My favourite game: Wolves cut down Nottingham Forest with red cards flying | Sport

It all began in an air of quiet dignity. Molineux paid its respects to the late Sir Stanley Matthews with a perfectly observed minute’s silence.

Matthews had no link with either of the sides who met on that bright, crisp afternoon but though most present had never seen him play, all were aware he was the epitome of sportsmanship and decency. A throwback to a seemingly more gentle era but still a great competitor. What Matthews would have made of what followed, who knows?

In the early weeks of the millennium I went with friends to see Wolves, chasing promotion to the Premiership, take on Nottingham Forest. Forest had been relegated the year before and were struggling to get wind in their parachute, languishing in lower mid-table. A fan of neither side, it was more of a social event for me but two decades on the match remains a vivid memory.

Five minutes in, Wolves had a free-kick wide on the right. In the penalty area the burly forward Ade Akinbiyi and the Forest defender Tony Vaughan began scuffling. It seemed a minor altercation until Akinbiyi head-butted Vaughan. Players from both sides waded in and the two initial combatants were sent off. Akinbiyi did not go quietly, lashing out and standing his ground before being escorted off by his captain, Keith Curle.

Curle was one of several veterans on the field, among his teammates were former Tottenham stalwarts Steve Sedgley and Andy Sinton, while the daddy of them all, the 40-year-old Dave Beasant, was in the Forest goal.

Beasant could do nothing when the much-delayed free-kick was met with a diving header by the French defender Ludovic Pollet that flew into the roof of the net.

Quickly following Pollet, the Wolves right-back Darren Bazeley curled a precise 20-yard shot over a static Beasant into the top corner. Only twenty minutes had gone, both sides were down to 10 and somehow Wolves had conjured two spectacular goals from journeymen defenders. But this was just the beginning.

Within five minutes, the Wolves full-back Lee Naylor was cut down by a late challenge. The loose ball ran to Beasant who tried to boot it off the pitch so Naylor could be treated. The former Everton striker Michael Branch had other ideas. Intercepting the ball before it reached the touchline, he advanced towards goal unopposed to slot past Beasant, who seemed unsure whether to attempt a save.

Steve Sedgley defends Michael Branch after his controversial goal.

Steve Sedgley defends Michael Branch after his controversial goal. Photograph: Stuart Crump/Action Images

Branch ran away to the home supporters, pursued not by jubilant teammates but an incensed Beasant. Six or seven minutes of pushing, shoving, chasing and finger-pointing ensued. The goal stood.

There was an expectancy in the ground at the restart that Forest would be given the freedom of Molineux to pull a goal back. They were not. As Branch rocked on his haunches getting his breath back while Forest lined up a corner, Beasant ran to the halfway line to berate him again.

With the first half drawing to a close the Forest midfielder David Prutton was shown a second yellow card and sent off.

After almost an hour, the whistle blew on the most bizarrely explosive half of football I had ever witnessed. The home fans, three goals up and facing nine men, scented blood. In the away end there was a curdling sense of anger and injustice.

But then the game was turned on its head by a half-time team talk but this was not the Forest manager David Platt rallying his side to an unlikely comeback. The West Midlands police had visited both dressing rooms to calm down the players, fearful the mood on the pitch may spill over into the stands.

The second half was a tepid, lifeless and goalless affair. It is a cliche to say cliches only become cliches because they are true, but this certainly was a game of two halves.

Branch later apologised via the media. Wolves missed out on the play-offs by a point. I doubt there was much sympathy in Nottingham.

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