Nottingham Forest against Luton Town, a Premier League fixture — something fans of both teams wouldn’t have thought until very recent times. The last two winners of the Championship play-offs met on the burst banks of the River Trent; the Reds were looking for their first win against the Hatters since 2019.
Steve Cooper was forced into making a single change from the draw at Selhurst Park, with Anthony Elanga replacing Callum Hudson-Odoi, who is out for up to six weeks with a hamstring injury. Luton Town were looking for their second consecutive away win, their line-up including set-piece specialist Alfie Doughty and striker Carlton Morris.
Forest started the game with intent, particularly from Elanga who was bombing down the left wing on every occasion. His link up with Toffolo down that side created Forest’s first big chance on six minutes, the left-back’s cross finding Chris Wood whose left-footed volley was tame and fell to Kaminski in the Luton goal.
Luton responded to this early Forest pressure with an opening of their own two minutes later, Chiedozie Ogbene’s lethal ball from the right flashing across the face of goal with no one in white able to convert. But Forest wouldn’t be fazed and continued playing their positive football, not afraid to stick the ball in from wide areas which caused havoc throughout the game.
Morgan Gibbs-White sent a ball in from the right wing which Luton failed to clear, with Toffolo in the middle unable to tap in amongst a wrath of bodies. Following a fast start, Forest went flat for 10-15 minutes, with a few long shots failing to trouble either goalie throughout.
With five minutes until half time, Forest stepped it up again and created a couple of good chances that could have sent them in ahead at the break.
In the first minute of stoppage time, Serge Aurier clipped in a ball from the right, with Wood rising highest. The New Zealand international connected but failed to get his header under the bar, from four yards out.
Forest weren’t done missing sitters there though, wasting another huge chance two minutes later. Gibbs-White was found by Boly in the box, sending the ball across the area first time. Luton fluffed their lines defensively allowing Ibrahim Sangaré to latch onto the loose ball. With seemingly the freedom of Nottingham 10 yards out, he failed to get his half-volley on target, hands in head for the Ivorian international with the last kick of the first 45.
A sense of disappointment was in the air because the Reds weren’t leading at the break, but a performance that Forest could be proud of. They just had to make that show in the second half.
It didn’t take them long.
Forest took the lead as many were still polishing off their half-time pints, a move which showed the class of their attacking trio. Gibbs-White latched onto the ball on halfway and sent Elanga running forwards. Both Luton defenders went his way, unaware of the advancing Wood behind them, but Elanga was. The Swede’s first-time ball saw Wood in on goal, a touch in-field followed before a clinical finish from just inside the box, whipping the ball past Kaminski with his left boot.
Wood following up a goal in the international break with his second strike of the campaign, a goal that spurred up the crowd for the first time in the game.
The ‘Woodchopper’ continued to influence the game, getting on the end of a Gibbs-White cross four minutes after his goal; again missing the target with his head.
An entertaining one for the neutral, Luton came up the other end from the resulting goal-kick and ought to have levelled proceedings. It came from another Obgene ball from the right, former Stoke man Jacob Brown should have done better with his header, planting it straight at Matt Turner.
There were questions from some as to whether the weather would dampen the game’s chances of occurring, those who made it to the City Ground were certainly being treated to an enthralling display. Most of them were willing on the Reds in their quest to get a second.
That elusive second goal did eventually come, that man Wood the scorer once again. Elanga cut inside following a neat ball from Gibbs-White, curling an exquisite ball into the box. It was third time lucky off Wood’s head, guiding his effort into the far corner with class and levelling with Taiwo Awoniyi as the club’s top scorer this season.
Many inside the ground thought that was job done, but is it ever in the Premier League? Steve Cooper made a trio of changes following the goal, introducing Ryan Yates, Cheikhou Kouyaté and Joe Worrall in a bid to shore things up.
Yates had a chance to seal the deal merely minutes after coming on, sending a left-footed effort into the Trent End from inside the box. However, the nerves would come flooding back for Reds fans on 85 minutes…
Following a contentious free kick that was awarded to Luton on the left wing, debutant Andros Townsend delivered an awful ball that bounced before reaching first man Serge Aurier. Aurier flung himself at the ball like a jumping frog, mistiming it horribly as the ball flew over his head and into the box. Following a lucky ricochet, it dropped kindly in front of goal for danger-man Ogbene, making no mistake and lashing it into the top corner from eight yards.
VAR nearly snatched that moment from the visiting Hatters, before they snatched all the positivity around the City Ground, equalising in the second of eight minutes of stoppage time.
A seemingly safe long ball from captain Tom Lockyer dropped in the penalty area, substitute Elijah Adebayo eventually out muscling Joe Worrall to control. The forward then drilled his effort into the net, sending the visiting supporters wild and many of the Forest fans on their way to the exits.
2-0 up and Forest had seemingly thrown it away. Those feelings of anguish were temporarily removed three minutes later, a Chris Wood hattrick after he lashed into the net, but the flag went up and it wasn’t meant to be.
Inexplicable boos rang out at full-time with frustration and anger a clear mood amongst many. The draw means Forest are winless in five games and could only beat one of the promoted teams at home in their opening games. With a tough run of games to come, a win would have done Forest the world of good.
However, had Forest defended that free kick competently or had Chris Wood not been offside, then the positivity would have been overwhelming. We mustn’t forget Wood’s performance — his best so far in the Garibaldi. Orel Mangala quietly bossing the midfield and Sangaré continuing to improve every game.
A point means Forest sit 15th in the table, six points above the drop and six away from fifth, with an ominous trip to Anfield looming large.