TERRAS STORM PETRIFIED FOREST
THE smiles said it all. Martyn Harrison sprinted from the directors box to greet Weymouth’s FA Cup heroes.
As the beaming chairman embraced manager Garry Hill on the City Ground pitch, more than 1,800 proud Terras fans celebrated a stunning draw.
All those years of heartache and despair suddenly seemed a long, long time ago.
In the home city of Robin Hood, the plucky non-leaguers robbed Nottingham Forest of an easy passage into round two.
The result was probably Weymouth’s best ever and the draw, secured by a Andy Harris bullet header, could even have been a win.
Strange as it may seem, the visitors were the stronger side as the tie progressed and some second-half fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night left their illustrious opponents looking like the no-hopers.
Had Kirk Jackson not pulled a second half header just wide, Hill’s merry men would have secured a famous giant-killing.
But with a money-spinning replay at the Wessex Stadium next week, Gary Megson’s Forest won’t be relishing their trip to the seaside.
And on this sort of form, you wouldn’t bet against Weymouth taking the scalp of the Coca Cola League One fallen giants.
With the Dorset side playing three leagues below the former double European Cup winners, Forest were expected to cruise to victory.
It appeared that way when Scotland international Gary Holt headed them into a half-time lead.
But the super Terras were not just content to enjoy the occasion and after the interval they produced the game of their lives.
Central defenders Matt Bound and Roy O’Brien were immense and midfield pair Harris and Shaun Wilkinson worked tirelessly.
Up front Kirk Jackson and Chukki Eribenne, who started after Wayne Purser suffered an eye injury, gave everything for the cause.
And keeper Jason Matthews was also a hero after a couple of crucial stops including a superb save to deny Nicky Southall seconds after Andy Harris’ equaliser.
It was all too much for some veteran Weymouth fans who have endured so many lows in recent years.
“Fifty years I’ve waited for this… Unbelievable,” said one elderly Terras supporter watching teary-eyed as his heroes celebrated after the final whistle.
FA Cup specialist Hill can now add Forest to the list of league clubs embarrassed by his teams and his tactics worked a treat.
After a slow start, the Conference South side eventually found their feet and despite being a goal down at the break were more than a match for Forest.
But it was the stirring second-half fight back which secured the replay and left disillusioned home fans calling for manager Megson’s head.
With the huge travelling army of Terras fans in carnival mood, skipper Bound set the tone with a couple of nerve-calming towering headers early on.
Shaun Wilkinson’s stretching shot went well over before the midfielder tangled with Forest dangerman David Johnson leaving the striker needing a head cut patching up.
Lee Elam looked the visitors best hope and it took a couple of last-ditch tackles from huge defender Wes Morgan to deny the talented winger.
But, as expected, it was Megson’s men who fashioned the better of the openings.
Jack Lester capitalised on Bound’s slip to release Holt who blazed his effort into the massed ranks of Terras fans.
Seconds later keeper Jason Matthews smothered well at his near post to deny Lester who twisted and turned in the visitors area.
With Bound and O’Brien superb, Hill’s full-timers seemed to be weathering the storm.
Weymouth enjoyed occasional forays forward and from Wilkinson’s deep free-kick, Bound’s header forced home keeper Rune Pedersen into action.
With the Terras holding firm, Forest were starting to become frustrated, especially when Southall wildly sliced wide.
But the hosts broke the deadlock when Holt got above marker Steve Tully to head home Southall’s pin-point right wing cross.
One goal down at the break, Weymouth fired themselves up and came out all guns blazing.
The visitors took the game to the nervy hosts and immediately had a shaky Forest rearguard under pressure. Jackson, Harris and Elam combined well down the left to find Wilkinson whose 30-yard drive flashed wide.
Some nice Elam trickery down the left won a corner in front of the massed ranks of Terras supporters, from which under-pressure Pedersen punched Wilkinson’s delivery behind.
The resulting right-wing flag kick was another peach by Wilkinson and there was Harris at the far post to power his header into the roof of the net to spark wild scenes.
The City Ground hardly had time to draw breath before Forest nearly regained the lead.
Southall got on the end of Johnson’s teasing cross to powerfully head goalwards but somehow Matthews brilliantly dived low to his left to claw away the effort.
The former Exeter City man was again the hero on 66 minutes when he got down well to block at the feet of Johnson.
Matthews’ saves seemed to raise the confidence of the visitors who, for the rest of the contest, showed more ambition.
They could and probably should have gone ahead when Wilkinson found Jackson at the far post with another superb cross.
But the former Yeovil striker, who gave as good as he got against good friend and Forest skipper Ian Breckin, agonisingly planted his downward header wide of Pedersen’s goal.
With Hill and coach Kevin Hales bellowing instructions from the technical area, Weymouth by now fancied a huge upset. Forest certainly didn’t do themselves any favours as loose passes from John Thompson and Eugen Bopp nearly left the visitors in.
Jackson fired a tough high ball wide before Elam burst his way into the Forest area but skewed into the side-netting.
The hosts were rattled and introduced another defender, Danny Cullip, for winger Southall to cope with the Terras pressure.
Elam tried a spectacular 30 yard drive which went close before Megson’s outfit began pumping long balls to try and find a late winner.
But with bodies packed in the Weymouth area, Bound and co held firm under severe pressure.
The closest Forest came was when Lester swivelled but failed to get a good contact on an 87th minute shot.
With away fans frantically calling for a final whistle, Weymouth used lightning wingers Elam and Clark to relive the pressure.
A long, long two minutes of added time passed before referee Colin Webster blew his whistle to cue wild celebrations in the Bridgford Stand.
Even the Forest fans sportingly applauded the Terras heroes off the pitch on what will go down as a great day in Weymouth’s history.