Late McGugan strike makes it game on for automatic..

Hartlepool United – 0
Nottingham Forest – 1

After the results all panned out today, it sees us just one point from that precious second spot, making the issue of automatic promotion something that will be decided next Saturday, the final day of the season.  Those of you who believe in fairy tales will appreciate our opponents that day are the side who of course crushed our promotion aspirations in quite spectacular style, whilst I’m still desperately suppressing my in-built negativity, it would be pretty sweet to win promotion by beating Yeovil Town!

So today as Forest were struggling to overcome a spirited Hartlepool side, Carlisle were thumped 3-0 away at Millwall, enabling the Reds to overtake the Cumbrians.  Doncaster, meanwhile, were registering a comfortable-looking 2-0 win over Luton Town to maintain the slender gap they have over us, so we jump up to third place, and Doncaster up to second, neatly setting up what promises to be a very tense showdown next week when we play Yeovil, and Doncaster travel to Cheltenham – who still have League One survival to play for.  Carlisle welcome Bournemouth next week, who are also playing for survival.

Before we get into the match then we should also offer congratulations to neighbours Notts County, a win over Wycombe today ensured they will remain a football league club this season.  Commiserations to Mansfield Town who are all but facing relegation to the Blue Square Premier after a defeat at Field Mill this afternoon.  I don’t profess particular fondness for either side, but I would always want Nottinghamshire to retain the three football league clubs it has had since I can remember.

A difficult surface and high winds caused difficulties for both sides, and despite a reasonably bright start chances were hard to come by.  The first fell to Perch who took advantage of a botched clearance from a Cohen corner, turning and shooting just wide of the goal.  Again a Cohen corner caused problems, heading close to being a shot on target and cleared off the line by a defender with the ‘keeper at sixes and sevens.

Around the half hour mark Perch played Tyson through who beat the defender for pace and almost beat Lee-Barrett who was just able to stop the shot with his legs.  The monkeyhangers had moments of danger too, with ‘Godfather of Soul’ James Brown causing both Luke Chambers and Kelvin Wilson significant difficulties, and the remainder of the half was really all about pressure from the home team.

At half time Kris Commons was introduced for Brett Ormerod who’d endured lengthy treatment during the first half, and it was Commons who created the first opportunity in the second half – beating two players and shooting on target and forcing a good save from the Hartlepool ‘keeper.  McCleary too was causing danger, finding Wilson with a cross who headed back toward Tyson whose header was wide.

One of those often-infuritating short corners worked out well after Commons did well to get a dangerous cross in to Tyson, who couldn’t find the target despite beating the ‘keeper.  Hartlepool had a great chance through the dangerous James Brown, but a combination of Morgan and Perch managed to block the chance almost at source to clear the danger.  It was around this time that it was apparent Carlisle were on course to lose, and it caused a certain amount of tension from the away fans who urged the Reds to attack.

Hartlepool continued to press, and a shot from Foley had Smith scrambling – eventually keeping hold of the ball after two attempts.  Smoulds then made a double substitution with 20 minutes left on the clock, McGugan replacing Perch, and Davies replacing Lockwood, obviously we know they turned out effective – or at least one of them did – so well done to Colin for changing when he did!

Tyson did well to create a chance for Commons, but the driven pass made it difficult for him to control, so t’was to be another chance to miss the target.  The home side came agonisingly close to a late winner with Mackay just unable to connect with a cross to the back stick.

The lead came for the travelling Reds with just four minutes remaining, Wes Morgan playing the ball to Garath McCleary who laid it off perfectly for Lewis McGugan who unleashed a left-footed curling shot from the edge of the area into the ‘net, much to the delirium of Forest fans, players and coaching team alike.  The icing on the cake was almost in place when Commons shot from the edge of the area, but had to be content with seeing his shot rebound from the bar.

The end of the game was predictably tense – six minutes or so of stoppage time was never going to help that – and Hartlepool did finish with attacking possession, but of course we were to hold out and register a hard-earned win, if not prettily earned.  A huge well done to the boys and the coaching team, we’ve set ourselves up for a very tense afternoon next week, but it’s incredibly exciting to suddenly have a very real prospect of automatic promotion again!

So our job is to fill the City Ground and get right behind the boys next week, of course, if Doncaster win then no result will be enough – but whatever is to happen, we need to play our part (as well as sending as much positive karma as humanly possible to Bournemouth and – particularly – Cheltenham.  There’s going to be some inflated ‘phone bills due to that day as we’ll be constantly checking the scores elsewhere!

Can fairy tales really come true?  Well no, probably not – the fact we’re playing Yeovil again is probably just a coincidence or a not-so-amusing joke by whoever puts together the Football League fixtures – either way, I’m prepared to try to believe just for a week! YOU REDS!