In a game that won’t live long in the memory — for both home and away fans — Nottingham Forest failed to score away for only the third time under Steve Cooper, as the Reds gained a point against Preston North End. George Edwards reports from Deepdale
Two changes were made by Cooper following the home draw to Stoke. He was forced into handing Ethan Horvath his second start for Forest in Brice Samba’s absence, while Ryan Yates replaced Philip Zinckernagel. Ryan Lowe also made two changes to his team, with both teams lining up in a 3-4-1-2 formation.
A rampant start followed from Forest, playing in their third kit on a mild Tuesday night in Preston. Just three minutes in, Jack Colback sent a low effort towards goal from the edge of the penalty area, but his shot trickled wide of Daniel Iverson’s goal.
Cooper’s men continued their good start and won a corner a minute later. Scott McKenna rose high to a Brennan Johnson cross but couldn’t keep his header on target. This would prove to be Forest’s best spell in a match where they were frustrated by a stubborn Preston side.
With 10 minutes played, Keinan Davis spun past Sepp van den Berg and advanced into the penalty area on the left wing. The Dutchman then appeared to trip Davis, however referee Geoff Eltringham waved away strong Forest appeals, much to the disgruntlement of Forest players and fans alike.
In a game where Forest seemed to lack movement and creativity, Colback was dispossessed by Ched Evans but he sent his curling shot over Horvath’s crossbar on 14 minutes. Preston pressed the Forest back line very well and crammed the midfield, meaning the Reds were forced to go long on many occasions, with Davis battling in the air, seemingly with little support from his teammates.
On 26 minutes, from a Preston corner, Horvath was quick to dish the ball out to Garner in midfield. He sent Davis running down the left wing and returned the ball to the Manchester United loanee, making a late run into the box, but he was unable to put his first-time effort either side of Iverson.
Forest failed to have a shot from this point onwards in the first half, while Preston continued to dominate and bombarde Horvath, but didn’t force the American into a meaningful save.
Forest continued the second half in the same vein — on the back foot. Ten minutes in, Daniel Johnson played Cameron Archer through into the penalty area but he couldn’t send his effort across Horvath and into the far corner, with the ‘keeper parrying away.
A minute later, Archer was presented with the best chance of the match. He beat the offside trap and was slipped in one-on-one with Horvath by Potts. But the striker, who scored in each of Preston’s last two matches, failed to hit the target from 15 yards.
The Preston pressure seemed constant, with Forest struggling to get out of their own half. Cooper was encouraged to make a change by sections of the away end, situated in the Bill Shankly Kop, but the Welshman — seemingly keen to take a point in the circumstances — only replaced a tired Davis with Sam Surridge.
Preston failed to convert any of the six efforts they had on goal in the second half, often resulting in long shots that sailed wide or shots that were straight at Horvath. Steve Cook headed clear everything that came his way and often tried to drag his teammates upfield in a game where no one really stood out in a yellow shirt. Horvath was solid in the Forest goal. Not the cool and composed Samba that is usually behind the defence, spraying balls all over the park, but Horvath grew in confidence as the game went on and commanded his penalty area from set pieces.
Three minutes of stoppage time were indicated as Forest won a corner, but a late and largely underserved winning goal didn’t follow. No limbs at the end. No fist pumps from the manager. But a solid point in a match where the Forest of old may have caved in to the constant Preston rampage.
Cooper said: “It was a tough night. I thought we started the better. We started on the front foot and got into some really good areas, but that fizzled out a bit and they got a foothold in the game.
“My personal view is that we should have had a penalty, but we don’t tend to get those decisions this season.
“In the second half, we never really got going and they piled on the pressure. Ethan Horvath, who I thought was excellent, made a great save. We could have nicked it at the end when Djed got in down the side, but we turned the ball over too much.
“I’m satisfied with the point looking at the game and how it went. I want to take the positives out of it, we kept the clean sheet, stood strong and defended a lot of corners well. We know we can play better, but it may end up being a good point.”