In the absence of Keinan Davis, out with a hamstring strain, Steve Cooper brought in Sam Surridge for his first league start while Lewis Grabban, also missing, was replaced by Philip Zinckernagel in the Reds’ starting XI. Steve Bruce made three changes to his Albion XI with veteran Andy Carroll featuring against Forest for the second time this season after his January switch from Reading.
Night games at the City Ground always seem to bring something extra and this was no different, with another wonderful display by Forza Garibaldi taking centre stage during Mull of Kintyre. As the sun set behind the Trent End, Nottingham Forest were aiming to ensure that their automatic promotion dream wouldn’t wane easily.
Both teams started the game brightly with high levels of energy and physicality, and it was James Garner in the eighth minute who had the game’s first meaningful chance, as he placed a curling shot from the edge of the D over the bar. Garner was presented with a free-kick scenario in a similar position five minutes later, but again failed to hit the target.
With 17 minutes on the clock, Djed Spence marauded down the right wing and his deflected cross fell to Zinckernagel inside the penalty area. The on-loan Watford player was tackled and the attempted clearance fell to Garner who sent a shot goalwards from 16 yards. Darnell Furlong, booked only three minutes earlier for a foul on Zinckernagel, flung an arm up to block the effort and referee David Webb had no choice but to point to the spot and give Furlong his marching orders. A red card for West Brom for the second time this season in this fixture.
Brennan Johnson vs David Button. Having missed his last penalty at Bramall Lane, Johnson was not phased by Button’s mind games and stood confidently on the edge of the 18-yard box. On Webb’s whistle the Welshman stepped up and dispatched his penalty low into the bottom left corner — beyond the reach of Button.
Four minutes later, a free-flowing move straight through the Albion defence finished up with Zinckernagel being presented with an opportunity in the penalty area, right of centre. A glorious chance to double Forest’s lead was squandered by the Dane as his shot was blocked out of play.
The Forest rampage just kept coming and from the resulting corner, Garner’s wicked delivery was planted on the head of Ryan Yates who made no mistake in powering a headed effort past Button and into the back of the net. Forest’s third-top scorer wheeled away in celebration of his eighth goal of the season which brought daylight between the two sides.
Tempers were high in the visiting camp as, for once, the officiating seemed to be favouring Forest. The Baggies’ frustrations were summed up by substitute Taylor Gardner-Hickman who, in exasperation from a free-kick decision, blasted the ball into the stands striking a ball boy. Despite protest from the home crowd, Gardner-Hickman only received a yellow card.
As fans began to head for the concourses for a half-time pie and Bovril, Jack Colback provided the moment of the night. A quick throw-in on the left wing was returned to him after a neat bit of play from Brennan Johnson. The ball came bouncing over his head and Colback — who, according to Cooper, meant it — sent an ambitious volley goalwards. His effort looped over Button and into the net, with the only person more surprised by the outcome than Button being Colback, showcasing a grin of disbelief.
Three-nil up at half time against 10-men. Game over, right?
Forest fans know better than to think this until the final whistle, but this team are different. It was indeed job done with the visitors failing to register a shot on goal after the fourth minute, as the Baggies lost their first league game at the City Ground since 2000. Steve Bruce’s half-time team talk was clearly to limit damage as West Brom sat in a compact rectangle all half, trying to deny Forest a route through.
Carroll did have joy in the air for the visitors, but they failed to play off him effectively as the striker joined the West Brom frustration club. The visitors’ game plan paid off as Forest, playing at a canter, only managed to create one memorable chance in the second 45 minutes. Substitute Cafû played a lovely backheel sending Johnson bearing down on the area but he failed to beat Button from range.
Cooper was confident to use his squad, as Steve Cook made his return from the bench, playing his first minutes since limping off in Forest’s away defeat to Cardiff in January. Full-back Richie Laryea was also given his much anticipated debut in the Garibaldi red. Despite only a cameo appearance, the Canadian showed glimpses of pace and skill and seems to be a valid replacement should the Reds not be able to sign Spence in the summer.
The cherry was placed on the icing of the cake in stoppage time as Surridge grabbed his fourth Forest goal with a clinical strike. Zinckernagel slipped the Englishman in one-on-one and he lifted the ball high into the roof of the net to add to his tally of impressive finishes.
Six successive home league wins secured at the City Ground as a bad start to the Easter weekend left a refreshing taste in the mouth of Forest fans, as their side go into the final five games of the season needing two wins to secure a play-off spot.
Cooper said: “It was a well-deserved win and obviously a great scoreline. To win 4-0, you have to do a lot of things right and we did. We looked like we would create chances and we scored two quick goals.
“They went down to 10 men and from there on in we were excellent in terms of our professionalism and our control of the game. We need to get ready for Saturday as that’s the most important game. We need to show the attitude and commitment in the levels of play like we did tonight.”