After Boxing Day’s miserable performance at the Riverside Stadium, this was the complete opposite in everything but result. With 23 shots on goal — 6 on target — Steve Cooper’s side managed to dominate against the visitors and yet still lost a second consecutive game.
Teetering on the edge of the play-offs, even just believing the top six is within our grasp, shows just how far the Reds have come in 14 weeks. Back at the end of September it seemed relegation was a real threat, and now the woodwork is practically all that’s holding us back.
The long-forgotten Xande Silva gained a spot on the left after impressing in his 30 minutes against Boro — his first start in a red shirt — while Braian Ojeda started in place of Ryan Yates. Djed Spence returned, the wing-back much missed against his home club on Sunday.
Sorba Thomas hit the bar from 25 yards after just 17 seconds, and everything almost went wrong very early on. But thankfully Forest looked much more lively than they did against Middlesbrough, while play-off hopefuls Huddersfield looked capable of playing some tidy football.
In what became something of a pattern in the game, Spence soon released Brennan Johnson on the right after a driving run, and the Welshman found Lewis Grabban in the area but the number 7 couldn’t turn.
And after 15 minutes Philip Zinckernagel ghosted down the left and the resulting cross saw two shots for Silva in the box, but he couldn’t get through the mass of defenders.
Zinckernagel was heavily involved in the first half, looking to make up for his disappointing game against Boro — the Danish man was linking particularly well with Jack Colback and Silva on the left. The latter’s cross, after a direct run, met Johnson’s head but went wide after 21 minutes.
Forest began to assert themselves in the game towards the half-hour mark, with more possession and more attacking instinct — but the problem that would later dog them was quite apparent already: a lack of understanding and passes going astray in the final third.
And as this became evident, Huddersfield took the lead. Holmes drove forwards, skipped past Ojeda, played the ball wide to Harry Toffolo and the quick return pass into the area saw Holmes score at the near post.
Straight after kick-off James Garner nearly equalised from outside the box after Johnson’s cross was cleared. And then Joe Worrall shot wide from a well-worked corner — the ball falling to his left foot on the penalty spot.
Forest were still probing before half-time — teed up by Ojeda, Zinckernagel hit the crossbar from inside the area after 39 minutes. Hugely unlucky. And a good spell of pressure continued as Lee Nicholls pulled off a great save from Silva’s point-blank shot
More chances came in the second half. But a Worrall mistake early on nearly gifted the Terriers a second goal. Jordan Rhodes nicked ball and squared it to Danel Sinani in the box, but fortunately he managed to sky it over Brice Samba’s bar.
And the chances for Forest kept on coming. Spence put the ball through to Johnson in the box after 55 minutes but he floated the ball high and wide. Johnson hit a volley from Colback’s cross after a patient wait for an opening, but the shot hit a defender for a corner. As Nicholls saved from Silva’s shot, Johnson’s follow-up went wide.
Silva, Zinckernagel, Garner, Grabban, Spence… the shots, on or off target, kept coming. But as the game reached the final 10 minutes it was increasingly obvious it was going to be one of those days.
While it was incredible we didn’t score, there were no real clear-cut chances or killer passes; no blatant misses. Cooper will, as always, focus on the performance as much as the result. And, no doubt, reflect on a promising game from Silva as well as the players missing through illness, injury or Covid.
The progress made since late September has been phenomenal, but losses were always likely to come sooner or later. And it’s how Cooper and Forest respond now that will determine the rest of the season.
Quite what this transfer window will bring remains to be seen. Keeping hold of important players — namely Spence, Johnson and Worrall — is key. But, as ever, a striker, a left-back, a central defender and midfielder are likely to be on the shopping list.
For all the work Cooper has done, there is still much to do. And a quick fix in January is unlikely to make or break the season. As the New Year dawns, we can be thankful we are in the position we are — and still hope.
Cooper said: “It’s obviously a disappointing result. But I don’t think it’s a disappointing performance. I think we played well tonight.
“We’re disappointed with a goal that we’ve conceded because a feature of Huddersfield’s play is to score from crosses from the left hand side. But I also saw a lot of good things today and a lot of things I really liked, so we won’t lose sight of that.
“We’ve played well and that’s good because that’s how we want to play, but you want to play that way to win games and that’s what we need to continue to look to do. With the chances we had we should’ve scored, there’s no doubt about that. We could talk all day about about the missed chances and the goal we conceded but it’s happened.”