FOREST 4 - 3 BREWERSA seven goal thriller proved to be Albion's welcome to the second tier of English football with Albion considering themselves unfortunate to be on the wrong end of a 4-3 scoreline that produced a roller coaster of emotions for Brewers fans in the August sunshine at the City Ground.
Britt Assombalonga marked his return to the Nottingham Forest side with a brace, both goals coming from a combined distance of approximately one yard and it was the popular striker who broke the deadlock half way through the first half poking home at the far post after Jon McLaughlin had made an excellent save to deny Jorge Grant. Albion then had the temerity to hit back and take the lead by the time the game was half an hour old with Lucas Akins netting on the opening day for the third season running, also from no more than a yard out and debutant Lloyd Dyer calmy slotting home via the inside of the post.
Perhaps it might have been different had Albion held on to their lead going into half time but a well hit effort from Thomas Lam restored parity in first half stoppage time. Forest were back in front within five minutes of the second half as Albion left Oliver Burke unmarked at a free kick and when Assombalonga headed in on the line after Hamza Choudhury had deflected a cross towards goal it looked like game over but substitute Tom Naylor set up a tense finish with a fine headed finish.
For Albion's historic first game in the Sky Bet Championship manager Nigel Clough handed out five debuts in the starting line up. The pre-season experiment of playing three centre halves continued into the opening game as skipper John Mousinho found himself lining up alongside new signings Kyle McFadzean and Ben Turner. After an impressive pre-season Tom Flanagan was handed the right wing back role, former Leicester City and Watford winger Dyer getting his first Brewers start on the opposite side. Fresh from completing his return on loan from Premier League champions Leicester City, Choudhury was thrown straight into the midfield three alongside Matty Palmer and another new signing, Lee Williamson, who had recovered from the ankle injury picked up in the friendly against QPR. With Player Of The Year Stuart Beavon nursing a slight groin injury he only made the bench as Lucas Akins partnered former Forest striker Chris O'Grady in attack.
Eight years ago was the last time Clough had led the Brewers into the opening game of a new season. That was at Salisbury City in the Conference. Today was the City Ground, Nottingham to take on the former double European Cup winners. Just how times have changed for the Brewers.
Albion were certainly not overawed in the early stages and within the first five minutes were almost gifted their first Championship goal as Dorus De Vries in the Forest goal caught the ball but in colliding with his own defender spilled the ball into the path of Akins who saw his shot blocked with O'Grady not quite able to pounce on the rebound.
Forest were swift to counter and when Assombalonga held off his man to allow the ball to make its way to Burke at the back post the hosts had their first opportunity only for the young winger to lash his effort wildly across the face of goal.
Matt Mills picked up the first yellow card of the game for a cynical kick out at Akins after the Albion man had shown some neat skill to turn and burst away from him inside the Burton half. Referee Andy Woolmer took his time to lecture the big defender before brandishing the card.
Forest continued to probe with Burke prominent down their right hand side but Albion were restricting them to efforts from range, summed up when Assombalonga turned on the edge of the box on the quarter of an hour mark but wastefully skied his effort.
There were concerns for the home fans and players when De Vries landed awkwardly after clearing under pressure from Akins. The big Dutch keeper immediately signalled that he was in trouble and under those circumstances it was no surprise that he left the pitch on a stretcher to be replaced by summer signing from Charlton Athletic, Stephen Henderson.
After twenty minutes of precious few chances it was the hosts that broke the deadlock with a scrappy finish. A corner was only half cleared out to Henri Lansbury. The skipper crashed in a long range effort that rebounded out to Grant. Sizing up a shot he aimed for the far corner where ASSOMBALONGA was able to tap home from virtually on the line. It was perhaps harsh on the Brewers after ano encouraging start.
Albion were not behind for long thanks to AKINS swiftly replying for the Brewers in the 27th minute. A corner from Matty Palmer was met by McFadzean who helped it on to the back post where Mousinho was able to cross into the six yard box for Albion's leading scorer of the last two years to score from a similar range to Assombalonga.
Three minutes later and Albion were in dream land. Williamson showed great tenacity to force the ball into the path of O'Grady off a Forest defender. Showing all his experience and hold up play the striker waited for the right moment to lay the ball into the path of DYER whose left foot effort unerringly found the inside of the post before nestling into the net. 2-1 up and Burton fans pinching themselves in disbelief.
Ben Turner became the first Burton player to see yellow on 33 minutes. The former Cardiff man conceded a free kick in a dangerous area to the right hand side of the Burton box following a clumsy challenge on the lively Hildeberto Pereira.
