Steve Cooper named an unchanged XI following Nottingham Forest’s midweek victory at Craven Cottage, where a returning Steve Cook shone. Opposing manager Russell Martin made a single change to his Swansea City side after their 3-3 draw with Bournemouth; with Cyrus Christie playing in front of the City Ground faithful for the first time after playing a season behind closed doors in Garibaldi red.
And that home crowd were in fine voice for what was hopefully the final rendition of Mull of Kintyre this season. As the sun shone over the River Trent, Swansea kicked off and had an early half chance with a Christie cross that took Brice Samba by surprise, but he was able to gather.
Swansea set out to play like the Manchester City of the Championship — achieving 70% possession during the match — with methodical and fine passing but Forest pressed like vultures, making life hard for the Swans in the opening exchanges. It only took five minutes for Djed Spence to glide down the right wing, as he beat two and pulled the ball back for James Garner 15 yards out, the midfielder’s shot blocked by the visitors.
Cook cast his brilliance over this game as he normally does, and with 10 minutes gone lifted the ball over the Swansea defence for Sam Surridge to charge at the visitors’ goal 1v1. However, opposing ‘keeper Andy Fisher left him in two minds, as Surridge’s eventual chipped effort landed in Fisher’s grasp.
Swansea caved in to Forest’s early dominance after 21 minutes. Spence advanced down the wing again and his cross found nobody in the middle. Jack Colback wasn’t about to leave it at that, as he forced Fisher and Christie into a mistake leaving the ball trickling goalwards. The ball appeared to cross the line when Christie palmed it away, leading to a Forest penalty and a red card for handball for Swansea’s full-back. However, after lengthy discussions with his assistants, referee Graham Scott gave Forest the goal and rescinded Christie’s red.
When Forest take the lead they very rarely give it away, so delirium followed around the City Ground. Six minutes later though, the hosts were pegged back. Matt Grimes lifted a wonderful pass over the top of the Forest defence, which Michael Obefemi brought down elegantly. He put Cook on the floor before dispatching brilliantly into the bottom right corner and giving Swansea hope.
The Swans were clearly happy with a point and, following their equaliser, the game was constantly stop-start as the referee was forced to add on six minutes at the end of the first 45.
The 43rd of those 45 minutes was typical of the game. Spence won a corner and Garner’s excellent delivery was right on Surridge’s head, but a combination of Fisher and the post kept him out. Forest then recycled the corner and Brennan Johnson flashed a ball from the left wing across goal and to the head of Ryan Yates. He found an inspired Fisher in the way again as the ball then fell to Colback for a speculative effort from range, sailing over the bar.
Forest dominated Swansea in the first half, but failed to score with any of their 11 shots. However, in the second half they didn’t mess around.
After a half of frustration, it only took Forest three minutes of the second half to go back in front. Surridge won a corner and then rose highest to head the resulting Garner delivery into the back of the net. Yet another pinpoint delivery from the Manchester United loanee and yet another goal involvement for Surridge, for the fourth game running.
As Surridge finally beat Fisher, he was at it again just five minutes later. Garner and Super Sam linked up again on the counter attack, with Garner threading a ball down the left for the striker. Surridge knew exactly what he was going to do, opening his body up and curling past a helpless Fisher into his top left corner with seeming ease. Not an easy finish but boy did he make it look effortless.
In the quest for his hat-trick, Surridge had nine shots throughout the 90 minutes, seven of them on target. And he was able to grab his first professional hat-trick with 21 minutes remaning. Spence again was meandering down the right wing and his deflected cross looped onto the crossbar. With Fisher dazed, Surridge chested down and slotted the rebound home from four yards out to bring Forest’s goal difference level with Bournemouth, winning 3-0 at Blackburn.
Swansea had completely caved in to Forest’s pressure, with substitute Oliver Ntcham their only danger man as they failed to register a shot on target in the second half.
The home side did register shots on target in the second half, and substitute Alex Mighten was a popular goalscorer to round off a day of delight. Samba’s goal kick sailed over everybody in red, bar Mighten. He continued to chase and showed much more determination than the three white shirts around him. He brought the ball down, headed it on for himself and tapped home ahead of an advancing Fisher to complete the Reds’ rampage.
Forest’s home league campaign came to an end in scintillating Steve Cooper style. For the third time this month they scored four or more goals as they extended their unbeaten home league record to 10 games.
Three points behind and a better goal difference. A victory against Bournemouth and the Reds will be halfway to returning to the Premier League for the first time this century. Could it be?
Cooper said: “The game plan was executed well by the players and we were happy for Swansea to have possession at times because we know they can concede chances and goals. We knew that when we won the ball back we could create openings and to score five goals is great but I also feel we should’ve scored more, we could have been 5-1 up at half time.
“It’s brilliant for Sam Surridge to get a hat-trick and I’m really pleased for him. I’m really pleased with the commitment to the game plan, they believed in it and stuck to it brilliantly and got a good result from it.
“I challenged the players at half time to be a better team with the ball and we controlled the game without the ball which is a hard thing to do. It’s one thing controlling the game with the ball but it takes a great team to control without the ball and we did that brilliantly. Credit also goes to Alex Mighten and I was so pleased he could get on the pitch. I really believe in him as a player and his time will come here.
“It’s been a good day’s work and now we stick to the plan and prepare for Tuesday night. You live for these moments and we can’t wait for the next game, we’d play tonight if we could. We get back to work tomorrow, we recover and we need to replicate what we showed at times today and do it even better.”