After a tough start to Premier League life, this was the game many Forest fans had earmarked as a must-win game — a real chance to build momentum and climb the table. Especially against managerless Bournemouth, who were without a win since the opening day.
Two changes were made from the midweek defeat at the Etihad, as Steve Cook and Jesse Lingard replaced Remo Frueler and (surprisingly) Lewis O’Brien — meaning Cheikhou Kouyaté moved into midfield. Interim Cherries boss Gary O’Neil named an unchanged line-up from their draw to Wolves, in the first top flight meeting between the two sides.
Most inside the City Ground were hoping for an immediate reaction to the midweek thumping, and the early stages were promising. Forest saw a lot of the ball in the first half but failed to gain any momentum as the match was very stop-start due to the amount of silly fouls conceded by both teams.
The link-up between Morgan Gibbs-White, Brennan Johnson and Lingard was mouth-watering at times, however Forest lacked any potency up front and failed to convert any of the moves created by the trio. Neco Williams sliced a half-volley from the edge of the box over the bar after 18 minutes, the only notable chance from the opening exchanges.
Bournemouth fashioned the game’s first real chance on 27 minutes on the counter attack as they breezed through an open midfield with Marcus Tavernier. He played a nice one-two with Phillip Billing in the box but, as he swivelled and shot, saw his effort from the penalty spot deflected behind for a corner.
With 33 minutes played, Gibbs-White sent a lovely ball in from the right wing which was met by Renan Lodi, as his shot was blocked behind off Lewis Cook. Gibbs-White would deliver the resulting corner with pace and curl which was met by the head of Kouyaté. He did brilliantly — as he was backpedalling — to steer his header past goalkeeper Neto to give Forest the lead from six yards out.
Forest were on top but needed to score to settle nerves and prevent them getting desperate, so it was a very good time to take the lead.
Ten minutes later, the hosts would have the chance to double the lead. The ball deflected into the path of Williams in the box who volleyed towards goal — a shot that was quite clearly blocked by the hands of Bournemouth defender Lloyd Kelly. Referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot almost instantly and, after an unnecessary five-minute VAR review, was supported by the technology.
A penalty for handball for the third game in a row at the City Ground, but finally one in Forest’s favour.
Johnson confidently jogged up to the spot and converted coolly, blasting into the right of the goal despite ‘keeper Neto guessing the right way. To be two goals up was maybe flattering Forest at the break but they were just about the better team over the first 45 minutes.
While Forest bossed the first half, the second was all Bournemouth. After a half-time switch to match Forest’s three at the back, it was no surprise that they came out battling early on and were playing with energy and confidence.
The visitors got a goal out of nothing five minutes into the half. Lingard lost the ball in midfield allowing Cook to pounce on the loose ball and play in Billing. He took a few touches and unleashed a bullet from 30 yards that ripped past Dean Henderson and into the back of the net.
From this point onwards, Bournemouth took control and got the game back to 2-2 just after the hour mark. Tavernier swung a corner in from the left wing to the back post, where Kelly headed back into the danger area. Dominic Solanke’s eyes lit up as he flung himself into the air and acrobatically sent the ball goal-wards from 10 yards, nothing more than Bournemouth deserved.
Frustration was boiling around the City Ground. Forest still hadn’t woken up at this point and the little creative spark they had was killed further by the substitution of Lingard for Taiwo Awoniyi. With the scores level, Bournemouth were happy to sit behind the ball and let Forest try and break them down.
The game seemed to be hurtling towards a draw however, Bournemouth haven’t drawn in any of their last 16 Premier League away games, a run which they kept going by scoring the winner with 87 minutes played.
Scott McKenna, usually flawless, was caught dwelling on the ball deep in his own half and was pounced on by Solanke. Bearing down on goal, he had the easiest of tasks to square it to Jaidon Anthony who swept home first time from close range just minutes after coming on.
Despite the lethargic second-half performance, it would be no surprise if Forest managed to score in stoppage time to level the scores. The moment fell to Awoniyi when Worrall sent a cross in and McKenna diverted towards the Nigerian after Neto spilled it. After taking a touch he blazed his effort wide of the target which sealed the Bournemouth victory.
Personally, I was disappointed by the omission of Lewis O’Brien from the starting XI as he would have added more energy and substance in a midfield that was static and often invisible throughout the 90 minutes. I also feel that Forest should be prepared to ditch the three at the back, or drop Johnson, in order to accommodate a striker from the start. In the first half there were many times balls were flashed across goal where someone like Sam Surridge would’ve been there to convert.
But it’s still early days and while the points must start coming soon, we shouldn’t get too down as it’s the first time in Cooper’s reign that we’ve lost three on the bounce.
Cooper said: “It’s something we’re going to have to look at closely. We played so well in the first half, were good for the lead, were in complete control and looked a really good team. Half time was very much about keeping going, some tactical things we needed to talk about, but it was a very focused half time about the intent of keeping going — and that couldn’t be any further away from how we were in the second half.
“The first goal, in terms of how we turned it over and how we’ve reacted on the transition to the goal from 30 yards out has really set a bit of a negative tone then throughout the second half. The second goal is a set piece, which we should do better at — and I will always look at ourselves first — but we’re slightly unfortunate Ryan Yates is off the pitch because that’s his area. And then the third goal is from Scott McKenna’s mistake, which is probably the first mistake he’s made since I’ve been here, and it’s cost us today.
“I’m more focused on the performance and how things changed, and how they changed so quickly, rather than just focusing on the goals because goals were a consequence of how we played in the second half. There’s nothing good about today, there’s nothing good about conceding three goals at home… there’s nothing good about the situation we put ourselves in today, and we’ve got to accept that.”