Nottingham Forest 2 Yeovil Town 5 (after extra time) – Friday 18th May 2007
Friday 18th May 2007 will surely live long in the memory of every Yeovil Town fan, even those who were not there. Not only was it a colossal play-off contest that would see the Glovers triumphant over the two-time European Cup winners, but it also symbolised how far Yeovil had travelled in a very short space of time.
Just ten years earlier in 2007, the Glovers had won the Isthmian League to be promoted back to the Conference. Under Graham Roberts, they were still part time and finished 11th, which was a decent return for their first season back. If you had said to any fan at that time that in ten years Yeovil would beat Nottingham Forest and be one match away from promotion to the Championship, they would have said you were hallucinating. Even the most optimistic of fans could never have foreseen it.
It was been four years since winning promotion from the Conference under Gary Johnson, but there had been a lot of change in that short time. Johnson had departed and with him, most of his Conference and League Two winning side. When new manager Russell Slade arrived in the summer of 2007, only Terry Skiverton and Andy Lindegaard remained from the Conference-winning squad, in addition to Arron Davies, Paul Terry and Scott Guyett from the League Two days.
Slade had to rebuild on a reduced budget and expectations were not high – especially given that he had built his reputation on grinding out results on a small budget, as any Yeovil fans who remembered his Scarborough side in 02/03 could attest. As it turned out, Russell Slade’s Yeovil were not the long ball side fans of some of his former clubs might have suggested. They were without doubt built on a very firm defence. Early in the season they played as a 4-5-1, with Terry and Kalala in holding roles allowing Chris Cohen to get forward, with Lee Morris and Arron Davies in the wide positions supporting Wayne Gray and later, Marcus Stewart. This was quite forward-thinking on Slade’s part as the 4-5-1 – or 4-3-3, depending on how you look at it – with two holding players was far less common then, although it is arguably the dominant formation now. The team had the pace and creativity to get forward and the midfield revolved around Chris Cohen, who we somehow managed to steal from West Ham for around £100,000. Even though he was still 19 when he joined us permanently following a loan spell in 2005/06, he was obviously a special player.
Russell Slade’s style was about as different from Gary Johnson’s as it is possible to be, but both were able to be successful. Johnson sent out his teams to score goals and defending was almost an afterthought – if the opposition score twice, we’ll just score three. Slade was the opposite – his team kept it very tight and it was usually a case of ‘first goal wins’. If Yeovil scored first, you knew that odds were, they would win. Even if the goal came in the first five minutes, as it did in the early season wins over Port Vale and Brighton. In the whole season Yeovil never lost after scoring first, and only twice even drew. Russell Slade’s men knew how to hold a lead, and often the last 20 minutes or so of a game were incredibly comfortable if we were ahead.
Part of Yeovil’s success was probably down to surprise – at the beginning of the season we were favourites to go down and with good reason, as we only just avoided relegation in 2005/06, and in the process had lost many of our best players. The second half of the season was harder in many ways – having risen to 2nd following the 2-1 defeat of Bristol City in November, teams came to Huish Park looking to defend a point, and became much more difficult to break down. There are certainly a lot of similarities between Russell Slade’s Yeovil and Darren Sarll’s – both were set up to counter-attack, and often had difficulty breaking the opposition down if they were happy to give Yeovil the ball. As such, both were perhaps set up to work better away from home.
In any event, Slade was forced to change his approach in December when Terry’s season was ended by a knee injury and the only midfield replacement, Anthony Barry, was not a defensive player. Purely by coincidence, Marcus Stewart’s loan period from Bristol City had ended, so Slade organised cover by bringing in youngster Leon Best on loan from Southampton. While Best was on loan the Glovers played 4-4-2, partnering the loanee with either Morris or Stewart. Unfortunately we were not able to keep him for the rest of the season, but Best’s loan spell rejuvenated the Glovers who had stuttered somewhat after the City win, dropping to 7th, but by the time he left, signing off with a 2-0 win away at Bournemouth, Yeovil were back up to 2nd again with just 12 games of the season to go, and it was a case of grinding out the results which they did. It wasn’t often pretty, but Nathan Jones’ 89th minute winner against Chesterfield showed the character of the team, and in the end they did finish comfortably enough to give a number of first team players a rest for the last game, a 2-0 win at Gillingham.
Finishing in 5th meant a play-off semi-final against the mighty Nottingham Forest, who might have expected to have gone up automatically. Forest had already beaten Yeovil 1-0 twice, in possibly fortunate circumstances. Their win at Huish Park came against the run of play from a last minute goal, and at the City Ground via an uncharacteristic mistake from Steve Mildenhall.
Without doubt the playoffs brought the best out of Russell Slade’s team. Perhaps because with no expectations at the start of the season and having secured their highest ever league finish, they had nothing at all to lose. By contrast, Forest had everything to lose, the former European champions playing in the third tier was bad enough, their fans made no secret of the fact that they expected to leave it as soon as possible and there was a huge amount of expectation on the shoulders of Colin Calderwood.
