ALMOST four years to the day since Barnsley were relegated to the third tier after losing at a club managed by Aitor Karanka the visitors suffered a crushing blow at the hands of the Basque in their current survival quest.
It was on April 26, 2014 that the Oakwell outfit surrendered their Championship status after a painful 3-1 loss at Middlesbrough, then managed by Karanka.
The Teesside tears on that Spring day were not quite replicated on Trentside, but this was still a wounding setback on an occasion that head coach Jose Morais will not recall with particular fondness with the away end’s disgruntlement clear at the final whistle.
In the week that has seen them celebrate the 40th anniversary of securing the old First Division championship, Nottingham Forest were reminded of how they famously believed in ‘miracles’ under Brian Clough with their colossal, decorated achievements at home and abroad providing inspiration for a film.
It will not quite constitute such a ‘miracle’ if Barnsley succeed in their attempt to stave off the drop.
Yet, after this defeat, it will still take something pretty heroic and special if they are to retain their divisional status.
The Righteous Brothers’ sixties smash hit of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ may serve as an unofficial Forest anthem, but for Morais, possibly more of an Elvis Presley fan, last night was a case of It’s Now or Never as he referenced in the build-up.
That much was evident by some bold selection calls at such a key juncture in his side’s campaign as he rolled the dice and made six changes.
Some would go much further and say the move possessed an element of recklessness with just one member of the back five who lined up from the off – Liam Lindsay – starting Saturday’s derby reverse at Leeds United.
Andy Yiadom, Matt Mills and Zeki Fryers were not involved, but by far the biggest call was to demote Adam Davies to the bench and hand Jack Walton a dramatic first-team debut.
Walton – a day after turning 20 – was not found wanting and the rookie made some smart stops, more especially in the first half.
But, in the round, the changes failed to conjure a winning formula and while Barnsley’s effort could not be faulted, they lacked quality in key areas at important moments and remain two points adrift of safety after squandering their game in hand.
The game was effectively decided in a ten-minute first-half spell that yielded two clinical home goals.
The first was instinctively curled home by Lee Tomlin, another unwanted reminder of Barnsley’s relegation game four years ago when the ex-Boro player netted twice.
Tomlin’s intuitive reverse pass then set up Ben Brereton for the second, with the Forest striker rounding the exposed Walton.
Goodwill for the Reds ahead of their crunch game arrived from as far afield as New York, with a good luck advert from co-owner Grace Hung being displayed in Times Square.
New York is a long way from Barnsley, and last night Reds were rather more concerned with avoiding trips to decidedly less glamorous destinations such as Accrington and Fleetwood than having their thoughts turn to the Big Apple.
Deep in the second half an ironic chorus of ‘Accrington Stanley, we’re coming for you’ suggested that faith in Barnsley’s survival mission is tanking.
Tomlin, emboldened by his picture-book opener, dined out on the Reds’ rearguard who wilted as the first half went on, with Matty Cash also having a field day down their left.
It made for a harsh first period for Dani Pinillos, targeted continually by his former club.
Barnsley had actually started tidily enough with few alarms and slick play created chances for Adam Hammill and Brad Potts, with Daniel Fox’s key block denying the latter.
But Cash, thwarted by Walton’s alert parry early on, soon got a taste for things and his probing play found Tomlin, whose unstoppable curler showcased the class which he has in his locker.
At the other end, Stefanos Kapino’s smart save thwarted Oli McBurnie before an outstanding parry by Walton kept out Adlene Guedioura’s hooked effort – but he was powerless to prevent Brereton’s second.
Barnsley did persist on the restart with Kieffer Moore and Potts going close, but the last word went to Forest with substitute Apostolos Vellios netting a rebound after Walton denied Joe Lolley following a fine run.
Nottingham Forest: Kapino; Lichaj, Mancienne, Fox, Fuentes (Osborn 45); Watson, Cash, Bridcutt, Guedioura, Tomlin (Lolley 80); Brereton (Vellios 80). Unused substitutes: Smith, Colback, Hobbs, Darikwa.
Barnsley: Walton; Cavare, Jackson, Lindsay, Pinillos; Gardner; Hammill (Thiam 71), Moncur (Mahoney 45), Potts, McBurnie; Moore (Bradshaw 87). Unused substitutes: Davies, McCarthy, Mallan, Pinnock.
Referee: R Jones (Merseyside).
Results and table: Page 22.