THE MONDAY VERDICT: Bolton Wanderers 1 Nottingham Forest 1
THIS was a tale of two sides without the services of a clinical striker, and only one who may be able to do something about it this month.
While Billy Davies bragged after the game that he had issued Forest’s owners with a shortlist of names that he felt could fire his club towards the Premier League, Dougie Freedman reflected on the fact he would be heading to Reading next week with only one fit striker.
Once Jermaine Beckford limped off with a hamstring problem 30 minutes in, leaving David Ngog as Wanderers’ only out-and-out front man, you wondered whether they really had the firepower to win this one outright.
Creating chances has never been the problem for the Whites but taking them is another matter altogether.
And though defender Matt Mills chipped in with a fine header to cancel out Jamie Paterson’s opener just after the break, the lack of cutting edge on display from both sides was clear to see.
Unlike Davies, Freedman does not have a hope of spending big in the current transfer window, on a striker or otherwise.
But the Whites boss is starting to get the best out of what he has got, and there was no complaint on the effort front in this game from anyone who watched it.
With Neil Danns and Mark Davies buzzing round in midfield the tempo was high throughout. Forest, eight unbeaten, were hanging on at the end and had resorted to time-wasting tactics long before Mills levelled things up 15 minutes from the end.
Had Andy Lonergan not been in splendid form, all Wanderers’ good work would have been for nothing.
The Whites keeper pulled off a handful of marvellous saves to cement his popularity on the terraces, now regularly celebrated in song to the tune of everything from KC and the Sunshine Band to Simon and Garfunkel.
Freedman stuck with a two-man attack despite hinting otherwise in the build up to the game and just as it did against Blackpool in the FA Cup, it made for good viewing.
The movement around the strikers was good and while Wanderers were indebted to Lonergan for an early save at Greg Halford’s feet and another outstanding effort to claw Jamaal Lascelles’ header from under his own bar, they made up for it with plenty of chances of their own.
Danns missed a big opportunity after Karl Darlow had parried Mark Davies’s shot, likewise David Ngog who scuffed Chung-Yong Lee’s low cross straight at the Forest keeper.
The Korean winger is having a nightmarish season in front of goal, summed up as he missed another gilt-edged chance teed up by Jermaine Beckford’s back-heel.
That also proved to be the end of the game for Beckford, who hobbled off slowly with a hamstring injury to be replaced by Andre Moritz.
Ngog was unlucky to see a snap shot bounce off defender Jack Hobbs and on to the roof of the net, leaving the game finely poised as the players walked down the tunnel for half time.
Forest threw on another striker in Simon Cox at the interval and within moments he had thread a ball through for Paterson to dink over the onrushing Lonergan to open the scoring.
It was sink or swim time for Wanderers – but the resolve that is starting to become a real hallmark of their play at present quickly got them back into the game.
Forest did everything they could to slow the game down, much to the annoyance of the paying patrons of the Reebok. Had referee Michael Naylor added on every second wasted, we might have missed Match of the Day.
After Jay Spearing had wasted a couple of set pieces, it came as some relief when Moritz picked up the responsibility 15 minutes from time. The Brazilian swung in a superb cross, met perfectly by the head of Mills for his first goal since September 2012.
The Reebok roared the players on to try and score a second. The game became so open it was tough to pick a winner.
At one end Forest fans were appealing for a penalty after Tim Ream got in a tangle with Cox, at the other, Moritz was denied by a last-ditch block after weaving his way in on goal.
Forest then hit the post with five minutes to go as sub Darius Henderson stabbed a shot at goal, and Lonergan made another full-length stop from Reid’s follow up.
Mills then came close to a second, forcing Darlow into a low save with a fiercely struck shot from the edge of the box.
Referee Naylor signalled six minutes of added time and was not being generous in that estimate.
But it was the visitors who came closest to taking all three points as Paterson brought another smart stop out of Lonergan at his near post.
While some of the draws at the Reebok this season have felt like defeats, this was definitely not one of those times.
Billy Davies turns his attention to bolstering his promotion chase with the permanent signing of defender Hobbs and a big money striker.
Unless Freedman plans on robbing a bank, he will have to wheel and deal in the loan market and hope he can find someone to spark this season into life.