‘Stuart Pearce, he’s one of our own’.
Those were the words chanted by 2,734 Forest supporters in the away end at Pride Park on Saturday afternoon.
Moments previously, and deep into the four minutes of added time, Derby-born midfielder Ben Osborn had wandered forward before planting an absolute rocket past Lee Grant to secure a 2-1 victory for the Reds.
How fitting then that Lee Grant, with a forlorn expression on his face at the full-time whistle, had been the one winding up the travelling contingent with his pathetic attempts to time waste at 1-0 up. Karma is such a wonderful thing at times.
Going into the break the Reds were down and seemingly out yet again. Despite only trailing the Rams by a goal to nil thanks to a Henri Lansbury own goal, you half expected the team to unravel as they have done so often of late.
But something seemed to change in 45 second-half minutes at the iPro Stadium. Of all places, eh?
Forest proceeded to put on show a Stuart Pearce-type performance that we have been so desperately craving in recent weeks. From Dorus de Vries in goal to Britt Assombalonga up front, every single player wearing red rolled up their sleeves and stood up to be counted.
It is hard to put in to perspective how proud I am as a Red sat here today writing these notes.
The last few weeks have been tough for everyone associated with the club and here we were trailing the club with arguably the best squad in the division – on their own patch. The writing was pretty much on the wall and the question was really a case of limiting the score to keep the embarrassment factor down yet again.
Instead the players knuckled down, didn’t go into hiding and grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in an attempt to get something from a crucial fixture.
I would love to know what Pearce had said to his players at half-time because clearly there was some motivation from somewhere – we looked a different side to the one we had seen sapped of confidence over the past few weeks.
Maybe the Forest boss had just asked his players to have a go, force them into mistakes, play that extra pass, and create some chances.
It just goes to show that anything can happen in derby matches and that form really does fall by the wayside on such big occasions.
Quite simply, some of their so-called ‘better’ players didn’t turn up. Richard Keogh cuts this figure of being a tough tackling ‘come and have a go if you think you’re big enough’ sort of centre-back, but his defending for the winner was woeful.
Keogh and Jake Buxton hate having pressure put on them. They go into hiding, back off strikers and give them the time and space to cause chaos.
How Buxton doesn’t get sent off every week is beyond me. His style is uncompromising to the point where he makes himself look silly.
I haven’t seen anything like his foul on Michail Antonio since I last watched the UFC, the referee should have stopped the contest never mind award the Reds a deserved penalty. I know I speak from a biased point of view but give me Jack Hobbs any day of the week over either Buxton or Keogh.
Hobbs’ performance on Saturday afternoon epitomised everything that wearing a Forest shirt should be about. When Jamie Ward had sprinted past him in the second-half on Saturday you feared the worst for a still relatively rusty Hobbs. Hobbs took three huge steps and proceeded to crunch into a crucial tackle to clear the danger. Kelvin Wilson alongside him deserves praise too as he looked more solid than he has all season and the winning goal actually started from his headed clearance.
Gary Gardner is another who deserves special praise for his performance at the weekend. He really is some player and given Aston Villa’s current plight it is strange that he hasn’t been given a chance in the first-team at Villa Park.
The young midfielder has been a Red for a week or so and already he is demanding every pass, appealing for every decision, shouting at players to focus and be on their game as if he has been a Red for ten years! He is simple yet so effective. You might not see him for five minutes or so but then there he is breaking play up and regaining possession. I don’t recall Jeff Hendrick kicking the ball too many times for the Rams after coming on as a half-time substitute and a large dose of credit for that belongs to Gardner.
The images of Stuart Pearce on the sidelines when the second goal went in will make great galleries on websites and in newspapers but it really did go a long way to show exactly what Nottingham Forest means to the man.
The former England left-back was like a kid in a sweet shop on the sidelines, arms aloft, punching the air and celebrating such a massive win not just for the club but also for himself.
They often say that Mark Robins famously saved Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United job with a winning goal in 1990 against Forest, and I really think we could be saying the same about Ben Osborn and Stuart Pearce’s job in future years.
I personally think that Pearce has bought himself to the end of the season just with Saturday’s events at the iPro Stadium and in hindsight who can begrudge him that.
Forest know that a lot of work lies ahead and it is now vital that Saturday acts as a catalyst for the rest of the season and puts the Reds’ season back on track.