Harry Toffolo’s first-half goal was cancelled out by Matheus Cunha as the points were shared between Nottingham Forest and Wolverhampton Wanderers, a much-needed result for the Reds’ manager Steve Cooper. George Edwards reports from Molineux
A reaction was needed both in fight and skill after Forest’s embarrassing display at Craven Cottage in midweek. Both of those things occurred, with a much-changed line-up doing what was needed and grinding out a point when Nottingham Forest needed it most.
Cooper made wholesale changes to his side, seven in all, in a line-up that mirrored much of last season and only contained three summer signings in Matt Turner, Murillo and Anthony Elanga. Wolves were unbeaten in five at home, beating Manchester City and taking points off Aston Villa and Newcastle in that run, the same outfield XI fielded by Gary O’Neil from his side’s midweek win over Burnley.
While the line-up mirrored last season, so did the setup, with Forest reverting to their low-block formation for much of the first half, with a back five on display. While goals have been flying in their own goal and not so much into the opponents, Cooper’s aim was to shore up the Reds defensively, confident his side would create chances on the break.
The Reds couldn’t get on the ball in the opening stages but made it count when they did, taking the lead with their first attack on 14 minutes.
In what was his second Premier League start this season, Neco Williams got forward down the right wing and hung a cross towards the back post. Hesitance from ‘keeper José Sá allowed the ball to drop for Toffolo in the box, the wing-back rising above Nelson Semedo and nodding the ball over the line. Toffolo’s first Premier League goal and boy did he celebrate like it, going wild much like the 3,000 travelling fans in the Steve Bull Stand.
Forest’s wing-backs had to provide the width in what was otherwise a very narrow formation, the pair combining to show Cooper’s cunning plan may just have been the right one.
Wolves had all the possession and were always going to create openings, their first real chance coming on 25 minutes as the ball dropped from the air towards in-form attacker Hwang, who could only direct a looping header wide of the target.
However, Wolves’ pressure always looked likely to break through, with Forest’s lack of an outlet meaning that whenever the ball was cleared, it came straight back. Their early possession was reflected in the scoreline after 32 minutes, as an already buoyed-up home crowd finally got something to cheer.
Some quick passes created gaps in Forest’s backline, and Semedo found Paulo Sarabia charging up the right channel inside the box. On the byline, he pulled the ball back, evading Murillo and falling right into Matheus Cunha’s path, a sweeping finish into the net from close range from the Brazilian. It was Cunha’s fifth consecutive game with a goal contribution, as Forest’s 70% losing streak away from home since returning to the league was one goal away from being increased.
Forest wouldn’t lick their wounds though, and ended the half the better side. They ought to have created a huge chance with four to play as Elanga drove forward down the left, with Morgan Gibbs-White in acres of space in the middle. The ex-Wolves man would have been one-on-one had Elanga played him in, but the Swede held onto the ball and lost possession, poor awareness from the winger.
As the half drew to a close, Forest spurned yet another chance, this time through midfielder Cheikhou Kouyaté. Max Kilman casually controlled before losing out to Kouyaté, the midfielder with only Sá between him and the goal. However, the Senegalese seemed to panic and rush his shot, Sá making a low save to keep his side level.
Despite their lack of possession, Forest had the chances to be ahead at the break, with much more passion on display as opposed to recent performances.
Forest had an opportunity through Elanga early in the second half, as Ryan Yates crossed from the right. Elanga’s effort crashed off the crossbar; his high shot the right idea but lacking in execution.
The Reds would fight on, with battling displays from the likes of Williams, Yates and Niakhaté amongst others showing that this side would fight for the badge and the manager.
While still not having much of the ball, Forest had a spell midway through the second period where they were on top and creating chances, a stage where you thought they had to score. The closest they came was a change replicating their goal after 70 minutes, a Williams cross finding the head of Toffolo again, Forest’s wing-back unable to head home for a second time as his shot flew over the bar.
Having failed to score when they were on top, the Reds were always likely to receive a Wolves onslaught. The closest they came was through Cunha again, as Turner made a low save to deny him a second.
But in the end, a point was rather justified for both sides, with Forest having the better chances but being unable to stick them away. The performance was what was needed, with last season’s contingent showing why the Reds had success last term and showing the desire that the new crop seems to lack. It’s a point and performance that shows similarities to last season’s draw against Aston Villa, a display that sparked a positive turnaround in results.
The point that sees Forest remain in 16th, vital that they got something from the match with Bournemouth and Sheffield United both winning. It may be enough to see Cooper remain in his post for now, with an affectionate moment between him and the supporters at the end — both parties showing their unconditional love for the other.