Nottingham Forest extended their unbeaten run to eight games as they brushed aside Reading with ease, with goals from Keinan Davis, Ryan Yates and Sam Surridge. George Edwards reports from the City Ground
In recent seasons, Nottingham Forest never seemed to be able to win games against teams at the bottom of the division. They always appeared to get up for the big games but it was these sort of fixtures, with Reading sitting in 21st, that Forest would stub their toes on. However, Steve Cooper has changed everything at the club, including this annoying habit.
The Welshman made two changes from his side’s FA Cup victory on Monday night, as Keinan Davis and Jack Colback returned to the side in place of Philip Zinckernagel and Sam Surridge. Paul Ince decided to make three changes from his side’s loss at home to Millwall last weekend, as he looked for his first Championship away win as a manager since 2013, a 1-0 win with Blackpool at the City Ground.
Barely seconds after belting out Mull of Kintyre, Forest fans were up on their feet to celebrate their side taking the lead just 18 seconds into the game. Joe Worrall found space down the right-hand side for Djed Spence, who glided down the right wing and took the ball in his stride. After one touch, he flashed a low ball into the penalty area where Davis was waiting. The Aston Villa loanee touched and swivelled onto his left foot and sent a powerful shot past goalkeeper Southwood to give Forest the upper hand.
Forest continued to dominate in the opening exchanges as Reading couldn’t string three passes together. This fast start didn’t continue though as the Reds struggled to trouble Southwood again in the first half.
On 25 minutes, a Reading corner ricocheted to captain Michael Morrison three yards out and to the left of goal. Ethan Horvath, who continues to be trusted by Cooper even though Brice Samba is available again, was quick to get across and stop the centre-back scoring with the visitors’ second shot of the game.
Reading had one more sniff of goal in the first half, three minutes before the interval. Tom Ince left substitute Cafu embarrassed on the left wing — turning him inside out — but Josh Laurent couldn’t convert Ince’s cross into a goal, heading wide from 12 yards out. Half-time came around with Forest ahead, but they didn’t look convincing, with quite a few errors on the ball due to a seeming lack of concentration.
The second half was different. Forest stepped it up just a gear, but it was too much for the visitors. After defensive duo Worrall and Cook both saw long-range efforts sail over the bar, Davis grabbed his first career brace on 62 minutes. He received the ball surrounded by yellow shirts 30 yards out. The Englishman jived away from two Reading defenders and brushed off a third as he advanced towards the penalty area. As he entered the area, he sent a left-footed shot towards goal which cannoned off the post and into to the bottom-left corner.
It was a goal right from the top draw, matched with his cool shirtless celebration, as Forest began to pull away from the Royals and up the table once more.
Horvath nearly gave Reading a route back into the game three minutes later, as pressure from Yakou Meïté forced him to clear straight to Danny Drinkwater, but his first time shot from 35 yards couldn’t find the back of the net.
A classic number nine‘s performance was appreciated by the home crowd, as Davis was substituted with 20 minutes and left to a standing ovation with a chant of ‘sign him up’.
Eight minutes later, midfielder turned prolific goalscorer Ryan Yates secured the victory. He picked his head up 25 yards out and drilled a low shot into the bottom-right corner, catching out Southwood at his near post and grabbing his third goal in three consecutive games.
Forest’s first win over Reading in eight games was wrapped up with 10 minutes to play, courtesy of a wonderfully worked team goal. Worrall played it forward to substitute Cafu, who flicked the ball square to fellow sub Xande Silva. He played a quick ball across the penalty area which found Davis’s replacement Surridge, who swept home first time into the bottom corner at the back post. Forest four, Reading nil.
Injuries to Steve Cook and Max Lowe were the only real downsides for Steve Cooper, with the former putting in a man of the match performance in my books.
For the second home league game in a row, Forest won at home yet didn’t really have to go into top gear. The old Forest had to be at their best to win a match, but this new-look Forest oozes quality, saving their best for when it matters most — shown by the amazing cup run and countless late goals.
The Reds moved to within two points of the play-off places, as Reading’s winless streak at the City Ground continues into its ninth year. Forest will look ahead to a tough tie in midweek against Mark Warburton’s QPR, before the small matter of Liverpool on Sunday.
Cooper said: “It was a great win and we scored four brilliant goals. We obviously got off to the perfect start. Not just when we scored, but how we scored was really, really positive.
“We didn’t really build on it and half-time was quite important, the lads knew that. In the second half, we played the play we want to play and scored three more goals, it could have been one or two more and we saw it out pretty comfortably.
“We played with real intent, the game was played in their half. Our back three were in their half and that’s what we always aim for. The way I ask our team to play is a difficult way of playing, but when we do it right, we do some good things. All we can do is look after ourselves and we have done today. More of that and let’s see what happens.”