Blues chalked up back-to-back victories for the first time this season as a Chris Burke double made it a miserable St. Andrew’s return for Alex McLeish.
It was more than a touch ironic that one of McLeish’s last signings as Blues boss was the one that inflicted the hammer blows. The new Nottingham Forest chief had been keen to recruit his fellow countryman again during the recent transfer window but Blues rebuffed the offers. However, one player that was sold by the club this week and lent back - goalkeeper Jack Butland – did more than most to ensure his team secured the points as he pulled off a string of great saves.
Burke’s strikes came in either half, the first a goal-of-the-season contender, and although Billy Sharp’s late penalty frayed a few home nerves, Blues saw out of the game to build on last weekend’s triumph at Burnley.
New loan signing Wes Thomas was handed an immediate opportunity to shine partnering Marlon King in a dual-pronged attack as Lee Clark reverted to a 4-4-2 formation, with young midfielder Callum Reilly dropping to the bench.
The 26-year-old showed some neat touches early on and did well to pull the ball from the byline to set up a shooting chance for King who was unable to direct his effort on target. At the other end Chris Cohen’s drilled effort was easily collected by Jack Butland while Billy Sharp fired well over for the visitors.
Curtis Davies has been in fine goal-scoring form of late and came close to adding to his tally when he wrestled his way though a forest of bodies to get his head onto Rob Hall’s inswinging free-kick but Karl Darlow was able to parry the ball around the post. An even better opportunity came Blues’ way moments later when King latched onto Chris Burke’s pass inside the area but under pressure from several Forest defenders he miscued his shot well wide.
Sharp was left with his head in his hands after his flicked header from Andy Reid’s cross drifted narrowly wide of the far post as the game picked up pace and chances were manufactured at either end. Thomas almost got a golden chance to mark his debut with a goal but lost track of the ball when well placed inside the box and the new boy’s attempted bicycle kick was also thwarted by Darlow as the Forest keeper raced out to collect King’s floated cross.
Butland showed off the reflexes that persuaded Stoke to splash the cash this week as he brilliantly turned aside Greg Halford’s shot after the defender had stolen in at the far post to connect to Reid’s cleverly-floated free-kick. And that save proved even more pivotal moments later when Blues broke to the other end and gained the lead in the first injury-time.
Burke picked up ball on the right before cutting inside and unleashing a tremendous curling effort that looked to heading over until it dipped at the last moment and crashed off the underside of the bar before bouncing over the line.
Blues began the second-half as they had finished the first and Hall’s inswinging free-kick caused some consternation to the Forest backline and forced Darlow to punch the ball away. At the opposite end Halford should have done better when he rose unmarked to meet Reid’s corner but got his header all wrong as it looped harmlessly up in the air and was easily collected by Butland.
Blues were indebted to Butland’s shot-stopping skills again when the England keeper denied Henderson from close range before fellow loanee Thomas had a chance to put the game to bed. The Bournemouth man took advantage of a slip in the visiting defence to race through on goal but with two Forest defenders breathing down his neck his shot curled just past the upright.
Butland further enhanced his reputation as he produced two terrific saves in a matter of seconds to frustrate Cohen and then Radoslaw Majewski before another Blues breakaway saw sub Nathan Redmond bear down on goal but slice his shot into the Tilton Road fans.
But the second goal did arrive with ten minutes left on the clock and it was Burke again on the mark, but it owed a lot to the hard work and trickery of Redmond. The teenager skipped past two defenders before getting to the byline and putting the ball on a plate for Burke who gleefully side-footed home.
Butland was finally beaten when Forest won an injury-time penalty after Curtis Davies’ trip on Sharp and the visiting striker dusted himself down to convert from 12 yards. But Blues saw out the remainder of the game to seal a confidence-boosting three points and move another place up the npower Championship table to 16th.
Blues: Jack Butland; Paul Caddis, Steven Caldwell, Curtis Davies, Paul Robinson; Chris Burke, Morgaro Gomis (Callum Reilly 63), Wade Elliott, Rob Hall (Nathan Redmond 53); Marlon King, Wes Thomas (Nikola Zigic 71).
Subs (not used): Colin Doyle, Hayden Mullins, Peter Lovenkrands, Mitch Hancox.
Goals: Burke (45, 80)
Forest: Karl Darlow; Gonzalo Jara Reyes, Danny Collins, Dan Harding, Greg Halford; Henri Lansbury, Guy Moussi (Radoslaw Majewski 55), Andy Reid, Chris Cohen (Dexter Blackstock 83); Darius Henderson, Billy Sharp.
Subs (not used): Khalid Al-Rashidi, Simon Gillett, Lewis McGugan, Simon Cox, Elliott Ward.
Goal: Sharp pen (90)
Attendance: 17,738 (1,963 away fans)