Nottingham Forest and Derby County played out a first goalless draw since October 2002 in this hotly-contested 102nd East Midlands derby.
Despite almost 16 years having passed since that day, with 23 full- time managers between them and leagues swapped a handful of times, the passion of the rivalry remains, as confirmed by an attendance of nearly 30,000.
Before kick-off, the Upper Trent End was a sea of red and white as a massive banner of Giuseppe Garibaldi – nodding towards the founding of their colours – was erected, along with the words that read ‘The Garibaldi we wear with pride was made in 1865’ as the lower tier waved their scarves and flags to create a sight to behold.
Footage of Forest under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor was shown in a hair-raising and emotional showreel – whilst also stirring the Rams’ emotions of the great man also leading them to glory.
The atmosphere was electric as Mull of Kintyre blasted around the ground, with the players entering the pitch fully pumped up.
The scene was set for a thrilling Championship encounter. Unfortunately, the football that follows doesn’t always match the build-up.
Despite some meaty challenges, an intriguing battle ended in stalemate. Certainly no-one would have predicted a first 0-0 in a derby match at the City Ground since 1906.
“It’s been an emotional game, an emotional derby. I’m pleased because we’re improving,” said Forest boss Aitor Karanka, whose team are 15th in the table and unbeaten in six matches.
“I am pleased for our young players because of the way they’re improving.”
Pantilimon to the rescue
Forest made one change to their line-up as Lee Tomlin replaced Kieran Dowell in midfield, whilst Derby made two as Bradley Johnson and Ikechi Anya replaced the injured Joe Ledley, with Kasey Palmer dropping to the bench.
The opening was cagey and short of any real quality, with some heavy challenges from both sides as they battled to take control.
Andi Weimann saw a shot well blocked by Danny Fox, who was superb all afternoon, before Joe Lolley went on a surging run but his through ball just eluded Matty Cash for the home side.
Those two then linked up again, with the former whipping in a ball for the latter, but his header at the near post was too far in front of anyone.
As the game got into its rhythm, both sides had their chances, with Tom Lawrence flashing a shot wide before Tomlin found some space outside of the box but his shot was well off target.
Lawrence was booked for simulation, but Derby could have felt themselves unfortunate not to be ahead at the break.
Weimann got in behind Ben Osborn and his fierce shot was parried away by Costel Pantilimon, who the Reds were indebted to for keeping them level.
After his initial save, a combination of the Romanian and Tendayi Darikwa somehow kept Lawrence’s goal-bound effort out of the net.
The resulting corner was almost whipped all the way in by the former Leicester man, but Pantilimon was alert to push the ball out and away from danger as the two sides headed into the break level.
Rowett feeling the pressure
Forest failed to register a shot on target in the game, but they really should have done so with their best chance of the game shortly after the restart.
Cash hounded the Derby defence into a mistake just inside their half and played the ball through to Ben Brereton. The striker used his pace to power forward. The Trent End stood to their feet in unison, as they held their breath.
The 18-year-old should have shot and made himself the hero, but he instead chose to try and square to Cash who had continued his run, but his cut back was weak and allowed Scott Carson to gather, to the groans of the home fans.
He then rose highest to meet a cross, but under pressure he headed over.
With the Rams fifth in the table, without a win in six and only two victories in 2018, their automatic promotion hopes were fading – and they were looking over their shoulder of the chasing play-off pack.
With that in mind, they started to take control as they attempted to find an elusive winner.
Johnson’s powerful free-kick looked destined for the back of the net with 15 minutes left to play, but it was superbly blocked by the Reds wall.
Derby huffed and puffed, camping Forest in their own box. There were a few scrambles, but nothing every truly troubled the hosts’ back five.
With 81 minutes gone, the Rams were reduced to 10 men as Tom Huddlestone was given a second yellow for chopping down Tomlin after the on-loan Cardiff man had taken the ball past the midfielder.
It set up an interesting final few minutes, but the home side never looked like pressing home their numerical advantage.
Darikwa powered into the box, but his heavy touch resulted in him lunging into a tackle and giving away a free-kick. Ben Watson almost played in Daryl Murphy, but his through ball was just cut out.
The Rams’ disciplined defence dealt with everything thrown at them, and in the end both sides had to settle for a point.
At the end of the game, Rowett came onto the pitch to remonstrate with the referee about the sending off, before he, Watson and Tomlin had a little shoving match with the Rams gaffer clearly annoyed and displaying the signs of a man under pressure.
The managers’ thoughts:
“Forest have got nothing to lose in some ways, but they look to me very happy with a point,” said former Burton Albion and Birmingham manager Rowett.
“The fact is, Scott Carson had nothing to do all afternoon. We just couldn’t take our opportunities.
“I’m really pleased with the effort, just disappointed with the result.
“It’s another game where we’ve been the better team but we just can’t turn that draw in to a win.
“But the reality is, I’m not sure we could have done an awful lot more.”
Forest manager Karanka added: “We managed the game in the right way. Six weeks ago we weren’t a team. Now we feel a team. Now at least, once again, we are a team on the pitch.”
Forest: Pantlimon, Darikwa, Figueiredo, Fox, Osborn, Watson (c), Colback, Cash, Tomlin, Lolley (Dowell 77′), Brereton (Murphy 85′)
Unused subs: Kapino, Mancienne, Bridcutt, Vellios, Worrall
Bookings: Colback 33′, Watson 75′, Figueiredo 79′, Darikwa 90′
Derby: Carson, Wisdom, Keogh (c), Davies, Forsyth, Huddlestone, Anya (Palmer 66′), Johnson, Weimann, Lawrence (Hanson 84′), Nugent (Jerome 66′)
Unused subs: Roos, Pearce, Thomas, Bogle
Bookings: Lawrence 28′, Huddlestone 78′, 81′
Sent off: Huddlestone 81′
Referee: Jeremy Simpson
Attendance: 29,106 (1,995 away)