Brennan Johnson’s two goals enabled Nottingham Forest, bottom of the table and with Steve Cooper’s future as manager being questioned when they lost 4-0 at Leicester in October, to move five points clear of the relegation zone as they extended their unbeaten home record to eight games in all competitions.
How Forest’s faith is being rewarded. Cooper was awarded a new contract in the days following that fifth straight defeat and now, with a Carabao Cup semi-final with Manchester United to relish and momentum with them in the league, the City Ground is rocking.
Cooper revealed that he used that harrowing setback at the King Power Stadium as motivation for his players to forge this victory. “I showed a video to the boys before the game of our supporters when we were 4-0 down,” he said. “It was important we give a lot back to our supporters. For me personally to give that result back to the fans means a lot.
“Because of what happened in October and what happened in the week afterwards we had to give them something back. They’d been hurting at the King Power and to give us so much support, and me, that definitely felt like a defining moment.”
What a difference three months has made at Nottingham Forest.
Back in October, Leicester City humbled the Premier League new boys 4-0 at the King Power Stadium, which put Steve Cooper’s job on the line and left them bottom. The Forest manager used a video of their fans staying loyal to his team during that defeat in a bid to inspire his men — and it clearly worked as, 102 days on at the City Ground, Brennan Johnson scored twice to seal a win which takes them up to the heady heights of 13th and above their East Midlands rivals.
“I’m always proud of this set of lads, but a local game, and also the league position and points, meant there was a lot of context to it,” Cooper said. “We knew it could be a real positive if we won. But we’ve not turned anything around. If we have that mentality it’s the start of the wrong mentality. We’ve got to be obsessed with improvement on and off the pitch.”
Brendan Rodgers also used a video of a previous encounter in an effort to rally his troops — Leicester’s FA Cup defeat here 11 months ago — but it did not have the same effect. For the first time, the manager conceded that they are now in a relegation fight.
The transformation at Nottingham Forest since that nightmarish evening in Leicester three months ago has been remarkable.
Steve Cooper’s future as head coach appeared in jeopardy after a 4-0 defeat, with his team bottom of the table and their Premier League return proving a painful experience.
That £150 million summer spend, with 22 new players arriving, was branded a miscalculated risk and Cooper was the one left to try to piece it all together.
Yet this victory lifts Forest into 13th place, above Leicester, and they have lost just three times in the league since that October night at the King Power Stadium.
Forest have also managed to secure an eight-match unbeaten run at their City Ground home and, perhaps most importantly, they appear a team. Brennan Johnson’s two goals, the first awarded after a Var review, were enough to continue their upward momentum and that heavy defeat in Leicester feels like a big turning point in their season.
Just 22 miles separate these two clubs but midway through the season, it is the three points that differentiate Nottingham Forest and Leicester that are perhaps the biggest indicator yet that after a testing start to Premier League life, Steve Cooper’s side are well worth their money in the top flight.
Those three points came courtesy of Brennan Johnson’s second-half brace which gave Forest a famous victory in this, the 100th league meeting between the two sides.
Before the game, Cooper had taken it upon himself to show a video to his players of the Forest away end at Leicester when they were 4-0 down in this corresponding fixture in October.
Just like his team, Brennan Johnson was a slow burner in the Premier League.
But both Johnson and Nottingham Forest are properly looking at home in the top flight of English football and the season, maybe, could go beyond everyone’s expectations at the club.
With a little help from the outstanding Morgan Gibbs-White, Johnson helped destroy Leicester with two goals and so doubling his tally for the season.
Forest, who are also through to the Carabao Cup semi-finals against Manchester United, have lost just twice in nine games in all competitions and are now playing as though they have been at this level for years.