If this is to be the last east Midlands derby for a long time, then at least it will live long in the memory. James Garner helped create both goals for Nottingham Forest, whose push for a play-off place will be boosted by extending the longest unbeaten league run in this fixture to nine matches.
Derby, whose survival hopes were strengthened on the eve of the game by news of a firm £28m bid from the founders of the US-based investment group Carlisle Capital, lost for the first time in six Championship games – but if they avoid liquidation and go down to League One, at least they know there is heart in the club.
Forest deserved to win, courtesy of second-half goals from Lewis Grabban and Brennan Johnson, before the game exploded dramatically around the final whistle.
Tom Lawrence’s penalty set up a furious finale before Ravel Morrison was sent off for lunging in on Philip Zinckernagel, sparking the first of two melees involving the majority of players.
The first half was a cautious affair. Lawrence, whose two goals saw Derby to victory over Sheffield United last week, should have scored in the 16th minute when he executed a perfect one-two with Colin Kazim-Richards only to sidefoot wide from 10 yards.
Pushing Ryan Yates into midfield helped Forest take control of the game, anche se, and it was his shot from 20 yards that gave them their first clear chance, with Ryan Allsop spooning the ball behind for a corner.
Keinan Davis was then sent racing through by Jack Colback’s pass just before half-time but Allsop was out swiftly to clear the high bouncing ball. Davis, on loan from Aston Villa, crumpled into a heap as Forest cried for sanction but none was forthcoming.
Three minutes into the second half, the game caught fire. Scott McKenna headed Garner’s free-kick back into the middle, where Davis laid the ball back for Steve Cook. When the recent signing’s shot was blocked, the ball fell for Grabban to continue his recent goalscoring form.
Red flares were immediately lit in the Bridgford End and emotions spilled over as the police had to intervene between rival fans seeking to get closer. “Derby are going down with a fiver in the bank,” gloated the Forest fans as their own side sought to capitalise on their advantage. Davis should have scored from close range soon after, only for Allsop to save.
The Derby manager, Wayne Rooney, introduced three attacking substitutions in Morrison and the youngsters Luke Plange and Louie Sibley, taking the number of academy graduates used to seven (as well as the ex-Ram Max Lowe on the other side). Di conseguenza, the game became more stretched.
It was no great surprise, poi, when a second goal arrived eight minutes from time, and it deservedly fell to Forest. Again Garner was the architect: his nonchalant pass as he broke into midfield released Zinckernagel down the left, and the substitute’s low cross was turned in by Brennan Johnson for his seventh goal of the season.
It seemed as if that would be that, but Derby do not lie down readily. When Cook scythed down Lawrence three minutes from time, the Derby captain picked himself to slot home the penalty, his eighth goal of the season. The communal intake of breath around the ground as the board went up to indicate six added minutes could be heard all the way down Brian Clough Way, but Forest held on to further turn the screw on their troubled rivals.