16 May ~ With outstanding home record that has seen them concede only 11 goals in 23 league matches while scoring 41 themselves, Swansea City will be favourites to progress from tonight's Championship play-off semi-final after a goalless first leg at the City Ground. Followers of Nottingham Forest, however, know better than most that play-off prospects can change dramatically in the blink of an eye. With half an hour left to play in the second leg of the Championship play-off semi at Bramall Lane in 2003, Forest were two goals ahead on aggregate. Sheffield United levelled in those 30 remaining minutes and finished up 5-4 winners after extra time, Des Walker scoring an own goal for their fifth.
Worse was to come four years later when Forest won the first leg of a League One play-off away at Yeovil 2-0. In the second match Forest conceded first but then equalised early in the second half and with just eight minutes to go remained two goals ahead on aggregate but somehow conspired to again lose 5-4 after extra time.
The first leg of this year's semi-final was defined in the very first minute when Swansea full-back Neil Taylor was sent off for a reckless challenge on Lewis McGugan. While the visitors quickly reorganised and settled into a composed defensive display, the Forest players struggled to come to terms with having to break down their opponents rather than hit them on the break. Although Forest did improve as the game went on and had good chances saved well by Dorus de Vries, the visitors’ superior composure and technique on the ball was apparent throughout. Swansea remained calm and allowed the Forest defence to play the ball slowly and unconvincingly among themselves before pressing the midfield and strikers as soon as it was played forwards.
Although Forest will hope to have more opportunity to play on the counter in the away leg it is difficult to see that same starting 11 causing enough problems. As a result it would be nice to see either Raddy Majewski or David McGoldrick start in place of one of the strikers, probably Robert Earnshaw given Kris Boyd’s recent form, in the 4-2-3-1 formation that has served Forest well in away fixtures before. Powerful midfield man Guy Moussi was a big miss on Thursday and hopefully he will return from injury to replace the sadly pedestrian Paul McKenna. The lack of a specialist left-back has been a long running problem for the team and with Chris Gunter on that side his usual attacking threat is all but removed.
Still, Swansea are an entertaining side that I enjoy watching, so if they go through I will have no problem supporting them in the final as I did Blackpool last season. Stephen Wright