Games like this are why we wanted promotion. We’ve played teams like Bournemouth, Fulham and Leeds for what seems like forever. To play on the biggest stages and to test ourselves against the best is what it’s all about. And, after a courageous defeat against Tottenham, it doesn’t get much tougher than Manchester City away.
Steve Cooper made three changes from that defeat to Spurs, with first Premier League starts for Remo Freuler, Cheikhou Kouyaté and new signing Renan Lodi. Harry Toffolo was unlucky to miss out as Steve Cook and Jesse Lingard also dropped to the bench. Forest would face the frightening Erling Haaland but without fellow star man Kevin De Bruyne who was rested.
Forest kicked things off and kept the ball for about 20 seconds. That would prove ground-breaking in a first half where the Reds only enjoyed 22% of possession, but in the early stages frustrated City, perfectly shown by Gundogan who lashed an effort well over the bar in the opening five minutes.
It will come as no surprise that most of the report will be focused on City chances, as a couple of minutes later Dean Henderson was forced into a smart save, diving to his right to prevent Julián Alvarez scoring from five yards out after Rodri won a flick-on from a corner.
Inevitably, it only took the hosts and Haaland 12 minutes to break the deadlock. From short a corner, Phil Foden was (inexplicably) left open and was able to cross from the left wing. The beast that is Haaland pushed away Joe Worrall like he wasn’t there and converted with his left foot from close range with what I’m sure was his first touch.
Four minutes later Forest saw their best sight of goal all half. They won the ball back and advanced down the pitch and were able to recycle a failed counter-attack with Williams on the right wing. His cross to the back post fell to the head of Renan Lodi who could only send it into the side netting.
With 23 minutes on the clock, Haaland doubled his tally. Henderson cheaply gave the ball away and City worked it well into Haaland, on the edge of the D. He played a wonderful 1-2 with Foden, leaving the Norwegian with a tap-in into an empty net with his right foot. Two goals for Haaland, two assists for Foden, and City were on their way to their second ever Premier League win against Forest.
City did get a third through John Stones just before 30 minutes which was ruled out for offside. However, with seven minutes until the break, Haaland grabbed his second hattrick in five days. Forest were able to clear a corner but only as far as João Cancelo. He sent the ball in and after winning a series of headers, Haaland was there to leap high and head home from three yards out.
There are some things you just can’t stop — and this man seems to be one of them. Scoring his eighth goal in just five games, Haaland becomes the highest-scoring Premier League player in his first five matches.
As half time came around 3-0 was a score line that most Forest fans would have taken, although just before the break Alvarez did graze the post from the edge of the box. Forest didn’t do much wrong in the first half, they were just unable to sustain any periods of possession due to the intensity of their opponents, both with and without the ball.
Much like the first half, it took a few minutes for City to get going, but they moved further ahead five minutes after the break. Silva had acres of space on the left wing and found Cancelo to his left on the edge of the box. After a few touches, he sent a ferocious curling effort towards Henderson’s near post, leaving the Englishman stranded.
Despite this early setback, Forest looked a lot better in the early stages of the second half. They were more willing to step further up the pitch and have more of the ball than they were before. And on 53 minutes Johnson was sent through on goal but after managing to wriggle past Ruben Dias, dragged his shot wide of the far right post from the edge of the box.
Unsurprisingly, this positiveness didn’t last long. With 25 minutes to play, Kyle Walker sent a long ball up towards Riyadh Mahrez who controlled and was able to slip in Alvarez in the box. He finished emphatically, under the legs of Henderson from the right-hand side.
5-0 if you’re losing count.
And the sixth goal came just before the 90-minute mark. Forest had a free kick in a very promising position which substitute Emmanuel Dennis inexplicably sent straight into the wall. This allowed City to counter attack with De Bruyne leading the way. He played it to Mahrez who had a shot blocked as he cut in from the right wing. The deflection took it into the path of Alvarez who finished wonderfully into the top-left corner from close range.
Even with some last-minute excitement down the left wing when Colback crossed but Awoniyi missed, the score would end 6-0 as Forest failed to lay as much as a glove on the reigning champions. We shouldn’t read too much into this and from now on it’s all about the reaction as we enter a period of relativity easier fixtures to the ones we’ve started with.
Cooper said: “Let’s not shy away from it, it was a difficult evening for us. We knew going into it that it was going to be an incredibly tough test. They’re brilliant, there’s no doubt about that — we knew before it, we saw it in the game and we’ll see it when they carry on with their future games, so for us to get anything out of the game we had to be at our best.
“But we weren’t, we were a bit naïve in the first half. Half time was about sticking together, it was about mentality, it was about not giving up. The supporters were amazing, they didn’t give up — they stuck with us.
“We continued to be naïve with our game, which just allowed them to get into areas where you can get punished. Massive learning from the game for me, without reflecting on it too much, is the smallest of errors against these top teams and you’re just punished.
“I’ll make sure that tonight doesn’t define us, it’s a great challenge for me as well, and I’m glad it’s Saturday the next game. We’ve only got two games before we play, it’s important that we get back to training tomorrow — no days off — and we’re good to go on Saturday.
“If we want to become the team that we want to be, recovering from setbacks are going to be a massive part of that process. That’s what winning teams do in the end, they recover from getting knocked down. We’ve been knocked down — difficult night, really tough score line — not going to hide away from that, but it’s happened so let’s get on with it.”