Match report: Forest 3 Notts 3 AET (Forest win 4-3 on penalties)
FOR Nottingham Forest, the day had begun badly as a case of homesickness ended a Dutchman's spell in the city after only 24 hours.
And, for long spells, it only looked as though it would get worse, as Notts County threatened to bomb them out of the Carling Cup on a truly dramatic evening at the City Ground.
Leading 3-2 deep into injury time in extra-time, the Magpies looked destined for a memorable victory.
But then a man born and raised within walking distance of both famous grounds, popped up to add another twist to the tale.
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The 122nd-minute strike from Wes Morgan, lashed into the top corner from the edge of the box, sent a remarkable tie to penalties.
Prior to that, it had seemed likely that there would be another hero, in the form of Lee Hughes.
The striker had begun the summer languishing in a decompression chamber, but almost ended it receiving a 'knighthood' from Notts County fans, after putting the Magpies ahead 3-2 in the first half of extra time.
But, after Morgan had outdone him, it was Forest who progressed on penalties, following yet more drama.
Even in the shoot-out, Notts had appeared to be in the ascendancy after Jonathan Greening had missed the opening penalty for Forest.
But it fell to Luke Chambers to net the crucial kick, which earned a 4-3 win for the home side as Neal Bishop lifted the final kick of the evening over the bar.
There was little subtlety about the opening exchanges, with Paul Smith narrowly winning the race to a punted ball from Mike Edwards that Karl Hawley looked momentarily as though he would win on the edge of the box.
At the other end, it was Robbie Findley's pace, down the right flank, that gave him the room to lash the ball into the centre where Paul Anderson side-footed wide at the near post.
But it was Notts who had Forest on the ropes for a remarkable five minute spell that left them scratching their heads as to how they had not taken the lead.
Neal Bishop tested Paul Smith, who was in the Forest side with Lee Camp away on international duty with Northern Ireland, with a low, rasping shot that the keeper held comfortably.
But then an Alan Sheehan free-kick, deflected dangerously, just wide of the target, sparked a flurry of opportunities for Notts.
When the resulting corner wasn't cleared, Lee Hughes connected with a powerful header that seemed certain to find the net until Smith plunged to his left to make a breathtaking save.
Then, from another corner, Ricky Ravenhill struck a volley powerfully into the ground, which bounced up onto the top of the bar.
The Notts midfielder was not having much luck, then seeing a second drive, moments later, cannon back off his own man, in the form of Bishop, in the box.
Forest could have few complaints when Notts' pressure finally led to a goal, after Chambers had been lured into an angry reaction by Lee Hughes.
The two players had been contesting a physical battle – but the Forest skipper over-stepped the mark when he shoulder charged Hughes off the ball, conceding a free-kick in a dangerous position on the right.
Sheehan's left-foot delivery was initially cleared – but went straight back to the full-back who, with his other boot, lifted the ball back towards the far post where, amid a melee of players, Edwards forced the ball over the line.
Notts, who were already working hard to deny Forest time on the ball, made things even tighter after they had taken the lead, with Hamza Bencherif perpetually shadowing Lewis McGugan.
The attacking midfielder did manage to wriggle away from the Algerian for a few seconds and looked poised to net an equaliser before Edwards intervened with a perfectly-timed challenge.
The incident only seemed to spark McGugan into life however, as his quick feet saw him dance through two challenges, before finally being brought down as he threatened to burst into the box.
The Nottingham-born player regained his feet to take full advantage of the free-kick opportunity, firing a truly spectacular, unstoppable shot high into the top corner of Stuart Nelson's net from 25-yards.
It could have been worse for Notts – and better for Forest – just a minute later, when Radi Majewski lashed a low shot narrowly wide.
It then took the reactions of Nelson to deny Andy Reid, when he connected, unmarked, with a diving header from a deep, looping Moloney cross.
Forest thought they had taken the lead when Findley directed a Cohen cross into the back of the net only for the celebrations to be cut short by an offside flag.
Notts began the second period in the same way as they had the first, with Lee Hughes seeing a shot deflected over the bar after a long throw from Edwards – and then both Hawley and Lee Hughes seeing shots charged down amid a furious melee two yards from goal.
Ravenhill, who had already been denied twice, was then thwarted for a third time when a thumping shot was somehow cleared off the line and over the bar.
And it was instead Forest who were to land the first meaningful blow of the second half, as Reid provided a majestic ball to the far post, which was eclipsed by a finish from Findley that saw him guide the ball, first time, across the face of Nelson and inside the far post from a tight angle, in the 56th minute of the tie.
Having bagged his first goal for the club, Findley almost had his second moments later, when he let fly with a more powerful effort, from a similar position, that saw the keeper at full stretch to claw the ball away.
Reid flashed an effort narrowly wide for Forest, from distance – and substitute Craig Westcarr replied in identical fashion for Notts.
But the best was still to come from the former Forest player, who announced his arrival back at the City Ground in sublime fashion, producing an outstanding finish, firing a low shot, on the turn, into the corner from 12 yards.
And it was now Notts who were looking the more likely to snatch victory, as they twice came close to going ahead again – only to be denied by a pair of outstanding saves.
The first came as Smith plunged low to his right to block a driven effort from Hawley – and the second was even better, as the keeper somehow swatted away a close-range effort from Lee Hughes which seemed certain to find the net.
Forest hit back as Majewski sent a curling, swirling free kick dipping onto the roof of the net from just outside the box.
But the sides could not be separated as extra-time beckoned.
The drama was far from over, as the entire following of 6,000 Magpies supporters were left to do the 'Hughesy' dance, following a telling contribution from the striker.
More than 100 minutes into the game, the 35-year-old should have been dead on his feet. But he found a last reserve of energy to sweep home the most precise of finishes, off the inside of the post, to send the visiting fans into dreamland.
Joe Garner came within an inch of adding yet another twist to the tale, as he hammered a volley agonisingly wide of the post.
But, just as it seemed Notts were destined for glory, Morgan popped up to grab it for himself.
It was the 122nd minute of extra time when the big defender, born and raised within walking distance of both grounds, produced an unbelievable finish, lashing a volley perfectly into the top corner of the net from just inside the box to send the tie to a remarkable penalty kick finale.