An incredible defensive display was rewarded with three points at Stamford Bridge, as an Anthony Elanga goal saw Nottingham Forest overcome Chelsea for the Reds’ second win of the season. George Edwards reports from Stamford Bridge
Early alarms and long travels; yet away days are ones to be savoured by football fans. However, going home happy has been a feeling rarely felt by travelling Reds over the past year. Just one win in their last 21 games on their travels since their Premier League return, and next up was a trip to a place Forest hadn’t won at since 1995 — Stamford Bridge.
Fresh from seven deadline day signings, Steve Cooper made one enforced change from Forest’s narrow defeat at Old Trafford, as the departed Brennan Johnson was replaced by Orel Mangala. The hosts named an unchanged side from their 3-0 home victory against Luton Town last Friday, with Chelsea looking to make it eight games unbeaten against today’s opponents.
Based on their opening four Premier League fixtures, Forest were only really expected to pick up three points in that run, so anything else would be seen as a bonus. Having got those points against the Blades and following inspiring away performances against Arsenal and Man United, there was a real sense of optimism within the travelling support.
Chelsea kicked off and from the opening looked to catch Forest napping. Ben Chilwell got forward down the left wing and looked to find in-form winger Raheem Sterling at the far post, Ola Aina’s brilliant far post challenge getting the ball to safety.
This wake-up call sparked Forest’s defence into life, with a low block instilled to stifle Chelsea on the ball. The Blues only looked threatening at times when Forest failed to clear and gave them possession in dangerous areas, like when Conor Gallagher picked up the ball 20 yards out but saw his effort fly just wide after 15 minutes.
Chilwell and Sterling combined again this time on the break after 22 minutes, with the latter making a run down the right. Chilwell got on the end of Sterling’s cross but failed to make a clean connection with his weaker right foot, in a good position centrally in the penalty area.
Forest though are always a threat, especially with Taiwo Awoniyi up front. He was backing into Thiago Silva and Axel Disasi and making the pair look flustered. After 26 minutes he won his side a free kick and Morgan Gibbs-White delivered from the right, finding the head of McKenna. The ball fell to Awoniyi and Joe Worrall eight yards out, the Nigerian made connection but snatched at the chance and saw his volley fly into the Shed End.
The troublesome striker continued to cause unrest, and on 32 minutes spurned yet another decent chance. Following a cleared free-kick delivery, McKenna found Awoniyi tustling with Silva before the ball dropped. The striker powerfully swivelled to make contact but his close range strike narrowly missed Robert Sanchez’s near post.
Chances kept coming at Stamford Bridge and next to go close were Chelsea through their midfield maestro Enzo Fernandez. Gallagher’s cross was deflected into the Argentine’s path and after a composed touch, his shot from the edge of the box dipped just over Matt Turner’s crossbar.
As the half drew to an end, and six minutes of stoppage time came and went, 0-0 would be the score at the break, and rightly so. Forest’s defending was immaculate with Chelsea only really being limited to distance strikes and the occasional counter-attack. Plus, the Reds had arguably the best two chances of the half which Awoniyi failed to take, the striker looking to score for an eighth successive Premier League game.
A word must also be given to the 3,000 travelling fans. Incredible support right from the off, with the home fans seemingly muted. Their buoyant vocal support was rewarded just three minutes into the second half, as Anthony Elanga grabbed his first Forest goal having come on as a late first half substitute for the injured Danilo.
Moises Caicedo and Gallagher got mixed up in midfield, allowing Awoniyi to latch onto the ball and leap forward. This was the trigger — Elanga was off, and with his blistering pace, there was no stopping him. Awoniyi got his head up and found the Swedish international in the box, the winger taking a calm touch before clinically slotting home into the bottom right corner from inside the box.
A moment to savour for the travelling fans, with water bottles being flung in the air in celebration and glee. An away lead that Forest had worked so hard for and would continue to work hard to keep.
Chelsea weren’t rocked by conceding the early second-half goal and continued to be patient with openings. Countless times they had crossing opportunities which they turned down in favour of the safe option, somewhat of a mystery when they had 6ft 1in striker Nicolas Jackson in the box.
After 15 second-half minutes of failing to lay a glove on Forest’s stern defence, Mauricio Pochettino brought on winger Noni Madueke and debutant Cole Palmer, whilst changing to a back four in a bid for more creativity. Awoniyi also departed after 65 minutes, an assist this time for the Nigerian who is always at the heart of anything good Forest do.
The threat of Sterling was being nullified brilliantly by Aina and McKenna. Little threat was posed down Forest’s right where Boly was dominant. And Joe Worrall was making tackle after clearance after tackle in the middle.
The host’s famine in front of goal continued until the 83rd minute when they crafted a brilliant opportunity down their right. Palmer found Sterling who let the ball slip through his legs before running onto it and squaring in the middle for Jackson. Five yards out and central, the Senegalese striker ballooned his first-time strike wildly over the crossbar and into the away fans. The miss celebrated like a goal by those in the Shed End.
Turner was alert to make his first save of the half four minutes later, following a chipped free-kick delivery that found Silva in the box. His touch took him wide and his eventual shot was smartly tipped behind by the American goalie.
An away victory was getting closer. Only one win on the road last season, Forest were within touching distance of matching that record in only their third Premier League away game of this season.
A performance built on spirit. Ryan Yates’ place may be up for grabs based on Forest’s transfer activity, but not based on this performance. He typified everything you’d want in a holding midfield player and cropped up all over the park with blocks, tackles and passes.
As minutes ticked by, nails were bitten more sharply. Eight minutes of stoppage time began and although the situation was tense, Forest’s defending was anything but. Chelsea never looked like scoring and Forest had the only real chance of the added time, with Elanga skilfully making his way into the box before his effort was stopped by Sanchez.
A combination of clinical attacking play and unreal defensive resolve was enough to get Forest over the line, sparking that unmatched feeling of a victory running through the veins of everyone in red. Six points from 12 and ninth in the table. Following inspiring performances and exciting signings, it seems the only way is up for Nottingham Forest as they host Burnley following the imminent international break.
An international break that means the glowing post-victory smile can live on deep into September, and why not? Come on, you Reds.