Nottingham Forest travelled to Vicarage Road on Saturday aiming to bounce back from a disappointing defeat against Luton on Tuesday night. The Reds’ good run ending before facing four of the top five.
Chris Hughton made three changes from the side that lost against the Hatters, with Gaëtan Bong, Luke Freeman and Ryan Yates all coming into the side. Glenn Murray and James Garner both started against the side they began the season with on loan.
Watford, in contrast, were aiming for a swift return to the Premier League and knew that just a point would take them above Brentford and into an automatic promotion spot. The Hornets made just one change from their win against Wycombe on Wednesday, with Joao Pedro making his return from suspension.
Forest had already won more away games in 2021 than in the entirety of 2020 and their aim to win their fifth of this calendar year would soon be undone. The home side made the better start to the game and Andre Gray’s early chance set the tone for what was a dominant first-half performance.
Ismaïla Sarr caused havoc down Forest’s left-hand side and it was after some great work by the Senegalese winger that Adam Masina blasted the ball through Brice Samba’s legs and into the back of the net.
Forest failed to respond to that goal and despite getting into some dangerous areas, they lacked cohesion in their attacking play. And it was Watford who looked the more likely to score again in the first-half, with Pedro firing a half-volley just over the crossbar.
Watford dominated possession and Forest failed to trouble Daniel Bachmann in the Watford goal. The Reds had only scored three goals in their previous eight matches and suddenly, they needed to find two in 45 minutes if they were to pick up another away victory.
However, it was the Hornets who continued to look the more like scoring in the second-half, and after Pedro was denied by Samba, Watford should’ve doubled their lead through Gray, who side-footed a cross from Kiko Femenia just wide from very close range.
Hughton needed to change something and he did by bringing on Cafu and Joe Lolley. The double substitution inspired some life into Forest, and they started to put Watford under pressure.
Anthony Knockaert flashed a rasping shot narrowly off target and Bong headed just wide, as Forest searched for an equaliser. Cafu nearly scored with his deflected strike flying a fraction over the bar.
It looked as though Forest had snatched a late draw, when Lyle Taylor put the ball in the back of the net, but Murray was a few yards offside in the build-up and the goal was disallowed.
Hughton concluded: “We are disappointed, we didn’t start the game as well as I would have liked. We were a little bit loose with our passing in the first-half period but it was a game that we grew into. What we would have wanted to have done was grown into a game that was still 0-0 and be really pushing to get a grip on the game and take the lead. We conceded a poor goal which was disappointing and those are the margins in this game.
“It wasn’t a slow start in terms of intensity, we just didn’t keep the ball as well as we should have done, particularly on a surface as good as we will play on all season. I just thought our grip on the game could have been better in the first half, but we were better in the second half with more purpose to our game. We were chasing the game and it is not a position that we wanted to be in.”