The Steve Cooper Express just keeps on running. Ten games to go, on the edge of the play-offs, an away game at Blackpool — a side also chasing the top six, who had only conceded nine goals in 2022 — and games in hand… what to expect?
Well, we all know now what we can expect from Nottingham Forest. A dedicated, determined performance with every single player giving everything, and an almost-impossible-to-deal-with attack. If 3-0 wasn’t dominant enough by half-time, then adding a fourth was only marred by Blackpool’s late consolation.
After Ethan Horvath’s international appearances for the USA, Brice Samba returned to the starting XI while Scott McKenna was also remarkably back after missing only the Liverpool match. Lewis Grabban returned to the bench, and Jack Colback continued at left-back; Jonathan Panzo played in the U23s 1-0 win over Wolves last night at Meadow Lane.
The game was end-to-end early on — and continued in an entertaining fashion for most of the 90 minutes — the home side pressing high, allowing the Reds space to counter at will.
A possible penalty for Philip Zinckernagel in opening minutes, as Marvin Ekpiteta brought him down in the area, came to nothing. And while there were few appeals, TV replays showed it was a lucky escape for the Seasiders.
Blackpool were making it difficult for Forest to play out from the back, but it was from one of those moments that the opener came after just 11 minutes. As the back three played it back and forth between them and Samba, it was a long ball down the right that Brennan Johnson chased, won, kept and played back to Ryan Yates. The in-form midfielder played Johnson back down the line and his square ball for Zinckernagel’s shot in the area took a massive deflection, floating high into the goal.
Blackpool sought a quick response, with Josh Bowler and James Husband shooting from range. The game now even more open as the home side searched for an equaliser.
There was another chance for Johnson, and then Keinan Davis, as Daniel Grimshaw came out of his six-yard box and almost saw a second for Forest.
Blackpool came close on 20 minutes from a short corner, but it was an easy save for Samba from Gary Madine’s header. And there was a heart-in-mouth moment five minutes later as a Joe Worrall back header fell to Jerry Yates, but Samba kept the danger at bay.
Forest were having most of the play at the half hour mark but Blackpool were still picking up loose balls, and the game remained tight.
But the Reds took the advantage after 31 minutes. It was brilliant stuff down the right again as Djed Spence and Yates linked up for Johnson to score. Absolutely glorious stuff.
And then suddenly it was 3-0. Grimshaw gifted Johnson the ball, the 20-year-old brought it down with the outside of his boot, skipped past a defender and chipped the keeper with all the nonchalance of a player at the top of his game.
It was an astonishing first half, with Forest in complete control having scored three goals against a side that barely concede a goal a game on average,
Blackpool kept up the fight in the second half. There was an early penalty shout for the home side, but nothing as McKenna got physical with Yates. A Bowler cross to CJ Hamilton soon after was close. Kenny Dougal shot wide on 54 minutes after another Bowler run and cross; the winger was getting more into the game, finding space down the right.
Zinckernagel was through on goal soon after, from a Davis pass, but Grimshaw put the Dane’s shot wide. It could easily have been four, and probably should’ve been.
Grabban and Sam Surridge came on for Davis and Johnson in the 66th minute, and the game was not letting up. After some solid defending to keep Blackpool out, a James Garner free-kick was punched out and then Keshi Anderson headed wide.
But with eight minutes remaining McKenna intercepted a Blackpool pass, the Scotsman raced forward and released Surridge who only needed one touch before burying it in the back of the net. It was a clinical finish from a striker who has looked impressive in his cameo appearances since joining from Stoke in January.
The home side got the consolation goal they’d pushed for with a minute to go, as the ball dropped to Callum Connolly close to goal; the only mark on a hugely impressive performance.
With Coventry at home next Wednesday, it’s getting tight at the top of the table.