Opening day defeat at St. James’ Park for Nottingham Forest

After 23 years away, Nottingham Forest’s return to the Premier League resulted in a 2-0 defeat to Eddie Howe’s Newcastle United. George Edwards reports from St. James’ Park

A whole generation has passed since Nottingham Forest were last in the Premier League lights. After 8,483 days, the two stars on our famous badge are finally able to be seen across the globe again, as we’re back in the big time.

The man who made it all happen, Steve Cooper, gifted six players their competitive Forest debut from the start — as newly appointed captain Joe Worrall led his boyhood club into this unknown territory.

Going into the match, Newcastle had won only one of their last eight opening games while Forest were unbeaten in both their opening games as a newly promoted Premier League side. Forest’s 278-month long wait is the longest-ever gap between games for any Premier League side.

A Magpies rampage came from the off as Forest were taken aback early on by the intensity of this new division. Four minutes in, Allan Saint-Maximin gave defenders Worrall and Neco Williams an early flavour of what was to come,as he darted in from the left wing, finding Joe Willock whose shot deflected wide via Scott McKenna.

Jesse Lingard provided the only real opening for the visitors early on, playing Sam Surridge through but he failed to get past the defensive partnership Fabian Schär and Dan Burn.

Converted midfielder Joelinton looked like a powerhouse in the home side’s midfield, and he did well to spin away from Jack Colback and get a shot away from distance that was parried to safety by Dean Henderson with 20 minutes gone.

Premier League life looked tough for Cooper’s side, as they were caught napping on multiple occasions with sloppy touches, pounced on by the hosts. It was difficult for Forest to press with any sort of intensity as they were chasing the ball for most of the game.

Although dominant, Newcastle couldn’t muster a close-range effort, with long distance efforts from the likes of Bruno Guimarães failing to trouble Henderson.

Joelinton was really shining though, as he created the best chance of the game with half-an-hour played. He collected the ball in midfield and danced his way through the Forest backline before scuffing his effort wide from the penalty spot. A let off for the Reds who needed to liven up.

The Newcastle chances kept coming, Callum Wilson the next to come close, as he couldn’t direct a floated cross from Willock past Henderson on 35 minutes; the Englishman certainly busier than his fellow debutant Nick Pope in Newcastle’s goal.

Forest crafted their first meaningful attack with seven to go until half-time through Lingard. Lewis O’Brien was able to slip him in between the lines, but Schär blocked his close-range effort before Williams volleyed wide from 10 yards, from the right of goal.

Henderson had to be alert to keep out Paraguayan Miguel Almiron at his near post minutes earlier, yet Forest managed to successfully shield their goal for the opening 45 minutes as the hosts went in frustrated not to be leading.

Forest kicked off towards the famous Gallowgate End for the second half and produced the first chance of the half, with Surridge unable to generate enough power on his header to beat Pope after Lingard crossed from the left wing.

A mediocre opening to the second half took a turn for the worse for Forest after just 13 minutes.

Schär collected the ball after a short corner found its way to him on the right-hand side, 30 yards out. From a relatively tight angle, the Swiss took a few touches forward and then proceeded to unleash a thunderbolt towards the top-right corner, crashing in off the post. A goal worthy of kicking off any season, not too dissimilar to his goal of the month winning strike against Burnley in February 2019.

Seconds before he was substituted for Taiwo Awoniyi on the hour, Forest’s best chance was squandered by Surridge. Williams skilfully beat his man on the right wing before flashing a cross into the box, where Surridge failed to hit the target with his head.

O’Brien seemed to struggle, as did the team, with the pace of play, often being caught out dwelling on the ball. But strong, battling performances from Colback, Williams and Toffolo also didn’t go unnoticed.

The Toon Army always looked the stronger side and sealed the deal with 12 minutes to play. Joelinton received the ball on the run on the left byline and blazed a low ball across the penalty area. Poacher Callum Wilson got a toe to the ball ahead of Moussa Niakhate as he cutely dinked Henderson to double the advantage.

Late introductions of Orel Mangala and Alex Mighten added some flair to the attack, although Newcastle were still able to hit Forest on the break with ease. Sean Longstaff was played down the left wing by Saint- Maximin but the former’s cross was sent into the side netting by a hungry Wilson.

The full-time whistle blew with nearly 3,000 Forest voices still proudly singing away, as Newcastle’s unbeaten Premier League record against Forest continued.

Not the start that was wanted but a long season is ahead. Players must adapt to the pace and intensity of the Premier League while becoming familiar with each others’ game and the manager’s style. So, at this early stumble, I hope nobody is stupid enough to write us off.

Cooper said: “Newcastle were better than us on the day, and we respect that. I’m disappointed with the goals we’ve conceded, we gave the ball away too many times and our in-possession game wasn’t good enough today. Everything is at a higher level now and we’ve got to get up to speed.

“We’ve got to live and learn from the game and we can be a better team than that. If you give the ball away too cheaply at this level you’re going to get punished and that’s what happened.

“We need to keep learning as we go, it was good for the team to feel what the Premier League is about today but at the same time we believe in what we do and believe we can have an impact in games.

“Nothing has been defined today, it was a tough game and we’re disappointed but we’ll learn and make sure we’re better in certain aspects next weekend back at home.”

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