Sir Winston Churchill was Prime Minister, the Mau Mau Uprising still raging and Dickie Valentine’s ‘Finger of Suspicion’ at Number One the last time Nottingham Forest won an FA Cup tie at Bramall Lane.
A superbly combative performance from Sheffield United, laced with invention and creativity, ensured that wait grew longer and raised the intriguing possibility of an all-Steel-City quarter-final after Nigel Clough’s players were paired with either Sheffield Wednesday or Charlton Athletic in the last eight draw.
United, who progressed courtesy of substitute Chris Porter’s brace after Conor Coady had cancelled out Jamie Paterson’s opener for the visitors, were simply irresistible as they shattered the visitors’ 16-match unbeaten run.
Forty places separte these two teams on the English footballing pyramid but the hosts, who resume their battle for League One survival at Gillingham on Wednesday, competed as equals against opponents jostling for position towards the top of the Championship.
“It would be absolutely massive if Wednesday were to get through,” Porter said after scoring his sixth and seventh goals of the campaign. “I don’t know what the supporters will think but, personally speaking, I’d like them to go through.
“I was out warming up at half-time so I didn’t know what the situation (with the draw) was. Actually, it was a fan who told me and I didn’t believe him to begin with but, really, we just want to go as far as we can.
“I don’t think the lads needed any extra incentive out there. This is a massive footballing city with two massive clubs. I think it would be a brilliant occasion”
Paterson, the former Walsall centre-forward, has emerged as the undoubted star of Forest’s march into the fifth round and, having scored a hat-trick against West Ham earlier in the competition, edged the visitors in front with a glancing first-half header.
With the otherwise excellent Stefan Scougall and Jose Baxter spurning clear-cut opportunities beforehand, the sight of Billy Davies’ side edging in front could have been a hammer blow for United.
Instead, Coady restored parity before Porter edged them in front from the penalty spot.
The former Derby County centre-forward confirmed his renaissance under Clough’s stewardship with a predatory finish from Jamie Murphy’s cross in added time.
“The gaffer has been great for me,” Porter, who worked with Clough at the iPro Stadium before their partnership was resurrected in October, said. “He’s shown a lot of belief in me and hopefully I’ve repaid some of that.
“I wasn’t playing under the previous regime but he’s brought me back in, got me involved, and that means a lot.
“We wanted to do it for ourselves and the supporters but also for him too. We know how special this game was for him and how much that result will have meant.”
Clough had buried his head in his hands when first asked about the possibility of being drawn against Forest earlier this month.
Nevertheless, despite being an intensely private individual with little time for the theatrics and hype which have woven themselves into the fabric of the modern game, the 47-year-old chose to confront the numerous talking points surrounding this fixture head on after Forest fulfilled their side of the bargain with a fortuitious victory over Preston North End in the previous round.
No, Clough admitted, he and Davies are not exactly on speaking terms. Yes, facing the club his later father, Brian, had twice led to European glory and which he, himself, had represented more than 400 times as a player would evoke some poignant memories.
But, as Clough’s decision to name a full-strength starting 11 demonstrated, sentiment would not be allowed to influence his thinking.
An early charge forward, which saw centre-half Neill Collins venture forward after stopping a Forest break emphatically in its tracks, confirmed United’s players were in equally combative mood, although Coady was forced to deny Radoslaw Majewski a clear shot at Mark Howard as the contest exploded immediately into life.
“I thought there were some excellent displays from our lads out there,” Porter said. “Everybody chipped in and played their part.”
Davies, who had fa-
mously accused Clough of “kneeing” him in the back during a particularly bitter East Midlands clash between Forest and County five seasons ago, afforded the tournament exactly the same respect, with three former United players, including Darius Henderson and Hal
ford, being called upon despite Wednesday crucial Championship encounter against Leicester City.
“We wish Sheffield
United all the best from now on,” Davies said. “They are a team who work exceptionally hard for each other.Can they go all the way? Why not.
“We completely self-destructed, though. I’m not going to name names but every time we conceded it was down to an individual error. There are no issues between Nigel and myself whatsoever,” Davies insisted. “We shook hands beforehand in the tunnel.”
Clough scored more goals than any other Forest player except the Grenville Morris during his two spells at the City Ground.
Morris, whose exploits for Wales earned him the title ‘Prince of the Inside Lefts’, would have appreciated the craftmanship Baxter, again asked to exploit the space between Forest’s defence and midfield, brought to proceedings.
Previously of Everton and Oldham Athletic, Baxter combined perfectly with Coady in the 15th minute to send Jamie Murphy darting along the flank before testing Dorus de Vries from long range himself soon after.
The scything challenge which earned Jamaal Lascelles a caution as the United forward looked to intigate another sharp counter underlined the threat he posed.
Baxter, however, was guilty of a horrible miscalculation midway through the opening period when Andy Reid’s slip allowed him to bear down on Forest’s rearguard.
The ball should have been slipped through to Scougall, who had surged alongside in support, but, with the Liverpudlian electing to shoot himself, de Vries comfortably saved.
Within moments, Reid redeemed himself by producing the cross which Paterson glanced beyond Howard and into the back of United’s net.
Scougall should have equalised after being released by Baxter but failed to thread the ball beyond de Vries.
Likewise Scougall who, after seeing Gonzalo Jara’s brave block prevent Harry Maguire from finding the back of the net, again tested the Forest goalkeeper’s reactions with a powerful low drive early in the second half.
Forest, though, had not entered this match unbeaten in more than 24 hours of football without possessing a durable, obstinate streak.
Paterson and Simon Cox duly relieved the pressure with excellent attempts which twice forced Howard to make equally impressive saves before Scougall redressed the balance with a perfectly-weighted pass which sent Coady scampering through while Murphy also saw a close-range effort scrambled clear.
Although Coady was crowded out on that occasion, he found himself unmarked when de Vries spilled John Brayford’s cross and duly rolled the ball into an empty net.
Having shown determination and desire aplenty, United deserved to find themselves on level terms, although the midfielder’s intervention prompted Forest’s best passage of the afternoon so far with Howard acrobatically tipping an Andy Reid set-piece over the crossbar.
Cue Porter’s dramatic intervention when Halford was adjudged to have handled another Murphy’s centre before the substitute pounced again following another cross from the Scot.