Although being better the side throughout, with Murillo impressing in his second game, Nottingham Forest failed to break the deadlock as they drew 0-0 with Crystal Palace. George Edwards reports from Selhurst Park
An away day at Crystal Palace brings back memories of joy and celebration for all those there back in May. It was our day out. Our party. The final day of the season, after Forest had secured survival, was when it really sunk in. Now, 132 days later, Forest travelled to Selhurst Park again in what will hopefully become a regular fixture in England’s premier division.
From his side’s home draw against Brentford last weekend, Steve Cooper made three changes as Anthony Elanga, the suspended Moussa Niakhate and the injured Taiwo Awoniyi were replaced by Harry Toffolo, Morgan Gibbs-White and Chris Wood. In what was his 400th Premier League fixture, Roy Hodgson’s injury-blighted Palace side were without attacking stars Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze, as they looked for their first win against Forest in the Premier League.
From the off, Forest’s intent was clear. Gone was the happiness to sit behind the ball and wait for counter-attacking chances. Forest wanted to play with the ball at their feet and take the game to Crystal Palace; the opening stages were promising. Their first chance came after 15 minutes when a Gibbs-White corner was cleared and found Toffolo, 30 yards from goal. The full-back listened to cries of ‘shoot’, his effort stinging the palms of Sam Johnstone in the Eagles’ net.
Defending was approached differently by both sides too. While out of possession Forest would be quick to drop off and get 11 men behind the ball, Palace kept a high line, stagnating the space available to the Forest midfield. This did leave them vulnerable to balls over the top or in behind, something Forest exploited on 21 minutes…
It was a ball over the top from Murillo that saw Gibbs-White in behind the Palace defence, with pressure from both defenders behind and the charging Johnstone in front. As the ball dropped, Forest’s number 10 opted for a first-time lob over the ‘keeper, executed almost to perfection. It looked to be bouncing in but kissed the inside of the far post before a relieved Johnstone collected.
The flowing football kept coming as two minutes later Forest worked it from deep on the left, across the frontline and eventually to Ibrahim Sangare on the right wing. The Ivorian found Orel Mangala on the edge of the box with his shot flying over, but the move just showed Forest’s more positive display.
Palace had only scored once in the first 45 minutes of games all season and they never really looked like adding to that as the half went on, with them coming closest on 32 minutes. A Joachim Andersen cross from the right found Jordan Ayew in the box, but his wild volley flew into the Holmesdale Road Stand from 10 yards out.
That chance woke the home side up who then began to look more threatening, especially when they got young winger Jesurun Rak-Sakyi on the ball, following his introduction from the bench. The closest he came was two minutes before the break as he jinked inside from the right, but saw his shot blocked by Toffolo.
As injury time crept upon the half, Forest’s Murillo took the attacking into his own hands, having defended flawlessly throughout. He collected on halfway and jived through the middle of Palace’s midfield and defence before getting a shot off from inside the box, Johnstone saving both the initial shot and the rebound from the Brazilian.
Steve Cooper would be happy with the first half showing with Forest really putting their imprint on the game. The only things lacking were width on the right-hand side as Serge Aurier was the only player out there and substance up top as Chris Wood struggled to impact proceedings.
Aurier’s efforts came at a cost as he was replaced by Gonzalo Montiel at the beginning of the second half, with Forest in search of their fourth win in seven games against the Eagles. The aim for the Reds would be to mirror this positive display and try to break the deadlock.
As the floodlights shone into the South London night’s sky, the game continued to be an even contest with little in front of goal. Toffolo, who was getting into some decent areas down the left, was found following link-up play from Gibbs-White and Callum Hudson-Odoi and chipped a ball to the far post, with fellow full-back Montiel connecting on the volley. The Argentine’s attempt was blocked on the line by England international Marc Guehi, just after the hour.
From the resulting goal-kick, Palace worked the ball through Forest and found themselves in a positive two-on-one following a neat through ball from Tyrick Mitchell, with Odsonne Edouard and Jean-Phillipe Mateta in on goal. With Murillo the last man, Edouard delayed before squaring for Mateta just inside the box, with the Frenchman rushing a shot that should have tested Matt Turner, instead his effort whistled wide of the bottom corner.
Forest failed to continue that first-half performance as Palace grew in confidence, shown on 67 minutes when Guehi did his best Murillo impression and danced forward from the back, eventually finding Rak-Sakyi who had a dangerous shot blocked. Ayew then missed another chance when Mitchell crossed from the left, the Ghanian’s header flying over Turner’s crossbar.
Forest’s lack of intensity in the second half began to fade as the game drew to a close, with the hunger seeming to come back later on in the game. The full-backs combined again on 78 minutes when Toffolo found Montiel once more via a deflected cross, his goal bound volley blocked this time by Andersen.
But there was only one team trying to win this — and they kept coming forward. Intricate play in midfield saw Nico Dominguez emerge with the ball and drive towards goal from the right, he cut inside and shot with Johnstone alert to deny the Argentine two goals in as many games.
Five minutes of stoppage time came and went, and in the end the points were shared; a point both sides would be content with. While Forest looked the better team overall, they never really created any clear-cut chances to merit the three points. But optimism will come from the performance, with the Reds showing that the new style of playing with more possession has potential but will take a while to adapt to and work well.
Cooper said: “There’s a little feeling of disappointment in the dressing room, for sure. But we also know performances and results like this were so hard to come by last year. The fact we looked how we did, and the way we played, means that beyond the small disappointment of not winning, we see a team which is growing and is hopefully on an upward trajectory. I have to bear that in mind.
“We want to be winning games, especially when we have chances like we did and how we played in the first half. But we’ve also got to respect that we kept a clean-sheet against a Palace side who have got injuries but are also a really experienced team. For us to play like that is something which, overall, will be a real positive. I’ll look at both sides of it.”