Leeds United 4 Nottingham Forest 1: Ghosts of eras past leave their mark on Leeds win

IT was as if Don Revie and Brian Clough were still with us.

Not, of course, in terms of the quality of football served up by two teams who will forever be synonymous with a couple of the greatest managers the game has seen. That was, at best, ordinary with this contest only really coming to life after referee Mark Halsey had sent off Nottingham Forest’s Chris Cohen 10 minutes before the interval.

No, the reminder of the days when Revie and Clough were in their pomp was the bad-blood that simmered throughout this clash between two old rivals.

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The two men famously didn’t get along, either when Revie was at Leeds and Clough Derby or later after football’s self-styled Old Big ‘Ead had moved across the East Midlands to the City Ground.

This latest meeting of the Championship’s only former European Cup finalists offered further evidence that this mutual dislike has now spread to the players of both Leeds and Forest.

In August, this manifested itself in a major bust-up after Chris Gunter had stamped on Sanchez Watt – an offence that later earned the Forest full-back a three-game ban when the Football Association studied video evidence.

Seven months on from that 1-1 draw in Nottingham, relations had clearly not improved as both sides once again went toe-to-toe in a stormy encounter.

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Players squaring up to each other, security staff having to step in to separate warring coaching staffs and referee Halsey needing to brandish seven cards in an attempt to keep order were just some of the incidents that underlined why these two clubs are unlikely to be on each other’s Christmas card list.

The catalyst for the latest bust-up was the 36th-minute dismissal of Cohen for a lunging tackle on Leeds full-back George McCartney. Within seconds, all 22 players were involved in an ugly melee while on the sidelines the two benches were also exchanging words and gestures.

Matters became so heated at one stage that two members of the Elland Road security staff had to lead an incensed Forest assistant manager David Kelly, who later refused to shake Simon Grayson’s hand at the final whistle, back to the visitors’ dugout.

Both sides’ fury was understandable, Grayson admitting afterwards he feared McCartney’s leg had been broken and the Forest party believing, with some justification, that Cohen had been harshly done to. Unsurprisingly, the two men at the centre of the controversy had differing viewpoints with Leeds full-back McCartney insisting the officials got it right.

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He said: “I have seen the replay and you see that sort of thing all the time now with a player lunging in with two feet off the ground and getting sent-off, no matter if he gets the ball or not. I think that was the case.

“I knew he was coming towards the ball and, obviously, I was going for the ball. But I probably wasn’t expecting him to go in the way he did.

“The referee had a decision to make and I think he made the right one.”

Cohen, meanwhile, believes the reaction of the Leeds bench – and Grayson, in particular – had played a part in his red card.

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The Forest midfielder said: “Their manager was about 15 yards on the pitch by the time I tackled him. I think that reaction got me sent off, definitely.

“What Leeds were claiming was I left the ground two-footed. But I had one leg in front of me and it is impossible to get from one place to another without both feet leaving the ground.

“Their player’s feet left the ground as well so should he be sent off too?”

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the red card, what can be in no doubt is just how much the decision impacted on the game.

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Up until then, Forest had been in control with the promptings of Radoslaw Majewski and the set-piece delivery of Lewis McGugan causing the home side all manner of problems.

How the visitors were not in front when Cohen saw red is a question perhaps only Marcus Tudgay can answer, the former Sheffield Wednesday striker having missed two glaring opportunities.

The first, on 22 minutes, saw Tudgay shoot over with the goal at his mercy after being picked out by Joel Lynch’s cross – the only mitigation being that he had to stretch to reach the ball.

No such concession, however, can be made about his spurning of a glorious opportunity 13 minutes later after being picked out six yards from goal and only having Eric Lichaj to beat due to Kasper Schmeichel being badly out of position.

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A goal seemed a certainty, only for Tudgay to drill his shot against the full-back’s leg. It was an almighty let-off for Leeds and when Cohen saw red 20 seconds later for his challenge on McCartney, the game was transformed.

United went ahead six minutes into the second half when Jonny Howson showed great composure to convert Lichaj’s cross.

Luciano Becchio then added a second with a close-range header after Leigh Bromby had headed Barry Bannan’s corner against the post.

A sublime curled finish from Gareth McCleary briefly gave 10-man Forest hope with 25 minutes remaining only for a double from Max Gradel, the first a wonderful turn and strike from the edge of the area, to ensure a bad-tempered contest ended with Revie’s old club taking the points.