A City Ground season we won’t forget. The first time the Premier League has visited Nottingham in many people’s lifetime, a lifetime worth waiting for.
From the early West Ham win to the recent Southampton jubilance, and everything in between, it’s been some season to remember on Trentside. However, to see whether Nottingham Forest would be doing it all again in England’s first tier next season, it came down to the final two games. The City Ground would say its final farewell for a few months, but not before the visit of Arsenal, fresh from seemingly losing out on the league title.
An unchanged line-up was fielded by Steve Cooper — the side that drew away at Chelsea — with Forest aiming to make it three home wins on the bounce against Arsenal. The Gunners themselves made a couple of changes from their recent loss at home to Brighton, with Leandro Trossard and Thomas Partey coming in meaning Jakub Kiwior moved to left-back as Kieran Tierney was dropped.
The City Ground was ready. Belting out its anthem in fine voice as ever and making a promise to ‘Our redshirts. You have given us your all, and once more we give you ours in return.’
The Reds had by far the better opening, rather rattling their visitors with an attacking and courageous start. They got into some good positions and had three early long throws, but nothing in terms of goalmouth action.
League leaders for the majority of the season, Arsenal were always going to come into this one and settled into the game with bucket loads of possession. It was them who had the game’s first chance after a Bukayo Saka corner was flicked on to the far post, where a stretching Gabriel Jesus planted his header over the bar.
This Arsenal pressure continued but Forest were always a threat on the break. On 19 minutes Morgan Gibbs-White gained possession on halfway and drove towards goal. Approaching the box he had options left and right and slipped it right for Taiwo Awoniyi.
A race started between Awoniyi, defender Gabriel and ‘keeper Aaron Ramsdale. Awoniyi was favourite and he made sure he got there first, clinically sending the ball low under the English ‘keeper and into the net. Five goals for the Nigerian in his last three, one of many who have stepped up in recent weeks.
The City Ground atmosphere was cranked up another gear, just when you thought they couldn’t get any louder. Advantage Forest early on.
Forest’s lead never seemed to look under threat in the opening 45 as Arsenal failed to convert their ball hogging into meaningful chances. Their best openings came from two corners where Saka picked out Leandro Trossard on the edge of the box, both times the Belgian’s efforts went wide of the target.
Four minutes of added time came and went as Forest were halfway to survival.
The boys in red had been faultless. Defending admirably and keeping the Gunners’ wingers out of the game while looking threatening on the counter attack. Spurred on as always by their ever-present twelfth man choir, I’m sure many (myself included) were without a voice at the break, let alone at full-time.
The result as it stood also meant that Arsenal would mathematically be out of the title race, handing the trophy to Manchester City, so they had to come out and fight in the second half. Referee Anthony Taylor was letting a lot go resulting in a riveting watch where cool heads had to be maintained.
Saka looked like Arsenal’s only spark and had a chance just after the hour as he was played forward by Ben White. The winger lashed a shot goalwards that Keylor Navas scampered down low to beat away, a sharp stop from the Costa Rican who has certainly looked more assured over recent weeks.
Forest were doing well to break up the game, slow it down and not allow Arsenal to build confidence. Their pressure nearly counted for two on 67 minutes when Ben White lost possession inside his penalty area to Gibbs-White. The attacking midfielder’s eyes lit up but from a tight angle on the left wing, his shot flew into the side netting.
Three valuable points were getting closer. But with that came floods of anxiety. Arsenal still were being hounded whenever they dared enter Forest territory, a side that were putting everything on the line to get over the line.
As we entered seven minutes of injury time, Gibbs-White — who has been a star over the past few games — ever so nearly had his moment with another chance in the first minute of the seven. He glided effortlessly past Odegaard into the box before sending a tame effort that didn’t trouble Aaron Ramsdale.
This set of players. This manager. This owner. These supporters. Every one of them has deserved Premier League survival. At last, after those seven long minutes, they were put out of their anticipation, as elation took over the crowd upon full time.
No pitch invasion. Just Forest fans revelling in the moment. The Reds limited Arsenal to just a single shot on target in the second half while in turn looking the most likely to score.
Sure, playing five at the back and stagnating the opponent isn’t what football fans want to see week-in week-out. What we do want to see is 100% investment into our project, our religion. Sometimes that’s how the best moments come about, when the unexpected becomes reality.
The famous fist bumps were back in style, pure passion on the face of Steve Cooper when he finally got to bring out his trademark celebration for the first time in a long time. No other club in the relegation zone or around it has this. A connection and love mutually observed by supporters, players and staff. That bond is what got Forest over the line, alongside undoubted quality — they wanted it more than everyone else.
At a club where every game is a rollercoaster of emotions, next Sunday Reds fans can finally relax for a game and enjoy Crystal Palace knowing that they will be doing it all again next year.