Nottingham Forest faced Fulham last night in their second consecutive clash with fellow newly promoted teams, as they looked to catch up on lost ground, with the Reds already sitting second bottom of the top flight.
Steve Cooper made three changes from his team’s 2-3 defeat at the hands of Bournemouth, as Ryan Yates gained the armband from a benched Joe Worrall. Willy Boly came in to make his debut alongside Remo Freuler and Taiwo Awoniyi, replacing Cheikhou Kouyaté and Jesse Lingard. Aleksander Mitrovic was the league’s second top scorer before play, scoring in all four games that Fulham have netted in, so it was no surprise that he was in the starting XI.
The scheduled game at Elland Road four days earlier had been postponed due to the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and the City Ground joined the sporting world paying tribute to the monarch of 70 years. A powerful moment of silence was followed by the first rendition of ‘God Save The King’ many of us have ever sung, as Forest continued to try and find their feet in the new world of the Premier League.
In the opening stages possession was going back and forth but neither team was able to create any real opportunities in the first 10 minutes.
However, on the 10-minute mark Brennan Johnson was able to wriggle away from Tim Ream and sprint down the right wing. He sent a ball in from the edge of the box and Morgan Gibbs-White’s effort was blocked wide for a corner.
Gibbs-White delivered an out-swinging corner towards the near post where Yates won a flick-on and Awoyini was lurking to head home from close range at the back post; that is why you play a striker — someone who just knows where to be to score goals.
The perfect start.
Fulham reacted frantically a few minutes after the goal, as Forest were caught napping. Mitrovic was played in by Kenny Tete and Steve Cook had to be alert in the box to block his shot, with the rest of Forest’s defence waiting for an offside flag that never came.
With 26 minutes played, Forest’s high line was caught out again. Mitrovic sent a cute flick over the top releasing Willian bearing down on goal. A chasing Cook pulled the ageing Brazilian down just as he was breaking into the penalty area. Much to the disappointment of the visitors, Cook only received a yellow card and Fulham had a Pereira free-kick on the edge of the area which was deflected over by the wall.
From the resulting corner, Mitrovic was open and saw a near-post header fly into the hands of England’s Dean Henderson. He spilled it and after a scramble the ball was eventually cleared out of danger.
From this point onwards, the game went flat with Fulham having most of the ball but failing to penetrate Forest’s defence. It needed something to happen.
Williams was able to get forward for the first time in the game after 37 minutes. His counter-attacking run resulted in a low ball in from the right wing that went all the way to Renan Lodi at the far post. The Brazilian fluffed his lines, taking too long to get his shot away meaning it was blocked and cleared by the visitors.
For the duration of the first half, Fulham were happy to keep the ball and Forest did themselves no favours, sitting off them and allowing them to play. Forest’s chances came on the break but they were winning and that’s what counted.
Despite a decent start to the second half, Forest were pegged back nine minutes into it. A Willian corner from the right wing was met by Tosin Adarabioyo, who got away from his marker early. He blasted a header into the net from the penalty spot to level the scores.
Fulham were in dreamland three minutes later as two quick-fire goals sent them into the lead. After Yates gave the ball away with a poor forward pass, Fulham countered and the ball arrived to Tete. He played in Joāo Palhinha who had space to shoot first time on the edge of the box, his venomous attempt beating Henderson at his near post and putting Fulham in the driving seat.
If you thought this poor few minutes couldn’t get any worse for the hosts, it did.
Bobby Decordova-Reid was sent through down the left wing and flashed a cross from the byline back towards the middle of the box. This was met by Harrison Reed who slotted into the bottom-right corner and sent the visiting fans into even more delirium. A deserved goal for Reed who was putting in a stellar performance in the Cottagers’ midfield, passing and movement that Forest’s side was lacking. And, as Cooper reiterated post-match, Forest just looked ‘vulnerable’.
Fulham looked certain to extend the unbeaten run at the City Ground they’ve had since 2015. This was a test that Forest had to rise to.
After reverting to four at the back with the introduction of Lingard, a situation almost identical to Forest’s goal repeated itself. Another Gibbs-White corner met substitute Worrall’s head, who found Awoniyi at the back post but he failed to head home with the ball coming to him quickly.
With the score at 3-1 to the visitors, Forest were comical. There was no movement or spark as they just passed round the back before booting long and losing it
They were lucky to not fall further behind as Decordova-Reid missed a golden chance from six yards out, after a cross from Tete on the right-hand side with 15 minutes to play.
The first real bit of urgency from Forest in the second half resulted in a goal on 76 minutes. Williams fired into Lingard’s feet who swept through to Johnson on the right wing. In the box, he squared it towards substitute Sam Surridge but it was cleared away from him by Adarabioyo. The loose ball was pounced upon by Lewis O’Brien who lashed home from 10 yards out, bagging his first goal in the Garibaldi red. Why O’Brien hadn’t been included from the start baffled many supporters, as he added some substance to Forest’s play instantly after coming on.
This was the moment Forest needed — kicking them into life. However, they failed to convert late pressure into an equaliser, as any momentum gained was killed by Fulham who were slowing play down wherever they could; as you would in this scenario.
The international break comes at the right time. Players, staff and fans have the chance to switch off, turn their attention to other things and regroup in a couple of weeks, putting these four consecutive losses behind them and looking to climb the table as quickly as possible.
Cooper said: “We’re just not handling conceding the first goal well enough. Some of our game is positive, looks like it’s progressing, but there are other parts of our game where we do look like a new team. There’s no doubt about that. When you need to regroup, stay together, that comes with experience and connections on the pitch. That’s something we don’t have obviously, with the nature of how the squad’s been put together and the timing of it.
“We’ve challenged ourselves: how do we become a team? Whether it’s our tactical ideas, our togetherness, our spirit, pushing each other — that comes when you have real trust in each other, and trust is built over time. We’ve lost four games on the bounce now, which is not good. And while going through that process of becoming a team, we’ve got to try to stay [in touch] in terms of points. It’s one thing being patient, but we’ve got to improve. And that’s down to me.”