As the Championship finally returned, a late Sheffield Wednesday equaliser saw Nottingham Forest leave Hillsborough with a point — and some hope
But while a point away at Hillsborough is clearly more satisfying than the 4-0 drubbing we suffered at the City Ground back in December, there was much to savour in a thoroughly watchable first game since 6 March.
Forest lined up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, although with Ben Watson and Samba Sow absent from the team sheet (ankle and knee respectively) there was a first league start for Brennan Johnson in the number 10 position.
The match started lively, more exciting than the dour Premier League games we’ve seen this week, and continued in that vein throughout. Both sides concentrated on playing down the wings, with more early promise for both down the left. Joe Lolley doubling up occasionally, as Forest sought to overload Wednesday who were leaving space at the back with just three in defence when they pressed up.
Barry Bannan, probing from Wednesday’s midfield, with Kadeem Harris and Jacob Murphy playing wide were the home side’s main threats. At the other end, Lewis Grabban was finding space but punished early on for a nudge here and there, and a couple of offside decisions. Forest were typically best attacking on the break, Sammy Ameobi and Lolley both looking most likely to trouble the Owls.
Tiago Silva was sitting deep and keeping things tidy in the middle, as the Reds grew in confidence as the first-half reached halfway. It remained end-to-end but no shots as yet on target for Forest.
Jordan Rhodes should’ve scored on 27 minutes following a through-ball from Bannon, but Brice Samba was quick to block his effort. And a couple of opportunities around the 30-minute mark saw Lolley, Ameobi and Grabban combine but to no effect.
A Kieran Lee cross on 35 minutes, after a well worked move, saw Wickham head at the far post into Figueiredo’s chest and then hit into the side netting. And a half-volley from Massimo Luongo dipped over the crossbar a minute later as Wednesday continued to threaten.
A corner five minutes before the break, that went all the way back to Samba, resulted in a free-kick just outside the box after a foul on Johnson, but Lolley curled it just over. And Lolley was again involved just a few minutes later as his cross found Grabban unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, but he couldn’t get enough power on the header.
Forest were making more of the game and, as an entertaining half drew to an end, the visitors were making enough chances and finding enough space to give hope. The second-half continued in the same vein, with Wednesday pressing and Forest pushing for the occasional chance; our final ball in the attacking third rarely good enough.
A great move down the right saw Lolley free to cross the ball to Johnson, but Bannan got in before Johnson; Grabban was left waiting in space at the far post. An incredible moment followed on 57 minutes when Connor Wickham hit the post from a cross from the right and then Joe Worrall acrobatically kept the ball out from Lee. A close escape.
Two minutes later Johnson snuck in down the left and whipped the ball across goal but it was just too far in front of Grabban who had arrived at the back post.
Forest were definitely taking more initiative as the half drew on, and they took the lead 10 minutes later. Lolley received a long ball down the right from Matty Cash, held off two defenders and slotted home past Joe Wildsmith. A sublime piece of skill from the man who, along with Ameobi, had provided most of our attacking threat.
As the match drew on Forest kept probing for a second goal, but were keeping things tight. A late penalty shout for Wednesday was waved away but three minutes into injury time, Forest switched off at a corner and Wickham had a free header to equalise.
After so long away, and in strange circumstances to return to, there was enough to give hope here. But, as BBC Radio Nottingham pointed out after the game, we’ve lost 12 points in injury time this season.
Sabri Lamouchi added: “The game is finished when the referee gives the last whistle, so we need to keep focused and if we can put the ball out or in the corner, it is the simple things.
“After three months, we know that we are not ready at all. We need some games and of course, the small details were against us a little bit. To take the three points here would have been the perfect operation.”
There’s eight days now until Huddersfield Town at home, and eight games left in the Championship. Hopefully we can improve from here, because it’s an important game from a standing start.