Despite a valiant effort from the red shirts, Forest fell to yet another defeat — their sixth in seven games — with yet more defensive errors and questionable refereeing helping Bournemouth and Dominic Solanke to three goals, including a stoppage-time winner. The Reds sit just two points above the relegation zone, with a new manager bounce failing to take effect at the City Ground.
And so, just like that, the Steve Cooper days were gone. For the first time in two years, we didn’t see that humble Welshman step out in his Paul Smith jacket to receive a hero’s welcome from all four corners of the City Ground. Instead, Nuno Espírito Santo was greeted with warmth as he followed the players out of the tunnel, applauding the crowd and accepting his welcome.
The players he followed out were two different from the XI that were defeated by Tottenham, Divock Origi and Chris Wood replacing Moussa Niakhaté and Cheikhou Kouyaté, raising questions about the setup. The Reds lined up in a 4-2-3-1, with Origi off the right wing and Wood as a solo striker. Bournemouth, unbeaten in six against Forest, also made a couple of changes from their last game, with Philip Billing returning to face a side he loves playing, with three goals in his last four starts at the City Ground.
Nuno is seen as a very similar coach to the outgoing Cooper, so the question posed by many was what would be different about Forest under the Portuguese coach. The answer? Apart from the change in formation, not much. His side struggled to string five passes together and relied on counterattacking chances, with the Cherries having 71% of the ball in the first period.
Saying that, the Reds did have two early chances that they could and perhaps should have taken on seven minutes.
First, Wood beat the offside trap and latched onto a long ball, before jinking inside his man in the box and getting into a shooting position, off the left. He had done it all but failed to finish, a tame shot straight at Cherries skipper Neto. Bournemouth spurned possession almost instantly, allowing Origi to send a cute ball for Anthony Elanga, his low shot from the edge of the box once again too easy for Neto.
With all the ball, Bournemouth failed to make Forest squirm early on, Solanke shooting wide the closest they came until referee Rob Jones decided to aid their cause midway through the half…
Willy Boly made a crunching tackle on Solanke who was bearing down on goal, the ball spilling towards Adam Smith. Boly then lunged in for a second tackle, winning the ball and sending Forest away.
Or so they thought.
Jones adjudged that to be a foul and having been booked after five minutes, a second yellow card meant Boly was inexplicably given his marching orders, despite Smith seeming to trample on the Ivorian in the process. Boly was perhaps silly to give Jones the chance to give him a second booking as he lunged for a 50/50, but it was one he won and should never have been punished for.
From then, both sides struggled to get back into rhythm, not that Forest had anyway, with Niakhaté coming on to join the defence. He had replaced Origi who looked threatening on the wing; promising signs for the new manager.
Already receiving dog’s abuse from the City Ground faithful, Jones firmly asserted himself as the pantomime villain with seven until the break. Elanga found Harry Toffolo overlapping, the latter crossing only into the outstretched arm of Smith, Jones unmoved. VAR ruled that it was handball, but that the contact not confirmed to be inside the area, although some watching the replays would beg to differ.
While the first half was all about Jones, the second was firmly about goals, with Forest grabbing one after two second-half minutes. Wood lost the ball but harried and won it back, before turning and running towards goal. The New Zealand captain knocked the ball through for the racing Elanga, who came onto the ball with his left foot and stroked home into the far corner with precision, the first goal in the Nuno era.
A key feature of the Cooper era was that Forest would take leads but fail to hang onto them, a theme that continued into the new one, as Forest’s lead only lasted seven minutes.
Another feature that remained was the fact Forest cannot defend crosses, with Solanke rising between Niakhaté and Murillo to direct a looping Marcos Senesi cross over Matt Turner and into the net. Scores level.
Bournemouth then started to purr and saw a goal-bound effort blocked by Neco Williams after 56 minutes, a miss that would only be in vain for two minutes when they took the lead; yet another calamity at the back as Forest seemed to clear from a rehearsed corner routine. However, the Murillo clearance dropped to the head of Billing who nodded forwards, and after an unlucky flick off Neco Williams, it arrived at Solanke’s feet as he emphatically dispatched past Turner from six yards out.
A man down. A goal down. It would have been easy for Forest to accept defeat and throw the towel in. But this Forest side are made of stern stuff, and they somehow were able to claw themselves level with 15 minutes left.
And from the most unlikely source. Forest scored only their third set-piece goal of the season, as Morgan Gibbs-White’s back-post corner delivery was headed across goal by Wood, flying into the net with Solanke on the line unable to clear.
Wood just loves to score, racing away towards the corner flag, arms outstretched as he led the pandemonium. A goal and assist that he merited, showing great ability in the air, holding up play and on the ball throughout the 90 minutes.
Four second-half goals, there looked certain to be a fifth. With 10 minutes remaining, it would have come Forest’s way but for a Dango Outtara goal-line clearance, as Gibbs-White beat the ‘keeper before Bournemouth hit the post a minute later. David Brooks’ first-time strike from the near side crashed off Turner’s near post, the American stranded.
Stoppage time loomed as everyone inside the City Ground awaited just one last chance. It looked like Forest were going to stop the rot at home and earn a battling and heroic point, however, a 93rd-minute Bournemouth winner would compound Forest to their fourth consecutive home defeat.
It was yet another ball into the box, this time from deep on the right and Adam Smith. The ball arced perfectly towards Solanke, but the striker had lots to do, 12 yards out. Solanke made it look easy though, a magnificent, stooping header flying into the top corner as Turner got a touch, sending the travelling Cherries into delirium and many Reds to the exits, as he notched a hattrick.
Even in their struggles last season, Forest didn’t lose four consecutive home games, and with all the bottom three picking up points, they are looking perilously over their shoulders. Forest merited a point based on effort, but once again failed to deal with balls into the box, the outcome costly. They will be hoping to bounce back with a Boxing Day win over Newcastle, something that looks very far from reality at the moment, as Bournemouth continue on their sleigh ride up the table with five wins in six.