Leeds United: This Forest fire really is out of control - Hay

Nottingham Forest's Chris Cohen is shown the red card by referee Mark Halsey at Elland Road. PIC: PA
Nottingham Forest's Chris Cohen is shown the red card by referee Mark Halsey at Elland Road. PIC: PA
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The line in certain quarters this week was that Mark Halsey, the referee who dismissed Chris Cohen at Elland Road, might cost Nottingham Forest £100m.

Or, to cut through the riddles, deprive the club of an appearance in the Premier League next season.

So much money and so much aspiration – you wonder how Halsey sleeps at night.

Some strange interpretations of Cohen’s foul on George McCartney are in evidence but the worst is not Halsey’s.

Upheld on appeal, as it had to be,

Cohen’s red card was at least grounded in some area of Football Association rules.

Sent off for intent, Halsey apparently said, and the official had the right to take that view.

Only Cohen can say how controlled his tackle was and players are not in the habit of hanging themselves out to dry.

Six days on, the whys and wherefores ought not to matter, but a feeling of antipathy is lingering after the second of two games between the clubs this season.

The common theme is that both have required the subsequent involvement of the FA’s disciplinary department.

Saturday’s fixture started as a pantomime but the ensuing controversy was not a pretence. By the end of the game, it began to smell like genuinely bad blood.

There is a middling chance that this hostility will be renewed in the play-offs, though eight fixtures without a win are as much Forest’s problem as Halsey. On the strength of the animosity shown last weekend, it is not something to wish for. A two-legged tie involving Leeds and Forest has aesthetic appeal, but the rivalry possesses an unhealthy streak. Saturday’s game saw seven yellow cards – the vast number of them justified – and two prolonged scuffles, one unconnected to Cohen’s exit. It would take some effort to ensure that sleeping dogs are left to lie when the play-offs begin a month down the line.

The possibility of another meeting at that critical stage was discussed with Grayson after full-time. Would a semi-final against Forest concern him? “Not at all,” he said. “It’s not me or Billy Davies who’s going to win the game. It’s the players on the pitch who’ll win or lose.”

The lesson of their two fixtures this season is that a semi-final would be wholly unpredictable, at least for as long as 22 players were on the pitch. But what backdrop could there be, other than the dubious relationship between the clubs?

Davies and David Kelly, Forest’s assistant manager, were transparent in accusing Grayson of influencing Halsey’s decision to dismiss Cohen. That is arguably fair comment and, in view of Grayson’s unblemished reputation, you suspect that he was not especially proud or pleased to be seen leaving his technical area to confront the midfielder.

The press corps chuckled at the sight of Glynn Snodin, United’s first-team coach, leading Grayson away from trouble at half-time. For two-and-a-half years, the pair have occupied opposite roles.

From that you can surmise that Grayson’s anger was for Cohen’s benefit, rather than Halsey’s. It was a genuine reaction and he looked as irate post-match as he has after any defeat. In his defence, it could not be claimed that Leeds are in the habit of exploiting match officials. Any suggestion to the contrary need only revisit Kasper Schmeichel’s deliberate attempt to prevent Ched Evans from being shown a red card at Sheffield United last month. This squad is hardly a reincarnation of the alleged gamesmanship associated with United’s most famous era, and it is sad to report that Forest provoked the worst of their character.

Grayson, as is his way, attempted to reconcile his relationship with Kelly, pictured inset, with a handshake at full-time. The gesture was refused. By all accounts, there was little or no interaction between the backroom teams afterwards – no shared drinks and no pleasantries.

For all the history behind tomorrow’s game with Millwall, the same is unlikely to be true in Bermondsey. Mutual loathing exists on the terraces but a strand of respect has grown between the squads. Their meeting in the play-offs in 2009 was as honest a semi-final as the Football League could have asked for.

On Saturday, Davies side-stepped his opportunity to criticise Grayson directly. “It’s not for me to control what takes place on the touchline with other managers going on to the field of play,” he said. True enough. But of the managers present at Elland Road, only one has a track record of combative mischief-making. Both Davies and Forest know that it is not Grayson.

Elland Road.

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