Nottingham Forest were defeated by Leeds United in their fourth pre-season friendly, as the Reds conceded two second-half goals against the Championship side. George Edwards reports from Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium
The season is near. As the signings slowly begin to filter through and the squad is taking shape, the football term swings closer by the day. While preparations are ramped up in anticipation of the 12th of August, the Reds took the short trip along the A50 to the Pirelli as they came up against recently relegated Leeds United.
Following somewhat strange formations in the previous friendlies, the trend continued with five central midfielders named in the XI; Ethan Horvath made his first appearance of the campaign between the sticks. Youngster Josh Powell continued at left-back with Taiwo Awoniyi leading the line. Looking for their first pre-season victory, Daniel Farke’s Whites side included former Forest duo Sam Byram and Patrick Bamford, alongside tricky wingers Dan James and Luis Sinisterra.
Before the game, two Forest greats were remembered following their sudden and upsetting passings on Monday. Both managers laid flowers on the centre of the pitch in honour of European Cup hero Trevor Francis and trailblazing midfielder Chris Bart-Williams, who are sadly no longer with us. A minute’s silence was also observed by the 5,114 in the Pirelli.
Following kick-off, Forest were given an early let off from Sinisterra, the man who scored the winner when the two sides met in April. He pounced on a loose Joe Worrall pass and ambled goalwards, before his shot from the edge of the box clanged off the bottom right post.
Worrall somewhat made up for his error four minutes into the game when James was sent flying down the left flank, Forest’s captain making good ground and sliding away the ball before the Welshman could take control. A lively opening continued as Forest’s first opening came in the seventh minute with Awoniyi slotting in Ryan Yates on the right, his effort from a tight angle only finding the side netting.
Forest were beginning to find their flow and got well forward down the left after 12 minutes. Powell came infield and found Danilo who in turn picked out Awoniyi, the Nigerian’s eventual cross put behind for a corner after another Leeds defender was sat down. The resulting corner from Neco Williams was too deep but Remo Freuler (who replaced Scott McKenna from the start due to illness) retrieved and swung the ball back in finding the head of Danilo, Leeds ‘keeper Meslier tipping over.
As the floodlights cranked on and the night drew in, a vibrant start saw a vast change in tempo, as both sides sat off the other and little came in terms of goalmouth action. There was good variation in both attacks with long balls complimented with build-up play, but half chances for Awoniyi and Jamie Shackleton never looked like breaking the deadlock.
Half time beckoned but not before a couple of chances for Ethan Ampadu with 36 gone. The new signing saw his first half-volley blocked before the rebound with his weaker left foot flew wide of the mark. That would do for the first 45 with neither side taking control.
Much like in the first half, attacking intent was shown by Forest who crafted an opening in the first minute after the break. A Williams cross fell to his opposite wing-back Powell, who after a neat first touch, volleyed wide of the far post on his weaker right foot.
Screams for handball fell on referee Craig Pawson’s deaf ears on 54 minutes after a vicious Leeds cross from the right was diverted goalwards by James, his shot deflecting somewhere off Yates and behind.
After a couple of injury concerns in the first half, Awoniyi was replaced by South Korean striker Hwang Ui-Jo and his big chance came just before the hour mark. He was sent through on goal after the ball was won in midfield but in an attempt to twist Leeds defender Charlie Cresswell inside out, he did too much and surrendered possession.
Sixty minutes on the clock meant roll on the subs, as the likes of Serge Aurier, Brandon Aguilera, Chris Wood and Gustavo Scarpa entered the pitch, alongside debutant Anthony Elanga who joined earlier on in the week from Manchester United, warmly received by the crowd.
More attacking balance was given by the subs with Hwang and Elanga on the wings, with Elanga bursting through a few times but failing to create an opening. However, the attacking nature of the substitutes left Forest a bit too attack heavy and lacking in midfield, something that proved fatal on 66 minutes.
Joe Worrall received the ball from substitute ‘keeper Shelvey and had no options, so in turn did something he had been doing all night and played a blind pass back to the goalie. Having gotten away with it all night, he wasn’t so lucky this time, perfectly picking out Bamford who easily rounded Shelvey and slotted into an empty net.
The Reds’ best chance of the half came through young midfielder Aguilera, the Costa Rican’s effort from the edge of the box had the power but lacked accuracy, flying over and into the Western Terrace. Poveda was the next to go close for Leeds but after his initial shot was blocked, his long-range effort cannoned just wide of the bottom left post.
Leeds haven’t won any games since their win over Forest 11 games ago and they made sure that stat would change with a second goal with five minutes to play. It was dangerman Poveda again who was the thorn, easily getting away from Worrall and elegantly gliding into the box before calmly dispatching into the bottom corner, the English youngster having another good game against Forest after his star performance against them for Blackpool last season.
Minutes in the tank will be the message following the defeat, a game that certainly did have its positive elements. The battle for a place in the starting XI for Arsenal hots up again as Forest travel abroad for the remainder of their pre-season.