Aston Villa continued their rise up the Premier League table with a 2-0 victory over Nottingham Forest, a result which saw the Reds slump back into the relegation zone. George Edwards reports from Villa Park
No win in eight games. No goals in 10 out of 15 Premier League away games. No win at Villa Park since 1994. Something had to change for Nottingham Forest.
Following Evangelos Marinakis’s public support of him in midweek, Steve Cooper reverted to a back three and brought Joe Worrall, Jonjo Shelvey and Cheikhou Kouyaté into his starting side. Ex-Red Matty Cash remains injured with Unai Emery’s side looking to get their second win against East Midlands opposition in four days.
Both sides went at each other toe-to-toe and there was little to split the sides in the opening exchanges. Moussa Niakhaté cleared poorly after two minutes, allowing in-form forward Ollie Watkins to stride goalwards but his shot from the right would not trouble Keylor Navas, flashing wide.
Forest had a few early flurries forward but never looked like troubling World Cup winner Emiliano Martinez. Villa and Watkins had yet another opportunity on 25 minutes when Leon Bailey drove in from the right and found the head of Watkins, with Navas doing enough to put the striker off as he headed wide.
In the warming spring sunshine, Forest broke forward on 30 minutes and should have done a lot better with their chance. It was Johnson who arrowed into the box and found Morgan Gibbs-White with a cutback, the Englishman failed to connect with the ball despite it coming right into his stride.
On the brink of the break, Villa had their best sight of goal through substitute Bertrand Traore. Full-back Alex Moreno — a player Forest were interested in last summer — swung in a cross from the left that deflected to the winger, but his shot on the half-volley flew behind and into the Holte End.
Only five shots in a very even first half, the Reds would be content with how they frustrated their visitors and had a couple of half-chances themselves. A platform to build on.
However, all this hard work was undone in just the third minute of the second half. Traore drove infield from the right and saw his cross parried by Navas. With the chance to clear, Shelvey just prodded straight back into the path of Traore, who made no mistake to curl home and give the Villains the lead.
Traore with his second consecutive goal off the bench; a goal which forced Forest to play more expansive, having looked compact from the off.
Midfielder Danilo had a long-range effort kept out by Martinez, the only shot on target the Reds would muster up all half. This was despite six corners and numerous long throws from centre-back Niakhate.
In truth, they never looked like grabbing an equalising goal even with the introductions of Taiwo Awoniyi and Andre Ayew. To add to the matter, Kouyaté and Niakhaté both ended up off the pitch with injury, the latter meaning Forest saw out the game with 10 men.
With the game slowly drifting away from them, Forest conceded a second deep into stoppage time and it was no surprise to see Watkins grab his ninth goal in his last 11 games. He played a one-two with Jacob Ramsey in the box and after a neat touch to flick it over Felipe, cooly dinked Navas to secure the points for his in-form team.
Villa rise to sixth place with results going in their favour, something that didn’t happen for Forest with wins for Bournemouth, West Ham and Wolves. The Reds come out with just a point from a possible nine from their first three games after the international break — and with the games just getting tougher, survival is becoming more of an uphill battle each week.
Cooper said: “I thought we set up well defensively. I know we’ve lost 2-0 but Keylor’s not had a save to make in the game apart from the first goal.
“I thought we were fine in the game, of course we want to threaten a bit more. We had a lot of corners, a lot of free-kicks and throw-ins but we didn’t make the most of them.
“In terms of controlling the game without the ball, we were good. The game plan was working and the players were really upbeat about how it was going at half-time, but to concede the first goal like we did, we can only blame ourselves.
“I thought we responded fairly well in terms of trying to get back into the game, we had some dangerous attacks and a couple of attempts from the edge of the area. We made some changes to try and give us some impetus, but Moussa’s injury stifled any sort of rhythm and any sort of momentum we had in the game.
“We have to roll our sleeves up, learn, try and fight back and do everything in our character to stand up and be counted for as we simply have to.”