Lyle Taylor’s second-half strike earned Nottingham Forest a point in a 1-1 draw with Derby County on Friday night, relieving the pressure on under-fire Rams boss Phillip Cocu.
The pressure has recently been building on Cocu, with his side losing five of their opening six games of the Sky Bet Championship campaign.
A defeat in the first East Midlands derby clash of the season, then, could have been resulted in curtains for Cocu, with Forest looking like a rejuvenated outfit under Hughton.
The big talking point heading into this one from a Forest perspective was Chris Hughton switching from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-4-2, with Lyle Taylor and Lewis Grabban both starting up top for the first time.
Taylor went about making the most of his starting opportunity straight away, with the striker receiving Joe Lolley’s low cross and forcing a smart save out of David Marshall with a low drive on three minutes.
It was a cagey affair for large parts of the first-half, particularly in the opening 10 minutes of the game. Perhaps to be expected between two bitter rivals desperate to assert their authority on the game.
It was Derby who had the better chances in the opening 45 minutes, though, and they even had a penalty appeal with only seven minutes on the clock.
Kamil Jozwiak’s pace saw him burst into the penalty area, finding Tom Lawrence with a low cross. Lawrence spun away from his marker, Ryan Yates, and went down under the challenge of the midfielder.
Derby’s players, coaching staff and directors alike were convinced that it was a penalty, but referee Tony Harrington waved play on, leaving Phillip Cocu frustrated.
Cocu wasn’t left to be frustrated by his side’s first-half performance, though, with the Rams having the lion’s share of possession.
Jozwiak, Lawrence and Jason Knight looked lively when driving into the final third from midfield, and it was the latter who was on the end of Cyrus Christie’s challenge on 18 minutes, culminating in the game’s first yellow card.
Forest were struggling to break down a tight, compact Derby outfit who had five defenders behind the ball whenever the Reds broke forward. The hosts could only muster a half-chance, when Ryan Yates’ header bounced into the service and fizzed wide.
Derby were growing on confidence, and forced a magnificent save out of Brice Samba on 26 minutes. Graeme Shinnie received the ball in the area, fired a left-footed shot towards goal, with Samba having to expertly tip the ball behind for a corner.
Samba, though, was left helpless moments later as Derby broke the deadlock.
As the lively Knight broke forward, the midfielder was brought down and the Rams were given a free-kick 25 yards out.
Tom Lawrence and Martyn Waghorn stood over the ball, and it was the latter who fired an unstoppable effort in off the crossbar, putting the visitors into a deserved 1-0 lead on the half-hour mark.
Forest had to respond, but it was Derby who almost doubled their lead five minutes later. Good, fast-paced build-up play saw Nathan Byrne play Shinnie into the area, with the midfielder forcing another good save out of Samba. A glorious chance for the Rams to extend their lead.
The half-time whistle blew, with plenty of work on for Chris Hughton’s side. Hughton made a tactical tweak at half-time, switching back to a 4-2-3-1 formation as Anthony Knockaert replaced Lewis Grabban to make his debut for the Reds.
Knockaert made an instant impression. The winger occupied the right-flank, and his dangerous left-foot deliveries were proving to be tormenting for Derby.
Shortly after the hour-mark, a wicked delivery was swung in from the right by Knockaert. Sammy Ameobi met it, but the winger was somehow denied by Marshall from two yards, with the ball going behind for a corner.
It was Knockaert, though, who proved to be key once again, as Forest grabbed an equaliser. A dangerous corner caused havoc, and it was Lyle Taylor who pounced on the loose ball, slamming in from close-range.
The striker’s first goal for the club since joining on a free transfer in the summer, and a goal that crucially put Forest back on level terms.
Forest kicked on following their equalising goal. It could have been two in two minutes for Taylor, too, but the forward couldn’t properly connect with Christie’s dangerous cross from the right.
Taylor was also on the end of another cross two minutes later. On 68 minutes, Nicholas Ioannou got away from Nathan Byrne, floating a cross towards the back-post, as Taylor’s header was saved and put out for a corner.
Derby were under the cosh, and Cocu decided to freshen things up as Duane Holmes replaced Byrne. Derby switching to a back-four as they looked to get back into the game.
Shortly after, Derby thought they had retaken the lead.
Kamil Jozwiak received a ball in the area and fired low into the corner of Samba’s net. The Polish winger ran off in jubilation after seemingly scoring his first goal for Derby, but after a lengthy delay, the goal was disallowed for offside, with Waghorn directly in Samba’s line of sight.
Derby smelt blood, with Cocu making his final two changes on 85 minutes. Two attack-minded decisions, with Louie Sibley and Colin Kazim-Richards replacing Lawrence and Waghorn respectively.
Kazim-Richards had very little sight of goal, though, heading well over shortly before being ruled out for offside.
Three minutes were to be added on at the end of the second-half, but despite late pressure from Forest, the points were shared.
Forest extended their unbeaten run to three games under Hughton, with Derby stopping the rot and avoiding defeat in the East Midlands derby.