Swansea City 3 Nottingham Forest 1: A stone-cold classic

He was rooted to the spot for the first, a statue of the Liberty as Leon Britton struck a superb left-footed shot into the far corner of his net. He dived for the second, but for the second consecutive season conceded a play-off semi-final second leg goal to Stephen Dobbie. When the third crossed the line, scored by long-time Nottingham Forest target Darren Pratley, he was in the Swansea half.

Lee Camp has enjoyed an exemplary campaign between the sticks at the City Ground. But the nature of the two goals scored past him, and especially the one into his empty net, must have re-inforced the growing feeling among Forest supporters that the play-offs just do not suit their club.

Not just the three strikes Swansea managed either. Also the three balls, hit by David McGoldrick, Lewis McGugan and the former Cardiff striker Robert Earnshaw, that smacked off the woodwork and away from the goal guarded by Dorus de Vries on a staggeringly entertaining evening in south Wales.

It was never going to be goalless – and there should have been plenty more than the four unevenly shared between the two sides. There could have been Forest penalties on two occasions and there were plenty of missed opportunities at both ends throughout the game. In the end, though, the difference was Swansea’s ability to turn dominance into a decisive two-goal advantage in a superb first-half spell that swung this tie clearly in their favour.

With top goalscorer Scott Sinclair marginalised for much of the tie, both home and away, Swansea needed to find goals from elsewhere to break Forest’s stubborn resistance. They got them from Britton, who was a Sheffield United player for the first half of the season, and Forest’s nemesis Dobbie. Again it was a clever piece of play on the edge of the box from the Scotsman that resulted in a shooting opportunity. Again he beat Camp into the corner of his net.

Forest are used to play-off heartache – Sheffield United, Yeovil and Blackpool have all accounted for them at the semi-final stage in the last decade – but this felt different to the last two occasions. There was real fight in the way they carried the game to their hosts in the second half and substitute Earnshaw’s brilliant finish was the least they deserved for their efforts.

But Swansea deserve their place at Wembley. There are so many sub-plots within this delicately woven tale that it is difficult to know where to start. The triumphant goalscoring returns of Britton and Dobbie, the irony that it would be Pratley who struck the killer third goal against a club that have openly courted him for many months, the failure of Earnshaw to double his tally when the post came to Swansea’s rescue and the jubilant Mourinho-esque dance down the touchline performed by the Portuguese’s protege Brendan Rodgers when Pratley’s longest of long-rangers crossed the line: as the drama unfolded, the story wrote itself.

Perhaps the clearest message of all, however, was the value of the play-off system to the Football League. Many football fans cannot cope with the 46-game grind of northern outposts and midweek marathon trips to the south coast, but no-one could deny how gripping this game was. So often with the play-offs, there are twists and turns that mirror the nature of the season that preceded them and the final kick can decide the outcome. It is an easy concept to sell – all or nothing and each event within each leg marking out the route either to success or failure. It is also the hardest defeat to take.

Swansea missed out on all of this last year, overtaken at the last by a swashbuckling Blackpool side that capitalised on the Welsh club’s poor record in front of goal. Pratley’s late strike was a cruel final nail in Forest’s coffin, but it also underlined how far Swansea City have come in a relatively short space of time.

Scoring a third goal in injury time at the end of their 48th league game of the season from fully 60 yards, just over twelve months since their inability to put a single one past Doncaster saw them miss out on the top six altogether? Things have changed at the Liberty Stadium and now they travel to another, rather larger arena with the intent and belief to cross the final hurdle.

As for Forest, it was the same old story in the sense that Wembley was so near and yet so far. A poor second half of the season, a play-off semi-final defeat and even the spectre of Stephen Dobbie – all of that was familiar. But this time their fans can have more pride in their players, given the narrow margins that decided their fate after a monumental effort against formidable opponents.

Swansea City will face either Cardiff City or Reading in the Championship play-off final on Monday 30th May.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

7 Comments

  1. Chris Stevens
    May 17, 2011

    A well-written, fair article that sums up an excellent game that was tighter than the scoreline suggests. I have to add a special mention for the Forest fans who were magnanimous in defeat last night, applauding the Swans players and fans after the final whistle. Good luck for next season and i’d love it if we were playing each other in the Prem in 2012/13!

    Reply
  2. Mistrollingin
    May 17, 2011

    It was a terrific game, credit to both sides. Frustrating that over the 2 legs Forest had 3 cast iron penalty decisions go against them but at the same time I think a lot of Forest fans have grown to respect Swansea as a team, I hope that goes both ways.
    For Forest it is now a case of re-group and come again but there are a number of players out of contract and some key positions that need filling, not least left back. One of the highlights this season has been the emergence of Luke Chambers at centre half and I would like to see him made captain, regular football in his favoured position has seem him grow into the player he looked like he could be when he signed from Northampton and he was a worthy winner of the Player of the Year award.
    Meanwhile, Swansea have a very good chance from here of going up. They play good football and appear to be a well run club with an excellent manager. Credit to them.

    Reply
  3. Wembley Bound
    May 17, 2011

    Three cast iron penalties? You hit the woodwork 3 times which was unlucky but none of the incidents you refer to were penalties despite the commentator repeating the claims all night. When Barinni was brought down wasn’t mentioned again, when Gunter wasn’t sent off (which was the biggest injustice) hardly mentioned. Unlucky but don’t try blaming refereeing decisions because it just doesn’t wash, remember Pratley’s penalty claim at the city ground last year; now that was a pen.

    Reply
  4. Mistrollingin
    May 17, 2011

    It should be stressed that I am not blaming anything on the penalty decisions, just pointing out my frustration. Obviously I disagree on whether they were or not but I suppose that it is to be expected. I think Forest were unlucky last night and extra time would have been both deserved and fitting given what a storming match it was. Having not made it I am pleased to see a team that plays very good football and also appears to do it on a (very well managed) budget go through.

    Reply
    • theseventytwo
      May 17, 2011

      Excellent comment, shows real class.

      Reply
  5. Chired
    May 17, 2011

    Yes Wembley Bound, three stonewall penalties. Two clear handballs that interfered with goal-bound shots on target. Whether deliberate in intent or not the rules of the game make those clear penalties. Then there was the clear shirtpulling at the Liberty, followed bizarrely by a yellow card for Gunter for not touching a Swansea player. In fact there should have been a fourth Forest penalty at the City Ground when Tyson had his ankles chopped away but stupidly remained on his feet. Like Davies said before the game, lady luck and refereeing decisions in the end would determine who went through. Forest missed out on both.

    And as for an event occurring last year – that is so completely irrelevant. Forest had the UEFA Cup stolen from the by a bent referee in 1984, but it has absolutely no bearing on these last two games.

    Having said all that, I wish Swans all the best and hope you make it to the Prem. Like most Forest fans I think you have a superb team and after our years together in the dire lands of the third tier I have some affection for your club. Please don’t spoil it by being an ungracious victor.

    Reply
  6. Swan4Life
    May 17, 2011

    Wembley Bound please do one!!! The best 2 footballing teams played one game to early it should have been at Wembley (Just look at that game at Reading the other night) last night’s game was an amazing advert for football anywhere and it took 2 teams to produce that. I hope my team get to the promised land this time and I hope your wonderfull club will meet us there next year because u deserve it… what ever happens RESPECT to you forest fans and the best of luck for next season!!!

    Reply

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