute Lewis McGugan came into the action and played his part immediately, feeding Billy Sharp down the left. The Southampton loanee found a ball into the box where Lions’ defender Alan Dunne was just inches away from heading the cross into his own net.
The game looked to be petering out but McGugan was involved again soon after when he picked up the ball from Reid before finding substitute Marcus Tudgay with a first-time cross – the striker’s shot on goal was kept out spectacularly by Forde at the near post.
The hosts then went close themselves when Mark Beevers’ header from a corner evaded the Forest defence looping across goal before substitute Andy Keogh failed to connect with the ball at the back post.
And at the other end the Reds drew another save from Forde. Cox latching on to Henri Lansbury’s clever pass from midfield before composing himself, only to fire straight at the keeper.
In the closing stages there was some late pressure from the home side for Forest to contend with as Millwall pegged-back the visitors. But Darlow came to the rescue in the last kick of the game when he dived to keep out Millwall substitute John Marquis’ last-gasp effort.
The win leaves Forest just outside the play-offs on goal difference with 67 points like Bolton who sit in 6th. The Reds now take their fight for a play-off position down to the last game of the season at home to Leicester on Saturday 4th May. Kick-off is at 12:45pm.
Millwall: Forde, Dunne, Osborne, Beevers, Smith, Abdou, St Ledger, Saville (Feeney, 79), Henry, Batt (Marquis, 61), Tyson (Keogh, 61).
Nottingham Forest: Darlow, Halford, Ward, Collins, Harding, Lansbury, Guedioura, Majewski (McGugan, 59), Reid (Moussi, 85), Cox, Sharp (Tudgay, 71).
Man of the match: Karl Darlow
Referee: Kevin Wright
Attendance: 12,330 (Away: 2,041)