With nothing to lose, Yeovil abandoned their cautious approach, playing a 4-4-2 which was effectively a 4-2-4 with a front line of Stewart, Morris, Gray and Davies. With Cohen in midfield and Barry preferred to Kalala, there wasn’t even a holding player. The object was clearly to take the game to Forest and put them on the back foot, which they very much did. Even though Forest won the first leg 2-0 through two penalties, Yeovil were exceptional and very unfortunate to come away with nothing. The first penalty was arguably a dive, as Nathan Jones did not get the ball but he didn’t make any contact with James Perch either, whose face was looking expectantly at the referee before he’d even hit the ground. After that Yeovil were incredibly unlucky not to score, with Stewart hitting the post and Wayne Gray bringing two excellent saves from Paul Smith. There were no arguments about the second penalty right at the end of the game, as a tired Terrell Forbes lunged in on Jack Lester to give the visitors an undeserved, but seemingly insurmountable 2-0 lead. Apart from the two penalties, Forest had achieved zero shots on target.
Although Yeovil had been brilliant but unfortunate in the first leg, the second leg seemed like just a case of playing for pride. They couldn’t possibly go away to the favourites and pull back a 2-0 deficit in front of 30,000 fans, could they? Around 1100 Yeovil fans travelled more in hope than expectation. My own personal hope was that they would at least put up a fight, that they wouldn’t give up and go down 5-0 on aggregate. Their first leg performance had deserved more, but there didn’t seem to be much more to play for than pride.
However, the team had other ideas – Russell Slade had the faith to put out an unchanged side, and even though they were 2-0 down it was effectively half time, so if they could pull one back in the first half, they still had 50 or 60 minutes to get one more – with the right mentality, it was not impossible. Yeovil certainly did have the right mentality, creating at least three shots on goal in the first ten minutes. On 22 minutes, Arron Davies picked up a ball from Stewart, ran the length of the Forest half almost unchallenged, scored from outside the area and suddenly it was game on. Davies, Yeovil’s man of the match in the first leg, had got his reward early in the second and would go on to be man of the match again.
What followed was the most astonishing 120 minutes of football that Yeovil Town have ever taken part in, surpassing even the 5-4 at Doncaster, although that was also pretty incredible. And it was on TV, so we can re-live it over and over again, and new fans can watch the game that their dads go on and on about. There is no point trying to describe every incident as so much happened in the game you could write a book about it – just go and watch it. It’s there on YouTube and will hopefully remain there for a long time. Yeovil carried their belief and positivity from the first leg, and Forest got punished for their unadventurousness. It has to be said that while Yeovil were brilliant, Colin Calderwood helped us by making all of the wrong decisions. Forest didn’t even have a shot on target from open play until the second half, after 135 minutes of football. And after going 3-1 up, he took both strikers off meaning they had no options in extra time.
When Scott Dobie scored a header at the start of the second half to put Forest 3-1 ahead on aggregate, the tie looked sure to be over. Yeovil kept fighting and created more chances, but Smith was equal to all of them. In hindsight, all of Calderwood’s substitutions backfired – first he brought on David Prutton, who was sent off for a second yellow card at the end of normal time. Then he replaced Dobie with Grant Holt, who was returning from injury and not fully fit. Apart from committing GBH on Arron Davies and attempting to start a fight with Scott Guyett, Holt did not provide much of an attacking threat as he was clearly not fit. He then took off Jack ‘I appear to have fallen over, can I have a penalty ref?’ Lester and replaced him with a centre half, Wes Morgan, who would go on to gift Lee Morris Yeovil’s fourth goal.
By making the wrong substitutions, Calderwood reduced his attacking options and left several half-fit players on the pitch who could barely walk by the of extra time. Had the game gone to penalties then surely Yeovil would have won, as a demoralised Forest barely had enough fit players left on the pitch to take them.
Meanwhile, Russell Slade kept faith with his team and made no unnecessary changes. The only substitution was enforced, as Chris Cohen, who had been struggling for some time with a groin injury, could not continue past 60 minutes. And his replacement, Jean-Paul Kalala, was instrumental in the third goal. It’s easy to forget that somehow we managed to beat Forest 5-4 with our player of the season and top assist-maker carrying an injury. It is testament to the fitness of the team that Arron Davies, who played all 210 minutes of the tie and almost scored at the beginning of the first game, popped up with the winner at the end of the second one, turning an exhausted Forest defence inside out before firing home. Also, all credit to Andy Lindegaard, who at the end of two exhausting matches, still had the energy to get up from full back to put in the cross for Stewart’s equaliser, and deliver the ball for the winner. He also ran half the length of the pitch to tackle Kris Commons and take a yellow card to prevent him from scoring.
Arron Davies really should have made it six by passing to Barry or Kalala instead of taking it on himself, but we’ll let him off that one.
Team that day: Steve Mildenhall, Andy Lindegaard, Nathan Jones, Scott Guyett, Terrell Forbes, Anthony Barry, Chris Cohen (sub. Kalala 74), Arron Davies, Wayne Gray, Marcus Stewart, Lee Morris. Subs not used: Mark Lynch, Matthew Rose, Martin Brittain, Darryl Knights
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