A spectacular 43rd-minute own-goal from Levi Colwill proved to be the difference in a gritty encounter under the Wembley arch.
Forest were at the summit of English football under the legendary Brian Clough. However, the club had been outside of the top-flight since 1999: a sleeping giant. The stakes could not have been higher for the Midlands-based club.
Manager Steve Cooper cruelly lost at this stage last season when he was managing Swansea City. Two consecutive Wembley heartbreaks would have been beyond harsh. Perhaps the footballing gods were feeling kind today. Considering the nature of the winner, one might argue they were being incredibly generous!
Under former boss Chris Hughton, the Reds looked like they might slide into the third tier of English football – losing six of their first seven matches this season and sitting at the bottom of the Championship. It is truly remarkable how Cooper managed to turn around the ship and steer them in completely the opposite direction.
By contrast, Huddersfield enjoyed a two-season spell in the Premier League between 2017 and 2019. Still, expectations were not high under Carlos Corberan; they finished 20th last season. But Corberan – a former understudy to Marcelo Bielsa – took them to an incredible 3rd-placed finish this time around.
To lose in this fashion after coming so close is as devastating as it gets for a football club. But they have done so well to get this far on such a tight budget. They have an identity and that identity nearly took them all the way. So close yet so far.
Story of the match
Understandably, it was a tentative start from both teams but Ryan Yates had two half-chances to break the deadlock: glancing wide from a 12th-minute James Garner free-kick before lashing over from the edge of the box eight minutes later.
Spectators had to wait until the 34th minute before a goalkeeper was worked as Thomas stung the palms of Brice Samba. The mercurial talent left Joe Worrall for dead but his cross-come-shot was easily parried aside.
Three minutes later, Danny Ward had the best opening of the match but his scuffed effort was blocked by Worrall. Credit had to go to Thomas for an ingenious low corner that caught Forest off guard; the unmarked Ward – being Town’s top-scorer – should have done better.
You have to take chances in games of this magnitude and, with no better demonstration of that football cliche: Forest soon took the lead!
Garner’s hopeful punt into the box was met emphatically by Colwill and – unfortunately for the Chelsea loanee – he kneed the ball into the top corner of his own net from little more than eight-yards out. Heartbreak for him and the travelling supporters in blue and white but elation for the red half of Wembley. The stadium was bouncing!
Lee Nicholls, having not been forced into a save, would have been frustrated by the score-line. But Garner kept him on his toes with a dipping 25-yard drive at the start of the second-half.
Nonetheless, there was a rejuvenated energy from Corberan's men after the interval and they started to find their groove again.
Jonathan Hogg ought to have done better with a 55th-minute header as he ghosted in on the end of Thomas' corner to the near-post.
Both teams made changes but the introduction of Jordan Rhodes on 67 minutes was the change that caught the eye the most, and probably one that concerned those in red.
And Forest fans had their hearts in their mouths shortly after his introduction, though it was a as a result of another player in blue and white.
An injured Samba had to make way for Ethan Horvath between the sticks for the Reds but Cooper's men sat deep and maintained their resilience. They hadn't kept a clean sheet in five matches but they weren't intending to make that six!
Lewis O'Brien did go close in added-time but his bending shot was always curling wide of the far post.
And Forest held out. They are £170-million richer and, once again, they are back in the land of the giants!