Match report: Nottingham Forest 1-4 Stoke City

All Nottingham Forest had to do was win. Or draw. Or just maintain their superior goal difference to claim a place in the play-offs. Instead they capitulated 4-1 to Stoke City at the City Ground, and ended the season in tears

If you’ve paid any attention to Nottingham Forest this century, then you know we don’t do things the easy way. Sometimes we don’t even do it the hard way.

Maybe it was inevitable. Points dropped in recent games, late goals conceded, a lack of ability to either chase a game or finish a game off.

Maybe it’s something in our DNA. Capitulation at a time when it matters is something we’re all too familiar with. After Sheffield United, Yeovil Town, Blackpool and Swansea City, we were all dreading the play-offs anyway. But the brittle mentality — despite different owners, different players and a different manager — persists.

Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be this season. We’ve punched above our weight for too long. We have the makings of a good squad but we’re still recovering from the Fawaz Years. You can’t fix Nottingham Forest in a season.

It all started so promisingly. Matty Cash and Joe Lolley were back in the starting line-up, and an early drive by the right-back from 25 yards just went over the bar.

A lot of play in the first 10 minutes was down the right, with Cash proving why he’s practically been in every Championship team of the week this season.

It was a completely different approach to Sunday’s display at Barnsley, with the home side dominating possession and stringing passes together. After 10 minutes, Sammy Ameobi turned and shot from eight yards, Adam Davies parried but Ryan Yates couldn’t hit the rebound. And then six minutes later Ameobi passed to Lewis Grabban, who saw his shot from the penalty spot cleared off the line.

And then, against the run of play, Forest were undone by a Stoke corner — Danny Batth heading in at the back post from a Jordan Thompson cross.

Tiago Silva came on for Samba Sow after 24 minutes, and Forest kept dominating possession, passing the ball around, probing for openings. And the chances kept coming.

Lolley was clean through from an Ameobi pass, but squared the ball to Grabban when he should’ve taken the shot himself. Ameobi hit a shot from 30 yards that was just a few feet wide. A Lolley curler from the edge of the penalty area. Silva and Ameobi both came close before the half-time whistle.

But with Swansea drawing 1-1 against 10-men Reading, and Cardiff two up against Hull City, the feeling was bleak.

Just into the second-half, a strike from Lee Gregory over the bar from distance jangled the nerves. But they carried on. Silva dinked a ball through to Grabban in the area after 54 minutes, he turned and shot but the effort was blocked. And Stoke cleared off the line on the hour mark as a slick move from Forest ended with a Lolley cross to Yates in the box.

The equaliser finally came on 61 minutes as an inswinging corner from Lolley was met by a glancing header from Tobias Figueiredo.

Time to control the game, keep the ball and see out the last half hour? Nope. Forest completely lost their heads, went to sleep in defence and inexplicably capitulated, conceding three more goals from McClean (71 minutes), Gregory (78 minutes) and a Nuno da Costa own goal in added time.

By this point, Swansea had scored a fourth against Reading and we dropped out of the play-off positions on goal difference — for the first time in 2020.

The post-mortem will follow but this disaster will remain raw for a long time. It’s been our best season and best points tally in nearly 10 years, our best away form this century, and Grabban is the first Forest player to score 20 goals in a season for 17 years.

At the moment none of this feels enough. What happens next remains to be seen.