The Brewers almost had a third a minute later as they broke from the free kick allowing Williamson to release O'Grady. Although unable to burst away from the last defender he checked back and let fly with a right foot shot that Henderson was relieved to see whizz just past the upright.
Lansbury also saw Mr Woolmer's yellow card at close quarters after what looked to be a nasty challenge on Matty Palmer and the Forest skipper was left hobbling after a challenge from Lee Williamson that was not further punished by the referee.
As the game became a little feisty and fractious the yellow card was out again, this time for Choudhury who turned into trouble and was forced to foul Matty Cash as a result.
Albion were living on their nerves at the end of the first half and were made to pay when Thomas LAM lashed in a shot from range in stoppage time to level things up. Pereira continued to look lively down the Forest left and got into the penalty area all too easily with his cross awkwardly scrambled behind for a corner. A quickly taken corner, short to Lam caught Albion napping and his speculative effort crept in at McLaughlin's near post.
A whirlwind first 45 minutes in the Championship for the Brewers with the promise of plenty more to come.
Half time: Nottingham Forest 2-2 Burton Albion
The Forest side that came out for the second half showed a change with Grant replaced by recent signing Pajtim Kasami. However it was Burke who picked up where he left off in the first half with a pacy run into the box before running out of pitch. The winger had reason to celebrate on 49 minutes as he put the hosts back in front. A bursting run from Lansbury was brought to a halt on the edge of the box by McFadzean. Althouhg it looked as though Kasami was set to score with his first touch his free kick was blocked before he saw another effort deflect out to BURKE to his right, the youngster finishing with aplomb. Not the start to the second half that the Brewers had been hoping for.
Turner came to Albion's rescue on 55 minutes when it looked as if Forest might stretch their advantage. A raking ball from the half way line picked out the run of Burke on the right and he looked to have outpaced the Albion centre back as they ran into the penalty area. Burke looked to have got goal side of his man but a superbly timed challenge ensured that the danger was averted.
Burton had two excellent chances to equalise just after the hour mark. A delightful pass from Palmer played Akins in behind the left back. With ther angle tightening he went for goal and forced a fumbling save from Henderson, the ball falling into the path of O'Grady who was denied by a sprawling block from Mills.
O'Grady was denied again after excellent work from Akins and Palmer with Pereira this time the man to get in the way and deny him a goal on his return to the City Ground.
Albion's first substitution came on 66 minutes with Williamson, still feeling the ankle knock from pre-season taken out of the action for the fresh legs of Tom Naylor.
Naylor was inches away from an equaliser on 71 minutes making a late run into the box. Flanagan worked the ball into Palmer and his cross was just too high for the substitute on the six yard line.
O'Grady, who had been unlucky not to mark his debut with a goal was substituted on 72 minutes and given a decent round of applause from the Forest fans as he made his way to the bench. Stuart Beavon was the man sent on and he was enthusiastically greeted by the Burton fans amassed in the West Bridgford Stand.
Forest eventually made it four on 77 minutes with a swift counter down the right. Burke and Pereira led the charge and when the latter looped in a cross, it deflected up off Choudhury tracking back and left ASSOMBALONGA with another goal from almost on the goalline, the returning striker nodding the ball in when it was impossible to miss.
The final change for Albion came on 82 minutes with Tom Flanagam making way for Damien McCrory. Lloyd Dyer switched to the right to allow McCrory to slot in on the left hand side.
Forest looked as if they were going to hand a debut to former Everton striker Apostolos Vellios but after picking up a knock on the half way line it was Pereira who made way for Eric Lichaj who belatedly made his entrance into the game for the final five minutes.
Albion threatened late on with a Palmer corner headed wide by Akins amidst plenty of pushing and shoving on Beavon inside the six yard box. It was not to be the final chance as Albion grabbed a third of the afternoon in the final minute of normal time. Choudhury sent in an excellent cross from the right and Henderson was rooted to the spot as NAYLOR rose superbly to guide a header into the corner of the net.
McFadzean picked up a yellow card for wrestling Assombalonga to the ground and with the game deep into stoppage time Albion won a succession of corners which led to severe pressure on the Forest goal. Shouts went up for handball when Choudhury crashed in a shot from the edge of the box and when Palmer was allowed to throw in a last ditch free kick it was agony for Albion as Turner's header at the back post crept through the six yard box and wide of the post. It proved to be the last action of a roller coaster day for the Brewers. They had lost but were able to leave knowing they had run their illustrious opponents very close.