With Brighton, Liverpool and Arsenal to come, an away trip to Wolves seemed like the most likely destination for points, of which Nottingham Forest are desperate for. Much like their visitors, Wolves were also in need of a win — as they sat just one place above Forest in 18th.
Steve Cooper made one change from his side’s 1-1 draw to Aston Villa on Monday night, Neco Williams coming back into the side as Forest visited Molineux for the first time since a 2-0 win in 2018. A star-studded Wolves line-up included midfield maestro Rueben Neves, pacey winger Adama Traoré and veteran striker Diego Costa.
Wolves kicked off proceedings on a drizzly afternoon, the first time the Reds have played on a Saturday for over a month. Despite early Wolves pressure, it was Forest who had the first real chance of the day — Scott McKenna headed over a delicious corner delivery from Morgan Gibbs-White, returning to his old club less than three months since he last pulled on their famous orange jersey.
Wolves’ first chance came with 18 minutes gone, as Traoré found space on the right wing and sent a cross towards the far post, where overlapping French full-back Rayan Aït-Nouri headed over Dean Henderson’s crossbar. Traoré was involved in a Wanderers’ counter attack a minute later, driving his effort high over the bar after being played in by Matheus Nunes.
Chances were few and far between in the opening stages as the clouds dissipated into sunshine, blinding 3,000 travelling fans in the lower tier of the Steve Bull Stand.
After 25 minutes, Forest appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears, as Williams blasted a shot on the half-volley goalwards, ricochetting wide for a corner. Strange that VAR chose not to check the incident, especially after events that happened later on in the match…
With eight minutes until half-time, Henderson played a goal-kick straight to Traoré and a neat bit of quick football saw Ait-Nouri in space on the left wing. His cross was met by a stretching, sliding Costa, failing to convert from six yards out.
An increasingly frustrated home crowd were nearly pleased two minutes later, as Traoré yet again had all the time in the world to cross from the right. Max Kilman was up from the back, and thought he had headed the hosts ahead, but his attempt bounced agonisingly off the post and into the arms of a relieved Henderson.
As the interval crept upon us, it was clear Wolves were in control. Their lack of a cutting edge in front of goal the only reason they weren’t ahead, having outplayed a static Nottingham Forest.
Gibbs-White carved out the first chance following the restart, picked out nicely by Remo Freuler. The former cut in from the left and curled a shot from the edge of the box goalwards, going wide of José Sá’s goal.
Controversy followed six minutes into the half. Traoré cut in from the right wing and lashed a left-footed attempt towards goal, deflecting off Harry Toffolo for a corner. Despite minimal appeals from anyone inside Molineux, a lengthy delay was followed by referee Thomas Brammall pointing to the spot after consulting VAR, judging that the ball struck the outstretched arm of Toffolo.
Skipper Ruben Neves assumed responsibility and powered his kick into the bottom left corner, with no chance for Henderson despite diving the right way. Just the fourth goal the hosts had scored all season, and the first under caretaker boss Steve Davis.
From the kick off, Forest attacked and won a free-kick on the edge of the D. Wolves would now take any chance they could to run down the clock and it would be three minutes after the kick was awarded before Gibbs-White would step up to take it. It wasn’t worth the wait for Forest, as he whipped the set piece straight into the Jack Hayward Stand.
A quiet period of play followed, Forest being frustrated by the control that Wolves had over the game.
With 15 minutes to play, a Gibbs-White corner caused havoc. Firstly, Traoré nearly bundled into his own net but Wolves managed to clear. However, wild Forest appeals were heard by the officials this time, as Ryan Yates was awarded a penalty for being wrestled to the ground by Nunes, as he tried to reach the cross.
Brennan Johnson had scored Forest’s only away league goal of the season, and he had the chance to double that tally from the spot. Sá, a fan favourite, rose to the occasion and batted Johnson’s effort away, diving low to his left.
It just didn’t seem like Forest’s day. It just isn’t seeming like Forest’s season.
Cooper introduced Jesse Lingard and Orel Mangala who added more energy to the side, especially Lingard who was finding space around the pitch. But ultimately this was a factor missing from his teammates’ games, the reason Forest are struggling at this level.
After VAR delays and countless time-wasting incidents, eight minutes of stoppage time were called for. And just seconds into it Forest should have been level.
Gibbs-White lifted a deep free-kick towards the Wolves’ goal, with all the other outfield players waiting. Steve Cook peeled off at the back post and headed back across goal where Ryan Yates was free. Yates failed to keep his header down, powering over a golden chance much to the delight of the home crowd.
That weekly feeling of defeat descended on Forest once again. They were by far second best and were lucky their hosts lack a clinical striker to convert their intricate play into goals. Heads mustn’t drop in the camp, as the games come thick and fast until the World Cup, starting with a trip to the Amex on Tuesday.
Cooper said: “We’re disappointed with the result and I didn’t like us with the ball in the first half, we did OK defensively and we knew Wolves would have spells of possession but we didn’t let them in on many occasions.
“With the ball we didn’t show enough bravery or responsibility in wanting to try and work our way up the pitch and get some momentum in the game. The message at half time was defensively we were good but we feel we could’ve made more of the opportunities on the turn over and make more passes.
“Unfortunately, we go 1-0 down with the penalty and we played some better football after that and worked our way into good areas. We had the chance with the penalty and Yatesy’s header but it should have been like that from the start.
“The plan was to be a good defensive unit, but we also know that Wolves can give you the opportunity to play football and to not be able to do that as well as we wanted is frustrating.
“We’re trying to improve every day and stick to what we believe is going to be the right way to go and we’re navigating our way through to that. The players will want to take responsibility as well and they’ll be frustrated with the first half performance.
“We know what it takes to recover and prepare ahead of Tuesday’s game against Brighton and that’s what we’ll do.”