A 4-0 defeat at the King Power Stadium in October saw the end of Forest’s losing streak. From that point they have only lost four in the league and have risen five places in the table. Now, at the City Ground, the teams met again, both tied on 17 points and looking to take the crown of the East Midlands.
Steve Cooper was forced into a single change from their League Cup penalty shoot-out win over Wolves in midweek, as Scott McKenna replaced the injured Willy Boly in the back four. Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers named a starting XI including midfield maestro Youri Tielemans and veteran striker Jamie Vardy, as the Foxes went on search for their first goal and ,in turn, victory away at Forest in the Premier League.
A typical cagey derby-day opening concurred, with neither side able to gather any early momentum. Ryan Yates had his side’s first chance, as he flung himself at a cross from Remo Freuler, but could only head wide from 12 yards out after just four minutes.
Forest did seem the livelier team early on though and carved out the game’s biggest chance after 10 minutes. After some nice play deep on the right-hand side, Gustavo Scarpa (on his first league start) did brilliantly to spot fellow Brazilian Renan Lodi in space on the left wing and found him with a lovely cross-field pass. Morgan Gibbs-White was racing forward and Lodi slipped him in, but his ball was just too far ahead of the Englishman as Danny Ward claimed it.
A goal scorer in the reverse fixture, Leicester’s Harvey Barnes ought to have put his side ahead, as the visitors broke from Forest’s move. Captain Marc Albrighton had space on the left wing to eye up his options in the middle and see a late run from Barnes. Unmarked as he sauntered into the penalty area, Barnes was picked out wonderfully but sliced his first time attempt wide of Dean Henderson’s goal, a chance Barnes just had to take.
After a spirited few minutes, both teams seemed to sink back into their shell and play cautiously. Forest would continue to look more likely to take the lead as they pressed the Foxes and won the ball high up the pitch on many occasions, but neither team managed to create any chances to work either goalkeeper.
Five minutes into the second half, Leicester spurned yet another clear-cut chance once again by Barnes. Attempting to play out from the back, McKenna played a dangerous ball towards Freuler, that Tielemans got to first. Driving goalwards, he laid the ball into the box for Barnes on the left wing; he opened his body up to curl but failed to pick out the far post, amusing the relieved City Ground.
Looking for their first league double over Forest since 1973, you’d expect Leicester to come out and try to take control of the game, but the visitors were outclassed by their hosts as they failed to have another shot all game. Momentum was building for Forest, as the crowd sensed their team’s increasing control of proceedings, increasing the volume of their constant support.
Sam Surridge was introduced early in the half and an opened almost instantly. Brennan Johnson had seen more of the ball in the opening stages of the second half than he did in the entirety of the first; and it was his cross that was played towards the striker. Just as it came to Surridge’s feet, full-back Timothy Castagne intervened and stopped him from making contact.
Forest’s pressure paid dividends 10 minutes into the half as they got the ball into the net. Forest won the ball deep and Surridge was able to find Gibbs-White on halfway. Aware of Johnson sprinting away ahead of him, Gibbs-White got rid of it quickly and sent the Welshman in on goal. Ward was advancing, but very few players will beat Brennan in a 50/50. Of course, Johnson got there first, nicked it past Ward and had the composure to slot home into an empty net. However, no sooner had the ball hit the net, the flag went up as the goal was ruled out for offside.
Or was it? Despite looking slightly offside to the naked eye, VAR and its numerous camera angles adjudged the last man Wout Faes to have played Johnson onside when the ball was played. Goal given.
After taking the lead, Forest well and truly took control of proceedings. Cooper’s side were blocked every cross and intercepted every forward ball thrown their way as their defensive patience was tested by Leicester’s slow and unproductive possession.
The Reds would continue to create chances and Surridge came close to doubling the lead after 73 minutes. A superb cross was flung in from the right by Serge Aurier, with a diving headed effort from Surridge glanced narrowly wide.
In full voice, a packed City Ground were treated to a second goal with six minutes to play, confirming their victory. Again, it was Gibbs-White involved, bringing it forward from deep and lifting Johnson in on the right wing. He did well to race onto the pass, knock it past his marker and arrow a ferocious driven effort across Ward and into the far post. Forest’s frightful frontman raced away in delight as once again Forest reigned supreme, extending their unbeaten home run to eight games.
Twinned with an injury that forced Yates off at half time, the only dampener was when Dean Henderson fell to the floor in agony after taking a goal kick as he looked like he couldn’t continue. Forest had already made subs on three occasions in the second half, so despite his clear pain Henderson carried on, but worries will be had with the Reds’ seemingly mounting injury list.
Henderson was carried over the line as his side kept Leicester well away from his goal in the closing stages, as Forest secured their first league win of the season when scoring more than one goal — also picking up consecutive league wins for the first time.
Once again, the Foxes departed from Nottingham with their tails between their legs, as the Reds continue their rampage up the table, sitting proudly in 13th place and five points above the dotted line.
They are nowhere near the finished article — as Steve Cooper will tell you — but are certainly taking big strides in the right direction and continue to approach each game with confidence they can get something out of it. Oh, and the East Midlands remains well and truly Garibaldi red.