After wins against Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers, a third game in a week for Nottingham Forest saw them rescue a dramatic late equaliser against Stoke City. George Edwards reports from The City Ground
Ryan Yates’s 92nd-minute equaliser secured Nottingham Forest a point at home to Stoke City, after a moment of madness from Brice Samba, in a game with little quality on show.
Yates was dropped to the substitutes bench, making way for Philip Zinckernagel, in the only change from the statement victory away at Ewood Park, three days earlier. Michael O’Neill also made one change from his last XI, replacing Tyrese Campbell with Josh Maja, the former Sunderland striker linked with Forest in the summer transfer window.
As rain began to sprinkle down on the banks of the Trent, the visitors started fast and within two minutes had hit the crossbar. Ben Wilmot’s outside of the foot shot seemed to be heading wide, but the ball curled in and struck the upright. A couple of minutes later, Lewis Baker delivered a freekick from the left-wing that was headed over by an unmarked Nick Powell standing on the penalty spot.
A third game in seven days seemed to be taking its toll on the Forest men, displaying a tired performance with a lack of team pressing and quick football. Djed Spence was the first player in red to have sight on goal, as he cut in from the right and sent a left-footed shot into the safe arms of England under-21 keeper Josef Bursik, after 24 minutes.
With a limited short-passing options, Samba elected to boot the ball up towards Brennan Johnson on 35 minutes. The Welshman left Harwood-Bellis for dead but was not able to get a tame shot over the advancing Bursik.
Referee Leigh Doughty decided to take centre-stage in the first half, with many questionable decisions that disrupted the flow of the game in a 45 minutes with little quality from either team.
Seven minutes into the second half, Baker evaded the challenge of Jack Colback, leading James Garner to take emergency action, hacking him down 22 yards from goal. Baker then hit the far post from the resulting free-kick, with the rebound coming quickly at Joe Allen who could only head the ball over into the Bridgford Stand.
Just three minutes after this scare, substitute Sam Surridge — appearing against the team he left less than two weeks ago — played an excellent curling pass for Max Lowe, advancing down the left wing. Lowe played a quick ball across the Stoke back line which Brennan Johnson was able to get on the end of and side foot under Bursik to give Forest the lead.
First blood Nottingham Forest in a game which looked like one goal might win it.
Or maybe not. After 68 minutes, Samba was called into action to push a long-range effort from Jaden Philogene-Bidace behind for a corner. Powell flicked Baker’s corner on at the near post and Maja, lurking at the back post, was there to tap home from a yard out.
With momentum on their side, referee Doughty also seemed to be with the Potters as he frustrated the City Ground crowd with yet more bizarre decisions against the Reds. Twelve minutes were remaining when Johnson cut inside from the right and saw a left-footed effort from the edge of the box tipped over the crossbar by Bursik.
On 84 minutes Samba again had to be alert and divert a fierce shot from Philogene-Bidace — a real threat all afternoon — wide of the target.
Stupidity then followed from Samba, as the goalkeeper elbowed Phil Jagielka after claiming a corner and was shown the red card. With Steve Cooper using his last two substitutes three minutes earlier, captain Joe Worrall stepped forward to take the gloves from his teammate. However, he couldn’t stop a tremendous Baker penalty from giving Stoke the lead, with the midfielder sending the stand-in goalie the wrong way.
Two minutes of play left. A man and a goalkeeper down. Thousands leaving to miss the traffic. Doom seemed destined to be the feeling at full time.
Not for this Forest team. Two minutes into seven minutes of injury time, Garner won and took a free-kick, 21 yards out. His effort clipped the crossbar, but Scott McKenna rose high to head the ball back into the danger area. Out of nowhere, substitute Yates rose like a salmon to head Forest back level from a couple of yards out.
The points were deservedly shared at The City Ground in a game that lacked drama and excitement until the dying moments — seemingly becoming the case for Forest over the past few months.
Cooper said: “It was a bit of a tired game, particularly in the first half. There were a lot of turnovers and it looked like a third game of the week. We had good moments in the first half, we got the breakthrough, but to concede from a set-piece is always disappointing.
“Brice has made a huge error, but we’ve managed to scramble something by having the right mentality and showing bravery. I’m never going to say a point is a good one at home, but I think today we have to accept it.
“We were trying to win the game, sometimes you do that at the risk of getting beat, but if we want to achieve we need to have that mentality.”