Match report: Crystal Palace 1 Nottingham Forest 1
ANOTHER super-sub performance helped Nottingham Forest maintain their unbeaten record at Crystal Palace, despite having to battle with ten men for the final half hour at Selhurst Park.
Dexter Blackstock came off the bench to net in the 82nd minute and earn a precious point in south London, even after Palace had found themselves with an extra man after Adlene Guedioura had been sent off.
And Blackstock might have snatched all three points for the Reds in the final stages, if not for a fine save from Julian Speroni to push away his towering header.
Kagisho Dikgachoi had given Palace a deserved lead in a first half in which Forest had failed to impress.
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But Sean O'Driscoll's men again showed their character to preserve their unbeaten start to the campaign.
O'Driscoll had pledged that he would base his team selection on fairness this season; that if players performed well, they would earn a place in the side.
And he was good to his word as Simon Cox and Dan Harding, who had supplied the goals between them after coming off the bench against Birmingham on Saturday, were both promoted to the starting line-up.
There was also a change in formation as O'Driscoll fielded a three-man central defence within the 3-5-2 formation that Forest had finished the game against Birmingham with.
On the eve of the game, the versatile Greg Halford had claimed that central defence was probably his best position, and he was given a chance to prove as much, as he lined-up alongside skipper Danny Collins and Daniel Ayala.
It was Palace who came closest to breaking the deadlock in the tenth minute, as the lively Wilfred Zaha popped up on the right to deliver a testing ball into he centre, where Glenn Murray planted a firm downward header against the foot of the post.
Jonathan Williams forced a save from Lee Camp after working hard to snatch the ball off Sam Hutchinson, before firing a low shot towards the bottom corner from 20 yards.
It was Palace who were enjoying a spell of pressure, with Zaha – their most dangerous player – jinking into space and letting fly with a shot that, fortunately for Forest, was far less composed than his build-up play.
Forest responded with a flowing attack that culminated in a driven shot from McGugan, which had the travelling fans appealing for a handball after it was blocked, although the ball seemed to have struck Owen Garvan on the body, rather than the arm.
Zaha produced another wild shot after ghosting into a promising position yet again, this time firing high into the stand after slipping free on the edge of the box.
Mile Jerdinak was rather more accurate with a crisp, rising shot that almost caught Camp out, with the keeper making an unorthodox – but effective – save, swatting the ball away as it swerved through the air.
Forest made a change in formation in an attempt to find a foothold in the game, with Halford pushing into the holding role in front of what was now a back four, with Hutchinson and Harding as full-backs.
The Reds threatened on the break through Cox, who forced a corner with a bustling run, but Billy Sharp, under heavy pressure, was off target with his header after McGugan had delivered.
Forest almost shot themselves in the foot as Ayala allowed Murray to rob him after lingering too long in possession, with the defender eventually recovering well to make a sliding block that took much of the sting out of the Palace forward's shot.
Forest had another half-chance as Cox glanced a header into the side netting from a McGugan free kick. Harding, after an ambitious surge forward down the left, also found the side netting with a shot.
More significantly, the new formation had Forest looking more solid at the back.
Hutchinson, who had been involved in a heavy challenge early on, was replaced by Guedioura just before half time, with Gillett slotting into his more usual deep midfield role – and Halford moving into his third position of the game, at right-back.
Halford was then harshly booked by fussy referee Iain Williamson, when he had clearly won the ball in a challenge with Jedinak.
The second half began with Reid skipping into the corner down the left, before lifting an enticing cross to the far post where Julian Speroni took two attempts to claim.
But it was Palace who were to take the lead in the 50th minute, as Williams bent a corner towards the far post, where Dikgacoi was arriving to send a simple header back across goal, beyond Camp and inside the upright.
Guedioura was then cautioned for bringing down Zaha, although the Algerian protested furiously he had won the ball.
And, in the 63rd minute, Guedioura was shown a straight red card, following an altercation with Jedinak. The Palace man seemed to barge into the midfielder after another soft free kick had been awarded, this time against Reid – but Guedioura responded by lashing out with a kick.
Forest, with the game edging away from them, freshened up their front-line by bringing on Blackstock for Sharp. But the striker was booked within two minutes after sliding in late on Dean Moxey.
Majewski, who scored a hat-trick on his last visit to Selhurst Park, was also given a chance to have an impact off the bench in the final ten minutes.
But it was Cox, already an integral figure for Forest after joining from West Brom in the summer, who was to spark a vital moment of incision for the visitors.
He turned brilliantly on the edge of the box before rolling an inch-perfect pass for Blackstock through the centre, with the substitute doing the rest with a composed, slotted finish beneath the advancing keeper.
When Halford slung in a long throw from the right, Forest almost snatched a winner, with Blackstock connecting with an intelligent header that required an outstanding save from Speroni to push it around the post.
But Camp had to produce a world-class stop at the other end, after Peter Ramage connected with a close-range header.
Palace: Speroni, Ward, Dikgacoi (Parr 68), Garvan, Jedinak, Zaha, Murray, Williams (Bolasie 56), Moxey (Moritz 84), Delaney, Ramage. Subs: Price, Martin, Goodwillie, Wilbraham.
Forest: Camp, Halford, Ayala, Collins, Hutchinson (Guedioura 40), McGugan (Majewski 79), Gillett, Reid, Harding, Cox, Sharp (Blackstock 73). Subs: Darlow, Moussi, Moloney, Coppinger.
Referee: Iain Williamson, Berkshire.