N FOR­EST ........2 C PALACE ........2

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Natham Hemmingham

NOT­TING­HAM FOR­EST man­ager Alex McLeish praised his new side’s char­ac­ter af­ter they came from be­hind twice to earn a thrilling point at home to Crys­tal Palace.

It looked like the former Scot­land, As­ton Villa and Birm­ing­ham boss was go­ing to be­gin his reign at the City Ground with de­feat un­til striker Billy Sharp pounced two min­utes into in­jury time to give his new boss a boost.

And although McLeish met the play­ers only on Fri­day fol­low­ing Sean O’Driscoll’s sack­ing on Box­ing Day, the new man­ager says he has al­ready seen enough to con­vince him For­est have what it takes to main­tain a push for the play offs.

He said:“I saw a lot of fight­ing spirit among the guys and to their credit they went right to the fi­nal whis­tle.

“They could so eas­ily have put their heads down af­ter con­ced­ing an 81st minute goal but they fought right to the death and that is fan­tas­tic. It shows great char­ac­ter.

“There was a lot of qual­ity out there, too. Andy Reid was amaz­ing, what a game he had. He was in­stru­men­tal in the two goals. We were aware of the threat of Zaha and Bo­lasie but I thought we han­dled them very well. It was a really good per­for­mance.”

The de­ci­sion to sack O’Driscoll off the back of a 4-2 home vic­tory over Leeds has been met with some con­tro­versy among For­est sup­port­ers. Yet, McLeish is hop­ing the fans can get be­hind him for the sec­ond half of the sea­son.

“I can un­der­stand how the fans must have felt this week,” ad­mit­ted McLeish.

“But it is not down to me why Sean has lost his job. It’s just the na­ture of the busi­ness that we are in.

“What you are look­ing for from the un­der­stand­ing fans is that they get right be­hind the new man­ager be­cause that will help the team and will cre­ate a good at­mos­phere at the club.”

McLeish’s reign got off to the worst pos­si­ble start when the high-fly­ing Ea­gles went ahead af­ter just nine min­utes. And there were no prizes for guess­ing who, as hot-shot Glen Mur­ray bun­dled home left-back Dean Moxey’s low cross at the far post for his 21st of the sea­son.

How­ever, his half-time teamtalk was made slightly eas­ier thanks to a won­der­ful strike from Andy Reid.

The winger picked up a pass from Chris Co­hen 20 yards from goal and un­leashed an unstoppable left-foot drive into the bot­tom cor­ner with only sec­onds of the first half re­main­ing.

Both sides cre­ated more chances in a thor­oughly en­ter­tain­ing game that looked to be head­ing the way of Palace when Mur­ray popped up again nine min­utes from time to send a loop­ing header over the stranded Lee Camp fol­low­ing great skill from Yan­nick Bo­lasie.

But two min­utes into five added on, Sharp pounced on a Dex­ter Blackstock header to slot home at the sec­ond at­tempt af­ter his first ef­fort came back off the post and fell kindly.

Palace man­ager Ian Hol­loway said: “75 per cent of the time we looked a de­cent side – the other 25 per cent was just be­fore half-time when For­est scored.

“But, typ­i­cal of the way things are go­ing for us at the moment, we got our­selves into a win­ning po­si­tion and let it slip.

“It’s very dis­ap­point­ing, the lads are gut­ted be­cause that is the way it’s been go­ing for us but as their man­ager I am very proud of them.

“Un­for­tu­nately, I should be sat here with three points, but I only have one and I thought our per­for­mance de­served all three.”

PIC­TURES: John Sumpter

FIGHT­ING SPIRIT: Billy Sharp scores late on to earn For­est a point

CLASS ACT: Andy Reid scores for For­est

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