Against the current top four, Forest had lost all their games; conceding 16 and scoring zero. The odds were well and truly against them. However, all of those fixtures were played away from their City Ground fortress, with the Reds not losing at home in the league since before the World Cup. It would not be easy, but no game in the Premier League is.
A defensive line-up was fielded by Steve Cooper as he brought Jonjo Shelvey, Jack Colback and Danilo into his midfield, alongside the enforced changes in defence seeing Joe Worrall and Felipe start. Having regained top spot after a win over title challengers Arsenal in midweek, Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Erling Haaland were among the starters in a strong City side.
Playing Manchester City must be treated differently. Unless you’re a fellow title challenger, it is likely that you’ll be without the ball for large periods of the game and have to rely on counter attacks for any chances. Cooper’s stifling tactics saw City have 84% of the ball in the first half — but only manage one shot on target.
City’s main threats came down their wings, but their first real sight of goal was after 26 minutes through De Bruyne who found space on the edge of the box, dragging his attempt wide. Two minutes earlier, Johnson had counter-attacked the visitors but found himself alone, eventually pulling his strike well wide from the right wing.
Despite all the neat football, the best chance of the half would come from a header from midfielder Rodri. De Bruyne swung a cross in from the left, with Rodri spurning a clear chance from 10 yards out, heading wide of Navas’s goal.
Forest had dealt with everything Man City had thrown at them and merited a clean sheet at the break. Their efforts would be in vain though, as City took the lead just three minutes before half time. After Forest somewhat cleared a corner, Grealish fed Bernardo Silva on the edge of the box, and the Portuguese midfielder sent a first-time left-footed bullet crashing into the roof of the net — breaking Forest hearts.
The half-time whistle came before City could add to their goal tally, giving Forest time to regroup, refocus and go again.
Manchester City came out fiercely in the second half and should have doubled their lead just two minutes into it. Forest penned City in forcing them to clear long, but this allowed Ilkay Gündoğan to collect and send Phil Foden racing towards goal. Haaland was sprinting alongside Foden but as the Englishman entered the penalty area, he slipped, allowing Felipe to intercept and prod Foden’s lame effort to square it to Haaland behind.
Five minutes later, City missed yet another golden chance, this time through defender Aymeric Laporte. The Spaniard had a free header from a corner and diverted goalwards powerfully, but Navas guessed right and sprawled on the floor to block the effort and cradle it into his arms.
A hat-trick was scored by Haaland in the reverse fixture, but the Norwegian failed to register this time around. Firstly, instead of taking on Navas one-on-one after a lucky ricochet, he opted to dive in order to win a penalty but failed to trick referee Graham Scott on 66 minutes. Somehow, he then missed a double chance two minutes later. Foden saw a long shot parried by Navas, with the rebound falling to Haaland, his follow-up bruising the crossbar. Haaland was able to get on the end of the ball again, lashing his close-range effort high into the Bridgford End, embarrassingly.
It just wasn’t going in for City but would it for Forest? Having been rampant all afternoon, the City Ground audience cranked up the volume another notch, sensing a comeback may be on the cards.
The chance arrived with six minutes to play.
Johnson — despite being isolated all day — came alive, darted past two defenders and raced into the box. As his run came to an end, he played in Morgan Gibbs-White, a few yards to his right. Gibbs-White would flash a ball across goal first time, evading everyone. Everyone except Chris Wood. Having barely stepped onto the pitch, Wood poked home from all but two yards, sending a fired up fanbase into uncontrollable celebration and glee.
The ever-looming ghost of VAR threatened to steal the moment, but Wood was ruled onside, much to the delight and relief of the majority in the stadium.
Four minutes of stoppage time would feel like 40, but they were made worthwhile as the final whistle blew. The role of underdog has been relished by the Reds under Cooper, with his side showing once again that they aren’t just here to make up the numbers. A point against Man City is treated like a win for most teams, a result sure to give the side confidence and momentum going into two crucial games at the bottom of the table.
Days like these though, make you prouder than ever to be a Red.