Making history at Elland Road – Steve Cotterill’s most famous night as Forest boss

Steve Cotterill

“It was something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I was so proud. 

“I remember I walked into reception, and walked past the bust of the great Brian Clough, and I touched his head with my hand every day to see if some of the genius would rub off and come my way.”

Steve Cotterill’s achievements as Nottingham Forest manager are probably under-valued.

Against a hugely difficult backdrop, he kept the club in the Championship – and pretty comfortably so.

I found Cotterill an old school manager, but I don’t mean in his methods.

In the way he dealt with the media, it reminded me of what I call ‘the good old days!’

What I mean by that is that he treated me with respect, and understood that I had a job to do – whether that be asking difficult questions, or chasing stories directly with him.

That doesn’t mean it was all sweetness and light – I distinctly remember my mobile phone ringing in the office, and as I answered to Cotterill, getting a blast down the line.

I can’t even remember what it was about, and when I reminded him of it this week, neither could he.

But what I do recall was that after him shouting at me for five minutes, we then spoke on the phone for another hour, as though nothing was wrong.

He’d got whatever it was off his chest, I’d have put my point of view, and then we got on with life.

I can think of many managers up and down the land who’d have got the press officer to ring me to complain about something or other I’d have said.

He is one of those managers I’ve kept in touch with, from time to time, since he left the City Ground.

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Ask any Forest fan of the greatest moment they enjoyed under Cotterill, and there would surely be almost unanimous agreement.

It was a Tuesday evening in March 2012. 

Leeds United 3 Nottingham Forest 7.

“I’ve been told that we’re the only club to ever score seven goals at Elland Road,” beamed Cotterill as I asked him to look back on a magical night.

“I was watching on the telly a few years ago (November 2012) and Watford were 6-1 up there and playing against nine men, and I was desperate that they didn’t get a seventh goal.

“I was so relieved when the full-time whistle went and we’d kept our record.”

It’s fair to say the nature of the result came a bit out of the blue, after the Reds had lost the previous week at Derby by a goal to nil.

“We didn’t deserve to lose at Derby,” said Cotterill. “We had Tuggy (Marcus Tudgay) sent off, and from the free-kick, his man (Jake Buxton) scored.

“I knew there was hurt in the dressing-room after that. It was just a case of channeling that in the right way.”

The game at Elland Road didn’t start in the best way, with Adlene Guedioura conceding a sixth minute penalty.

“When you go to Leeds, you mustn’t give anything away early in the game,” chuckled Cotterill. “But to be fair to ‘Addy’, he certainly made up for it with the equaliser.”

The Algerian international smashed one in from 30 yards, which led to Colin Fray’s brilliant commentary on BBC Radio Nottingham being added to with a John McGovern giggle in the background.

Good old John loved seeing Forest beat Leeds!

“He couldn’t half strike a ball, but I’d be surprised if he ever scored a better goal in his career.

“We came in at half-time leading by two goals to one, and I told the lads ‘if we get the next goal, it’ll finish this game’ – how wrong I was!”

Dexter Blackstock made it 3-1 (one of two goals for him on the night), but that started the most amazing spell of goal scoring as between them Forest and Leeds scored six goals in nine minutes. 

From 1-2, to 3-3, and 3-5 between the 52nd and 60th minutes.

I’ve never seen anything like it. 

“I remember when it went to 4-3, I looked at my watch and said to someone on the bench ‘Oh God, there’s still half an hour to go!’

“But the goal that made it 5-3 was the killer one for them, the one that finished them off.”

As well as Blackstock claiming two, winger Garath McCleary scored four, to add to Guedioura’s stunning opener.

“It was an outstanding match, and the quality of the goals from both sides was extraordinary.”

So how do you go about masterminding and overseeing such an amazing result?

“We had a fair idea of how Leeds would play – with McCormack and Becchio up front.

“They’d have to play 4-4-2, because you would have to play both strikers – you’d never leave one of them out of the side.

“So we played 4-4-1-1 with Radi (Majewski) just behind Dexter. It almost made us 4-3-3, with Andy Reid tucked in a little bit on the left hand side, and I knew that formation would mean we could grab hold of the game.

“But, as always, it’s up to the players to implement what you want.”

Cotterill revealed that there was added incentive – “I wanted to win because of the beating we took earlier in the season.”

The Reds had been humbled 4-0 at The City Ground, on an emotional night in Nottingham.

Leeds legend Gary Speed had passed away only a few days before the game, with the visiting supporters understandably keen to pay their respects.

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“I always remember that night,” said Cotterill. “The Leeds fans were so good in difficult circumstances, and we were always up against it.

“But Elland Road was a great night. I’d brought ‘my’ players into the club by then, if you like.

“We’d had a difficult January transfer window, but had extended the loan spell of Greg Cunningham and brought in Scott Wootton, Danny Higginbotham, George Elokobi and Adlene Guedioura, but had sold Wes Morgan and Patrick Bamford.”

And Cotterill feels Guedioura was his best signing: “They were all good characters, but Adlene was the first one I wanted in the summer. I told the board, he was my top priority to sign.”

As we know, Cotterill never got the chance to sign the Algerian – though he would move permanently to the City Ground in the summer.

Stay tuned to hear Cotterill’s thoughts on the departures of Morgan & Bamford, on his departure from the City Ground, and on winning promotion with Notts County. 

Photo: Dan Westwell

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