Both on the back of bruising 4-0 defeats, Nottingham Forest and Everton were looking to bounce back at the City Ground, where the Reds were unbeaten in their last eight league games.
Steve Cooper made just the one change from that loss against West Ham as Serge Aurier returned to the right of defence, with a welcome return for Ryan Yates to the bench. Everton and Sean Dyche went in search of their first away win since October 2022, fielding England number one Jordan Pickford and ex-Leicester forward Demarai Gray.
A sluggish start followed from the hosts, struggling to pass through Everton and get out of their own half. The Toffees made Forest pay for their lack of identity, winning a penalty after nine minutes when Jonjo Shelvey was late on Dwight McNeil after Forest failed to clear. Gray stepped forward and sent Keylor Navas the wrong way as he clinically found the right corner of the net, giving Everton their first away goal in over 300 minutes of Premier League action.
It took Forest about 15 minutes to start playing with cohesion, but when they did it was special. The Reds were able to get back on level terms 10 minutes after conceding, through that magic Welshman. Morgan Gibbs-White had time on the ball to glide goalwards and play a neat one-two with Chris Wood, before unleashing a shot from the edge of the box that Pickford parried. Much like the reverse fixture, Brennan Johnson was alert to the rebound and slotted home at the back stick, a lively start on Trentside.
The goal brought Forest momentum and confidence and the game just seemed to be edging their way, as Wood came close with a header just a minute after the goal. However, it would be Everton who grabbed the game’s next big chance, with it being taken by midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure as the game reached half an hour.
Following a contentious decision that went Everton’s way, a deep free-kick caused Forest big troubles as they lost three successive headers inside their penalty area. Defender Michael Keane, found from wide by a James Tarkowski header, nodded forward for Doucoure who glanced a close-range header under the legs of Navas and into his net.
Two goals scored from set pieces for the visitors, exactly what Dyche’s teams are known for.
The Reds failed to impose themselves on the remaining minutes of the half and would have Navas to thank that they weren’t further behind at the break, as the Costa Rican was alert to tip over a long shot from Gray after no one closed the Englishman down.
Everton had outclassed Forest in the opening 45, but the home team had won 76% of their points in front of their fans and would be sure to fight to maintain their unbeaten home run.
Five bookings were given out in the first 15 minutes of the second half as Everton aimed to make the encounter scrappy and ensure Forest would have to keep their heads to get anything from the game. They had 63% of the ball in the second period, suiting the Toffees who were happy to soak up pressure and hit on the break.
The game was slowly slipping away from the hosts as they continued to chip away, but the breakthrough finally came after 77 minutes. Everton failed to clear their lines as Forest pounced, with Johnson drifting infield before finding substitute Yates on the right wing. Unselfishly, Yates returned the ball to Johnson first time as the 21-year-old worked the ball onto his left foot, confidently caressing his effort high into the top corner and drawing his team level once again.
Johnson scoring at home is becoming something of an inevitability, the Welshman’s fifth goal in four league games at the City Ground.
Brennan embodied this Forest team, sprinting back to halfway, as a spirited Forest side pushed for a winner, aiming to score three for the first time in the league this season.
Forest’s soul attacking threat was Johnson, who came ever so close to claiming his hat-trick with five to play. Yates slotted forward to Gibbs-White on the right wing, who found Johnson in the box. On his right foot, he scooped his curling shot just wide of the far post, confidence beaming from his boots.
A draw was probably fair over the course of the game with neither side ever looking like they would go on to win the game. Forest are in a position where games like these aren’t must wins, as they ensured their visitors remained four points and places behind them.
Cooper said: “There is definitely some things that we could have done better, particularly around the goals and at the start of the game. Everton got on the front foot quicker than we did and that shouldn’t happen, especially at home.
“There is two ways of handling the situation when you’re 1-0 down or 2-1 down at home, that is to be proud of playing for the club and getting something out of the game or you go the other way. I’m glad we did the first bit.
“I thought we were good in the second half and the territory was much better, the game was played in their half and we had to be patient but Brennan scored and if anything I thought we were going to win it after that.
“There’s a lot to take out of the game, areas where we need to do better which are moments rather than phases of games but there were a lot of positives as well and who knows how important that point might be.”