Nottingham Forest grabbed back-to-back victories in the Premier League with a spirited display against Manchester United, with second-half goals seeing the Reds triumph 2-1. George Edwards reports from the City Ground
The City Ground has been a fortress for the past two years. Very few sides had been there and wiped the floor with Forest, and the atmosphere was immense. That momentum has wavered of late, with four consecutive losses and frustrating performances. Manchester United waltzed into town perhaps expecting an easy ride, not knowing what was to come…
Nuno Espírito Santo made a couple of changes from the shock Boxing Day victory over Newcastle, with Callum Hudson-Odoi and the suspended Ibrahim Sangaré being replaced by Nico Dominguez and Ryan Yates. Under pressure opposition gaffer Erik ten Hag made a single change from United’s comeback against Aston Villa, as goalscorer Rasmus Højlund missed out through illness.
United brushed Forest aside in all four games last season, with this the fifth meeting between the sides this calendar year. This one would be very different from the others though, with Forest springing out the traps from the off.
After a heartfelt and final Mull of Kintyre of 2023, the Reds kicked off and created an opening instantly, with an Anthony Elanga run in very similar fashion to the one early in the second half against Newcastle. His ball in from the right was met by stand-in left winger Dominguez, his volley was heading goalwards but for a block from youngster Kobbie Mainoo.
The game settled down from then on, with United’s midfield failing to create chances and Forest looking dangerous on the break. This was reflected in the stats, as Forest had six attempts in the first period compared to United’s one.
Forest had conceded the most goals in 2023 of any Premier League side, however, they never really looked like conceding in the first half, with United’s attacks down the wings never coming to fruition. The closest the hosts came was through captain Yates, who hacked a curling effort from the edge of the box over the bar after 32 minutes, following Danilo finding Elanga with a perfectly flighted ball.
But, after two minutes of stoppage time, 0-0 was the score at the break. The Reds had a few set-piece chances that they didn’t take, but with both teams looking to string together back-to-back wins, there was certainly goals in this one.
The game continued similarly, as defences prevailed. United came closest on 55 minutes through inverted right-back Diogo Dalot, as Aaron Wan-Bissaka found him on the edge of the D and the Portuguese struck goalwards first time, his attempt crashing off the post.
That’s when the game would really liven up, with three yellow cards brandished in quick succession following a scuffle in the corner, as the game threatened to fall away from referee Tim Robinson’s grasp. This only geed up the Forest crowd, hungry for the opening goal.
That hunger was soon fed just moments later, as the Reds took the lead with 64 minutes played.
After a sustained period of possession, Yates found Elanga on the right and as Alejandro Garnacho dived in and missed, Forest could drive two-on-one. Elanga was alert to slide in Gonzalo Montiel, who turned it further infield, finding Dominguez in the centre of the box. The midfielder connected first time, sweeping a delicate strike into the bottom right corner and sending the City Ground into raptures.
A goal made in Argentina, with two players who have been given a second chance under Nuno combining, giving the Reds a much-deserved lead.
United had failed to score in each of their last four away games, so the lead was much welcome and paved the way towards three points. But Manchester United always carry a threat, coming close on 67 minutes when a corner sat up nicely for Garnacho at the far post, the Argentine’s volley bouncing into the ground before looping over, a let-off as Forest left him all alone.
Matt Turner had been given warnings about his distribution numerous times at St James’ Park, another nervy moment coming on 76 minutes when he horribly sliced a clearance up into the air, with Moussa Niakhaté coming to Turner’s aid by keeping the ball away from Marcus Rashford as it dropped. But the American’s mistakes seem to repeat themselves, Turner not so lucky with another blunder just two minutes later.
This time Turner attempted to find Danilo as United pressed, his ball intercepted by an eager Garnacho. Where many players might lash goalwards instinctively, Garnacho was composed and dribbled wide before squaring to the back post for Rashford. United’s homegrown number 10 planted a first-time drive into the bottom right corner, with the City Ground rising in anguish over their goalkeeper. When will he learn his lesson?
But now was not the time for division. The fans had to get behind their side and ensure the point was brought home, as it was what they deserved at a minimum. Turner reacted to the situation like any man should and produced a decent save four minutes after the goal; Christian Eriksen struck from the edge of the box as he saw his drive pushed away by a diving Turner.
The Reds showed their transitional power at Newcastle and it was on display here once again, as the Reds broke following Turner’s stop. It was Yates who collected and charged forwards, from midway inside his own penalty area, over the halfway line and into United territory. Yates found Elanga wide right who took on Dalot, as a stretched United defence struggled to get back.
The Swede drove infield and saw Morgan Gibbs-White free on the edge of the box. The Trent End waited in anticipation as the ball sailed towards the midfielder, whose intent was clear. Gibbs-White wrapped his foot around the ball and fabulously curled first-time into the near corner of the net, cue celebration and joy once again felt by the Nottingham Forest faithful.
An incredible counterattack, showing Forest’s new threat under Nuno and the confidence that is bursting through. But there was still a game to be played, and Forest hadn’t got the job done yet.
Ridiculously, 10 minutes of stoppage time was indicated by the fourth official, but it wasn’t until the 96th minute that United threatened. Eriksen found Fernandes on the edge of the area from a corner, the midfielder’s volley deflecting off Murillo and forcing Turner into a fine, reflex save to keep Forest ahead. Turner going some way to redeeming himself with two fine saves and by commanding his area from then on.
The full-time whistle would come minutes later, signifying the true dawn of a new era on Trentside. In the Newcastle heavens and in the pouring Nottingham rain, Forest had outplayed two giants of English football, showed attacking quality like never before this season and brought back the feel-good factor that had evaporated from the club for several months.
Forest move up to 15th and see themselves sit five points above the relegation zone, typical that a break in Premier League action comes just as they begin to gather momentum. Nuno has spoken about trimming his squad but there are no candidates for the chop at the moment, with special mentions for Niakhaté, Gibbs-White and Montiel after incredible displays.
A win was the perfect way to end 2023, with the next instalment of Forest history seeming to have a bright beginning.