Nottingham Forest 3, Barnsley 0
The trapdoor to League One is open wide and on the evidence of this performance Barnsley are destined to plunge straight through it.
Remarkably, for a team desperate for a win to boost their Championship survival hopes, the Reds were outfought in the first half by rivals who had neither hope of promotion nor fear of relegation to provide them with any incentive.
There was some improvement after the interval – there had to be! – but, as so often this season it was too little too late. By then the damage had been done.
The fact is performances for most of the campaign have indicated that the current squad lacks not only the experience but also the quality to hold their own in a very competitive Championship.
And the ‘Tinkerman’ approach of head coach Jose Morais hardly helps by ringing the changes week after week. On this crucial occasion there were six! One could argue with some justification that this is no way to develop an understanding and teamwork.
Little wonder that much of the Reds’ play was so disappointingly disjointed, especially in the first half.
One has to feel sorry for the 1,845 die-hard fans who made the trip to the Midlands on a dismal night to give magnificent support throughout – even when they must have known there was no hope of even a point as Forest took a 2-0 half-time lead. They deserved better.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the inclusion of goalkeeper Jack Walton (pictured) who made his first team debut the day after his 20th birthday in place of Adam Davies, who, it has to be admitted, has not been at his best recently.
Both full-backs were also changed. Captain Andy Yiadom, replaced by Dimitri Cavare on the right, was not even in the squad, while Dani Pinillos, who looked uncomfortable all night, was preferred to Zeki Fryers on the left.
Adam Jackson returned after injury, taking over from Matt Mills in the centre of defence; George Moncur came in for Connor Mahoney in midfield and Kieffer Moore was back in favour up front, to the exclusion of Tom Bradshaw.
Walton did not have long to display his potential with a top-class save from Matty Cash with the game only 12 minutes old, going down quickly to his left to deny Forest an early lead.
The Reds had a chance of their own six minutes later when Moncur bustled his way forward from midfield before teeing up Adam Hammill whose trademark curler, as has happened so often this season, cleared the bar.
Moncur was again involved in similar fashion shortly afterwards, opening up the Forest defence and this time finding Oli McBurnie on the left. The latter’s first-time pass gave Brad Potts a shooting opportunity, but his low drive was deflected for a corner.
It was Forest, however, who were showing the greater eagerness and desire and they deservedly took the lead in the 26th minute when Lee Tomlin curled a shot from outside the penalty area into the far top corner of the net, giving Walton no chance.
Tomlin almost made it two just after the half-hour mark with an acrobatic overhead kick after some unsure defending by the Reds, but this time Walton was able to make the save.
The under-pressure Reds threatened on the break when a clever Potts dummy allowed McBurnie time and space to hit the target, but Stefanos Kapino saved low down at full stretch.
At the other end Walton beat away another overhead kick, this time from Adlene Guedioura, but there was no denying the home team a second goal which came nine minutes before half-time when the ever-dangerous Tomlin split the Barnsley defence with a peach of a pass and Ben Brereton ran on to beat the advancing Walton.
After the break the Reds pushed forward with greater urgency. Liam Lindsay headed wide from a Hammill free-kick; Potts brought a superb save from Kapino, substitute Mamadou Thiam failing to turn in the rebound; and the goalkeeper then saved rather more comfortably from a Gardner header after another substitute, the lively Mahoney, had crossed from the left.
Otherwise, however, Forest had little trouble defending their two-goal lead and in the last minute of normal time they added a third goal, Walton doing well to save as Joe Lolley attempted to chip the ball over him. only to see Apostolos Vellios netting from the rebound.
Defeat means that the Reds could be relegated on Saturday if they fail to beat play-off chasing Brentford at Oakwell and Bolton beat Burton away in what could be the defining clash of the campaign as Barnsley’s closest relegation rivals battle it out.
If results go in their favour, the Reds would still need an away win over Derby County, another team in play-off contention, in the final fixture of the campaign, in order to be sure of retaining their Championship status.
After the game Morais insisted that he still believed the Reds can survive. But he didn’t sound convincing.
Nottingham Forest: Kapino; Lichaj, Mancienne, Fox, Fuentes Hernandez (Osborn, 45 mins), Bridcutt, Watson, Guedioura, Cash, Brereton (Vellios, 80 mins), Tomlin (Lolley, 80 mins).
Barnsley: Walton; Cavare, Jackson, Lindsay, Pinillos, Potts, Gardner, Moncur (Mahnoey, 45 mins), Hammill (Thiam, 71 mins), Moore (Bradshaw, 87 mins), McBurnie.
Bookings: Fox, Guedioura (Forest); Jackson (Barnsley).
Referee: Robert Jones.
Attendance: 23.633 (1,845 Reds).