When Forest were drawn with Leicester in the FA Cup it offered both clubs a welcome break from a testing season. David Bevan from The Seventy Two takes a look at the history between the two sides…
It kind of had to be ball number 22 drawn out at that particular moment in time. In January, Nottingham Forest and Leicester City will face each other for the second time this season. The first game finished 2-2. Both clubs are on manager number two of their stuttering campaigns. Nigel Pearson will return to the City Ground having won twice there since his last visit in charge of Leicester. So will he fare any better on the second coming?
Pearson’s only previous trip to his hometown of Nottingham as Leicester manager ended in a 5-1 defeat. To put this result into context, it was one of only 16 losses in 92 league games during his first spell in charge of the club. That afternoon also accounted for more than a sixth of the goals Leicester conceded away from home during the 2009/10 Championship season. It was a devastating blow, but one from which Pearson and his players recovered to reach the play-offs the following May. Forest were there as well, but neither side made it to Wembley.
For a man who prides himself in his teams’ staunch defensive records, shipping five goals at the home of a fellow promotion contender would have deeply concerned Pearson. He stood in the same technical area twice as manager of Hull City and kept two clean sheets as his players battled to victory by a single goal on both occasions. The scorer of the winning goal in the first of those matches, the former Leicester striker Matty Fryatt, had been withdrawn after only 36 minutes on 5th December 2009 with Forest leading 2-0.
So Pearson has already tasted redemption for that shocking defeat just over two years ago. Fryatt has laid his demons to rest. How have Leicester fared?
Progressively better is the answer, losing by just one goal the following season and then claiming a point in August this year, but they have still failed to win a league game at the City Ground since 1972. In fact, the inescapable truth is that Leicester continually find increasingly ludicrous ways to leave Nottingham without all three points.
In the early 1990s, they lost 4-0 to a rampant Forest. During the Martin O’Neill era, they lost 1-0 to an already-relegated Forest. In 2002 and on the way to promotion, they were two goals up and in control only to draw 2-2 thanks to an injury-time equaliser. Four months ago, they did exactly the same thing again. Four months prior to that, they had fought back from a goal down twice only for goalkeeper Chris Weale to let a tame Paul McKenna shot squirm under his body late in the game. It seems apt to paraphrase Leicester’s famous son Gary Lineker when he spoke about the inevitability of German victories over England in penalty shoot-outs. When Nottingham Forest face Leicester at the City Ground, 22 men run around and in the end Leicester don’t win.
In the league, anyway. In the cup, there is one story of victory against all the odds from which Leicester fans can draw hope. It was a League Cup second round tie in September 2007. The report on the BBC website contains just 77 words. It is a masterclass in brevity. No character is wasted. Put pen to paper describing that night and you could end up endangering rainforests. Despite all the draws which felt like defeats and defeats which felt like catastrophes, here was a game Leicester somehow managed to win having given their hosts a one-goal start.
Not in the way Barcelona gifted Real Madrid the lead in their most recent Clasico either. There were no heads in hands as Forest scored their first goal this time, just a punch of glove on glove as Leicester goalkeeper Marton Fulop allowed his opposite number Paul Smith to trot past him and shoot into an empty net. It was a tremendous act of fair play, brought about by the collapse of Clive Clarke at half time in an earlier abandoned tie with Forest leading 1-0, that was replayed on bulletins around the world. To cut a long story short, Leicester equalised and Forest regained the lead and the game ticked into the final minutes.
As Forest’s players kept the ball in the corner next to the away end, the third round seemed out of reach. Within seconds, it was in the net at the other end of the pitch and it found its way there again two minutes later. To say this victory was improbable is an understatement. It had appeared impossible when Forest laid siege to Paul Henderson’s goal in the initial game as the rain lashed down with the same intensity as Forest’s constant attacks. How they only led 1-0 at the break was anyone’s guess. After the drama and uncertainty of the extended interval that night, returning to the same venue so soon afterwards already felt emotional before kick-off in the replayed fixture. The delirium of Stephen Clemence’s winning goal was partly a release of sympathy for Clarke, who never played again.
It was mostly because Forest had finally been put to the sword in their own back yard though. With each failure on league duty, the imagery grows. That same walk up to the same away end that Leicester fans have been making for decades. Those same red seats that have been kicked in frustration time and time again. That hulking great stand opposite proudly displaying the words Then, Now, Forever Forest with the unwritten addendum ‘scoring equal or more goals than Leicester in league games taking place here’. Catchy.
This season it tantalisingly began to feel like the win would come at last. Both teams were abject for the entirety of an encounter that would have left no observer in shock if told that neither manager would last another three months. Both Steve McClaren and Sven-Goran Eriksson have since moved on, the former’s reign still causing problems for his successor while Pearson attempts to build a cohesive side from the costly acquisitions the Swede left behind. The leveller, when it eventually came, was uncannily similar to Jack Lester’s 97th-minute goal in 2002. Again the high ball in from the Forest left — open play this time rather than a corner — and again waves of pressure paying off at the death. It even carried a certain gallows humour.
So does this game. Leicester fans, told ad infinitum that games against them don’t matter, will be travelling in their thousands to a game which literally doesn’t matter in the slightest. The goal, by all accounts, is promotion at all costs and a setback in a cup competition would be treated with the same level of indifference that Cardiff’s victory in the League Cup earlier this season brought.
Except it won’t. And it does matter. If anything, the performances Forest have put in at Leicester and Leicester have put in at Forest in recent years should be enough impetus for both sets of supporters to demand to their players that any trip to the home of the other matters hugely. When the two sides meet, they have each recorded just one away win apiece in all competitions since 1995. At the very least, this game will come as a welcome break for both teams as league expectations fall way below what was expected in the summer and it is difficult to envisage this statement ringing any less true by the time early January comes around.
For Forest, should they still need one at the start of January, victory could provide an overdue kickstart to their season. And for Leicester? Need any more be said?
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