Nottingham Forest returned to winning ways with a 1-0 away victory over Preston North End on Saturday afternoon.
Lewis Grabban’s penalty proved to be the difference between these two sides, as the Reds secured only their second league win of the season.
With the January transfer window now open, Forest have a big decision to make this month regarding the future of Anthony Knockaert, whose loan deal from Fulham is set to expire next week.
The winger has shown flashes of his quality since arriving on loan from Fulham in October, but perhaps should have put the Reds a goal ahead on six minutes.
Good build-up play resulted in Lewis Grabban receiving the ball inside the area and pulling back for Knockaert, who fired a miscued effort over the crossbar from six yards.
Forest were also guilty of wasting another good opportunity minutes later, when Ryan Yates got himself into a similar position, before pulling the ball back for Sammy Ameobi who lashed a shot well wide.
Samba Sow was to receive the game’s first card, hacking down Tom Bayliss on halfway as North End’s frustrations grew.
Alex Neil will have been disappointed with his side’s first-half display, with North End having only 41% of the ball in the opening 45 minutes. The Lilywhites were to finally record their first shot on target on the stroke of half-time, with Daniel Johnson’s tame long-range effort held comfortably by Brice Samba.
Forest, meanwhile, were to create one final half-chance for themselves, with Cafu receiving a clearance from a corner before firing a half-volley over the bar into the stands.
The half-time whistle blew, marking the end of what had been a pretty drab affair between these two sides. Forest having plenty of the ball in the opening 45 minutes, but end product proving to be an issue for Hughton’s men.
Preston were to start the second half the better side. Tom Barkhuizen found space before breaking forward with the ball, before lashing a shot well over the bar from 25 yards on 49 minutes.
Barkhuizen had another golden opportunity only moments later, too. A quick break saw Daniel Johnson away on the right, with the midfielder skipping away from Tobias Figueiredo, driving into the area before teeing a ball up for Barkhuizen. His close-range header was saved well by Samba.
And for the third time in three minutes, Barkhuizen was to be denied once again, this time by the woodwork, as his curling, left-footed effort kissed the crossbar and out for a goal kick.
Hughton was to make his first change on the hour mark after seeing Preston dominate proceedings, with Sammy Ameobi being replaced by Joe Lolley. The former saw a shot fly inches over the bar moments before, after receiving the ball from a corner.
Preston’s frustrations were to continue, though, with Barkhuizen at the centre of another big opportunity. Brad Potts saw an effort blocked from inside the area, and the rebound was met by Barkhuizen, who fired over the bar with the goal gaping.
It was starting to look like it would be one of those days for Preston, and minutes later, Forest punished them.
A close-range effort by Cafu was blocked by Darnell Fisher, who was adjudged to have handled the ball from a tight angle. Penalty given, much to North End’s annoyance.
Up stepped Lewis Grabban, who coolly sent Declan Rudd the wrong way and fired in from 12 yards. 1-0 to Forest, against the run of play.
It was a cruel blow for North End, who had been dominating the early stages of the second half, but had been made to rue golden missed opportunities.
Looking for a response, Neil was to make a double change on 75 minutes, with Paul Gallagher and Emil Riis replacing Tom Bayliss and Brad Potts respectively.
Neil nearly found that instant response from his side, with centre-half Ben Davies’ curled effort rattling the bar amid a crowded penalty area.
North End were to keep pushing forward, with Jayden Stockley looking to add more of a physical presence and attacking impetus, replacing Sean Maguire. Forest looking to see out the win, with Harry Arter replacing Cafu at the same time.
And with goalscorer Grabban replacing Lyle Taylor in the first minute of the five added on at the half, Forest managed to hold onto a big win, despite Brice Samba’s late heroics. The goalkeeping getting down low to save Gallagher’s free-kick.
Not the prettiest of performances from the Reds, but a vital fifth win of the season, to extend their unbeaten run to five games in the Championship.