Sometimes there are games in the Championship that you just need to get through unscathed. Games where nothing significant happens — nothing memorable, nothing good or bad — and you head home with a valuable point.
This was very much one of those games. Another point towards achieving a play-off position. Another game to keep a little distance from the chasing pack.
Nottingham Forest (fifth) currently sit six points ahead of Swansea City (seventh), who play Leeds United (first) tomorrow. The South Wales side head to the City Ground on Wednesday, the same night Brentford (third) play Preston North End (eighth) and the night after Cardiff City (sixth) play Derby County (tenth).
Another three points should see Forest finish the season in the top six, their best season for a decade. And Lewis Grabban’s penalty today — perhaps the only thing of significance — sees him become the first Forest player to score 20 goals since David Johnson and Marlon Harewood in 2002/03.
Carl Jenkinson returned the team, back for the first time since February, and Michael Dawson, back for the first time since January, lined up alongside Joe Worrall. Tendayi Darikwa made the squad for first time this season after recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament.
Matty Cash and Joe Lolley were both out, hopefully precautionary more than anything else.
The game flashed into life early as a quick break from Forest in the fourth minute saw da Costa released by Watson and subsequently bundled over by Ben Pearson in the box. Lewis Grabban stepped up to place the ball low in the bottom corner of the net, and celebrate his 20th goal of the season.
However, it was a short-lived lead as a through ball after 14 minutes allowed Brad Potts to play a simple cross and Jayden Stockley slotted home from close range. Much too easy for the home side.
The game remained evenly matched throughout the first-half, the Reds knocking the ball around looking to break and using da Costa’s pace and nimble feet. Preston were pressing high and looking to get down the wings — Stockley’s height occasionally causing problems for Worrall and Dawson.
Forest again, as in the Derby game and the first 30 minutes of the Fulham game, seemed comfortable on the ball and in possession, looking to switch play when there were no options to hit on the break quickly. Alas, there were few opportunities in either half.
Ben Watson and Samba Sow continued to impress in midfield but there was little creativity to really make any headway.
Not long into the second-half Watson cleared off the line from a header but it was scrappy otherwise. Grabban chased lost causes, Preston shot high and wide from distance. Nothing significant.
The route one approach from Preston after 64 minutes saw a Stockley header drop to Potts in the box, but Jenkinson made the block that was goal-bound. And the three corners that followed came to nothing.
Sammy Ameobi flashed a shot wide on 68 minutes, the first chance of the half. And when Tiago Silva came on for Sow, Forest began to creep back into it. The best move of the half wasn’t until 75 minutes, which fizzled out into nothing. And another quick break two minutes later again came to nothing.
It was a solid but unexciting game. Jenkinson acquitted himself well, particularly as he’s had little game time after injury. And da Costa continued his impressive form, offering a different attacking option.
Sabri Lamouchi added: “It is important to try to win the game. We showed that we wanted to get the result, unfortunately it wasn’t the case. We suffered with the long balls and corners but Brice was perfect, the back four were perfect, the midfield suffered a lot but they were focused.
“Unfortunately we tried to play like them in the first half, I don’t know why. We need to take more time, be more patient, move the ball and switch when necessary. To try to play like them was a mistake in the first-half but to manage each game is different.”