Yet another away day in the capital beckoned for travelling Reds. Forest hadn’t scored in over two months on the road and with memories of that 4-0 thrashing last season still fresh, it was looking a tricky task. However, still buzzing from the win against Aston Villa last Sunday, the mood amongst Forest fans was one of optimism, hoping for three points before the final international break of the year.
Steve Cooper unsurprisingly named an unchanged side from the 2-0 win against Villa, with Odysseas Vlachodimos aiming to become the first Forest ‘keeper to keep a clean sheet in his first couple of Premier League games. Aiming for two wins against sides owned by Evangelos Marinakis in the space of three days, West Ham made three changes from their win over Olympiacos, with ex-Red Michail Antonio settling for a place on the bench.
A very even contest would take an early swing in the host’s favour just three minutes in, with the Hammers pouncing on a mistake in Forest’s midfield. After briefly regaining possession, Forest lost it as Nico Dominguez’s attempted ball wide bounced off Ibrahim Sangaré and into the path of Lucas Paquetá. The Brazilian latched onto it and drove forward, and with options left and right elected to shoot from inside the D, powerfully finding the bottom corner clinically — two in two for West Ham’s number 10.
Apart from the early goal, the game was very tight with both teams employing the same tactics. They both packed midfield and played with a high line where possible, with the goal being the only time West Ham broke through Forest’s midriff in the first half. The Reds got forward more than their opponents but only looked threatening from long throw-ins or deep crosses.
On 12 minutes they had a huge chance from a deep cross to Taiwo Awoniyi. A cross from the right missed everyone in the middle and was collected by Anthony Elanga on the left. He played it inside for Dominguez who in turn pulled back for Harry Toffolo who delivered, in line with the penalty area, picking out the Nigerian striker all on his own. From 10 yards out, he leapt into the sky, connected and nodded goalwards, denied only by the claws of a fully stretched Alphonse Areola.
The half continued how it had started with neither side taking control. It was as even a half as you’re likely to see but it looked increasingly like Forest would go in at half-time behind. That was until one minute before the break when the Reds pounced on a West Ham error…
Mohammed Kudus was caught in possession by Sangaré, allowing the Ivorian to look forward and see Morgan Gibbs-White darting through the space in the Hammers’ backline. Sangaré found him excellently, Gibbs-White being forced wide as he got on the end of the ball and after taking a touch, the midfielder unleashed a low drive from wide on the right in the box. Areola was able to get down and make the save but lurking was talisman Awoniyi, able to tap home and get Forest deservedly back on level terms.
Gibbs-White had struggled to get into the game on the wing and the break showed his capability when involved, with Awoniyi in the right place as he always seems to be.
The Reds started the second half slowly and it took them a while to wake up from half-time. That said, they did have a huge chance to take the lead three minutes into the second period, Awoniyi spurning the chance to make it 2-1. It was on the break, with Awoniyi being found after some quick thinking from Vlachodimos to find him on halfway. He and Elanga exchanged a few passes on route to goal before the latter found Awoniyi in space in the penalty area. It seemed the striker had too much time to think, lashing the ball wide on his left foot from a position he ought to have scored from.
Forest would get the lead in the end though, coming just after the hour mark. Another fast break, this time down the right where Sangaré found Ola Aina well forward. After a couple of neat stepovers, he delivered a precise cross from the right, Elanga the recipient. Cool as you like, the Swede dispatched first-time into the bottom right corner, sending the away end into delirium.
In a very tight contest, it looked like one goal might just nick it. But Forest would only hold the lead for a matter of seconds, conceding a corner straight after the restart that the hosts converted. Perhaps the Premier League’s best-ever set piece taker, James Ward-Prowse’s delivery was pinpoint, finding the leaping head of Jarrod Bowen who nodded in, unmarked just four yards out.
The goal knocked the stuffing out of Forest, going back to their old ways of sitting back and inviting their opponents onto them. Substitutions were made to try and freshen things up but ultimately Forest just kept enticing pressure and giving away cheap and needless free-kicks and corners.
They got out of jail with 20 minutes to play when Aina had a moment of madness inside his own penalty area, an attempted header back to the ‘keeper following a deep cross falling straight into the path of Tomáš Souček, whose sliding effort would kiss the crossbar before Vlachodimos collected gratefully.
West Ham had eight corners in the second half compared to just one in the first, and they made another one count with two minutes to play. Forest had been warned of Souček’s aerial threat three minutes before when Vlachodimos was forced into a fine stop, denying the Czech’s headed effort following a free-kick delivery. But Souček would score this time, following an out-swinging Ward-Prowse delivery, he peeled away from his marker and planted a back-post header into the bottom corner.
The 3-2 scoreline flattered what was a somewhat even and quite dull affair, but the defeat was entirely self-inflicted with Forest failing to stick to the game plan and continue to present West Ham with aerial chances. They had opportunities to win the match through Awoniyi that weren’t taken and were punished by one of the tallest sides in the league. Forest now sit 15th but a comfortable seven points above the relegation zone, ahead of an influx of fixtures following the international break.