After the Bees flew the Championship nest into the Premier League in 2021, Forest followed them last season via the playoffs — the same way Thomas Frank’s side gained promotion. A perfect season for a promoted side followed, entertaining the league with their direct football and finishing 13th, a textbook example for Forest to try and follow this season.
With his side stuck at the bottom of the table, Steve Cooper made three changes from the loss against Arsenal, as Neco Williams regained his spot at left-back and the frontline now contained Brennan Johnson and Emmanuel Dennis alongside Morgan Gibbs-White. Brentford were without star striker Ivan Toney for the first ever top-flight meeting between the sides.
Early on, Forest looked lively and crafted their first opening after three minutes. Williams won possession on the half-way line and found Gibbs-White. He brought the ball forward and central before finding Johnson on the right of the box, but his shot was tame and straight at Brentford’s captain David Raya.
A searching Cook pass up to Kouyaté on the left wing was controlled by the Senegalese after seven minutes. His near-post cross found the head of Dennis but he could only shoot into the ground and Raya collected easily.
The match was end-to-end early on, with both teams looking to break quickly on the turnover, with neither team settling.
Gibbs-White was always an option and created another chance for Johnson with 13 minutes gone. He broke from midfield and slid in Johnson on the right wing. His scuffed shot went across goal and was saved before Brentford cleared the rebound. A positive connection was clearly forming between the duo, but Forest needed to ensure they took one of these chances sooner rather than later.
They opted for sooner, grasping the lead after 20 minutes. Some great pressing football from Forest forced Brentford to clear under pressure and Forest won the first header. Dennis collected and offloaded Gibbs-White deep in the attacking half. He danced through challenges until he arrived on the edge of the box where he unleashed a ripping strike into the bottom-right corner, well out of Raya’s reach, for the record signing’s first goal in the Garibaldi.
An early lead to ease the nerves, and send the City Ground crowd into raptures. Alongside the attacking threat, the growing relationship between Cook and McKenna was also looking solid early on, with both winning aerial battles and contributing key clearances and interception.
Nearly half an hour had been played when Forest and Yates appealed for a penalty. He was played in, overlapping down the right-hand side where he seemed to be barged over by Josh Dasilva. Clearly a foul which referee Andre Marriner didn’t give initially, before VAR judged that it was a foul but just outside the area, meaning Forest didn’t benefit.
The Forest rampage was relentless and Johnson and Gibbs-White linked up again just after the half-hour mark. This time Johnson broke forward on the right and slipped in Gibbs-White in space on the edge of the box. With further options to his left, he went alone on his left foot but again Raya collected.
Forest were looking threatening every time they won the ball, looking to attack quickly when they won possession. Brentford had most of the ball in the first half but failed to impose themselves on the game.
Their opportunities were coming from Forest mistakes and after countless failed attacks, they made Forest pay just before the break. Remo Freuler gave the ball away in a dangerous area where Bryan Mbeumo pounced and fizzed a slick first-time ball through to Johan Wissa. Despite looking offside, he got the ball ahead of an advancing Dean Henderson and got round him but seemed to slip as he stretched to convert, his attempt going well wide.
Out of nowhere, the referee was summoned to the VAR screen, claiming Henderson had caught Wissa as he got past the stopper. Despite Henderson’s fury and confusion, referee Mariner gifted Brentford a penalty which Mbeumo ambled up to and sent low into the bottom left corner, giving the Bees an undeserved route back into the game.
As the officials were booed off at half-time, Forest couldn’t let this seeming injustice ruin their flow. They were by far the better team and had use the break to get over it and continue to dominate the game.
A slower paced start to the second half followed, with all the football being played in Forest’s half, as they stood off their visitors a lot more. Brentford created a half-chance with 55 minutes played, Mbeumo lashing onto a loose ball on the left wing but firing a malicious strike well wide of Henderson’s near post.
Forest’s first chance of the half came on 73 minutes when Dennis meandered forward to the edge of box where Gibbs-White took over, shooting goalwards but his effort just fizzed wide to the right.
Forest were undone by the Bees second and final attempt on target all game with 15 minutes to play. Mathias Jensen cut open the hosts defence with a long ball, releasing Wissa one-on-one with Henderson once again. This time, Wissa chipped over Henderson who was in no man’s lands and from a game they were in complete control of, Forest now found themselves behind.
Brentford’s best spell of the game followed, as a long ball from Wissa found substitute Canos in the 83rd minute. Canos drifted in from the left wing and curled towards the bottom-right corner but the effort went wide of the far post.
As we entered six minutes of stoppage time, the aerial bombardment would commence, as Forest looked for an equaliser by bringing on Sam Surridge and Taiwo Awoniyi to add height.
In the second minute, Williams sent a deep cross towards the box from the left where Awoniyi met just three yards out. However, his header ballooned over the crossbar; a chance the Nigerian should have done better with.
The City Ground was emptying, but the thousands that left before the end were made to pay with merely seconds to play. The returning Lewis O’Brien pinged a cross to Surridge who headed back across goal and into a dangerous area. After a scramble in the penalty area, a Gibbs-White attempt deflected off the unlucky Zanka and hurtled just over the line before being cleared, with Andre Marriner signalling for the bedlam to begin by pointing to his watch.
A last-minute equaliser always seems like a win, as limbs sprawled everywhere, even if it only signalled a point.
Forest are clearly taking a step in the right direction, with promising consecutive home performances. Everything seems to go against you when you’re at the bottom, but as these performances continue to improve, points are bound to follow. They just need to make sure chances are converted and their efforts are rewarded with points.
Cooper said: “I thought we were excellent in the first 35 minutes, as good as we’ve been with the ball and good value for the 1-0 lead and it possibly should have been more.
“We scored a great goal through Morgan, who I thought was the best player on the pitch and Brennan and Emmanuel got into some really good positions. We looked a threat but didn’t carry that on for the final 10 minutes of the first half and we made some sloppy unforced errors.
“We spoke at half time about cutting out the errors and reacting to a few changes we felt Brentford would make, which they did and we felt we could keep getting into good positions. We were getting joy in the game and I wanted us to build on that.
“To walk off the pitch with nothing would have been harsh today because we played really well in the first half and kept fighting in the second. I’m pleased that we got something out of the game but when I wake up tomorrow I’ll be disappointed it’s not three.
“There were things in the game that we were unfortunate with but that was out of our control and there’s a lot of good things to take from the game. We know where we need to improve, too.
“The support was incredible again and made the atmopshere a good one and that helped push us to get the equaliser.”