Nottingham Forest failed to get on the scoresheet for the first time under Nuno Espírito Santo, a 0-0 draw away at Bristol City meaning yet another FA Cup replay for the Reds to contend with. George Edwards reports from Ashton Gate
Bristol City away. Stoppage time. Despite a rather lacklustre performance, Forest fans were up celebrating the most unlikely of goals to breathe fire into their season and make the three-hour journey home one of celebration. Sound familiar? The travelling Reds were preparing for just that very feeling once again, with a late free-kick on the edge of the box that would see them into round five.
As it was, Danilo stepped up and skied it, summing up the evening for both him and most of his teammates — one of frustration matched by quality from their opposition, meaning we get to do it all again at the City Ground in 10 days or so.
Nuno named an unchanged side from the one that started at Brentford, searching for consistency in both performance and personnel. The Cup has provided Bristol City a welcome break from their otherwise dull league campaign as the Championship side sit in 16th, their only win of 2024 coming in the competition, much like their opponents. They made two changes from a 1-1 draw against Watford at Ashton Gate last weekend.
Wary of the risk both sides possessed, the game began with two teams being very standoff-ish and struggling to get into any promising positions, getting a feel for how the other was playing.
The game’s first real chance came after 18 minutes when centre-back Zak Vyner drove through Forest’s midfield like it wasn’t there and fed striker Tommy Conway in the box. His shot from a tight angle on the right was blocked by the sliding challenge of Andrew Omobamidele, saving the blushes of a slipping Danilo.
Bristol kept applying the pressure and had another big chance six minutes later as Anis Mehmeti got in behind Gonzalo Montiel, not helped by the lack of support from his winger Nico Dominguez who didn’t track the man. Mehmeti’s ball from the left was met by the lively Conway, who missed to the left with a half-volley.
The Reds’ quality was always likely to show at some stage and it did just before 30 minutes as Dominguez crossed from the right, towards Chris Wood in the middle. He was beaten to the ball but the clearance sat up nicely for Ryan Yates on the volley, firing straight at ‘keeper O’Leary.
Credit must go to the Robins, they weren’t scared of their Premier League opposition, happy to play their football and look confident with it. There was a stage towards the end of the half where Forest just couldn’t get a kick; it was like watching them in the latter days of Steve Cooper’s tenure. They would make nothing of this, though, and Forest nearly nicked the lead in the last minute of the first period…
The Reds had won the ball in decent areas but failed to break fast as of yet. But this time it was Wood who regained possession on halfway and galloped confidently towards goal. He was always going to need help, which he got from the overlapping run of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Wood slipping him in on the left in the box. The winger took on his man before cutting the ball back towards Danilo, the Brazilian’s first-time strike from the edge of the box flying into the side netting, causing many false celebrations in the away end.
Goalless at the break, with Forest missing spark in the centre of the park, playing three midfield players who like to see the game in front of them, rather than getting in the thick of the action. Nuno attempted to rectify this by bringing on Morgan Gibbs-White and Neco Williams, replacing Forest’s booked duo of Yates and Dominguez.
The changes worked for a period of the second half; Gibbs-White the option that was missing from Forest’s midfield, with everyone looking to pass to him. He was at the heart of a move that should have resulted in a goal just before the hour mark.
Now the captain, Gibbs-White received from Hudson-Odoi, looked up and saw Wood peeling away from his marker at the back stick. His flighted ball was inch-perfect and found the unmarked Wood on the edge of the six-yard box. Wood had scored with six of his last seven shots on target, but not this time, as his rushed header landed safely in the arms of O’Leary, the striker had way more time than he thought and was caught in two minds.
Gibbs-White just seems to make Forest tick and another chance crafted by him wasn’t taken on 72 minutes, his run infield from the right shadowed by Hudson-Odoi who was found, his shot from the left once again crashing into the side netting.
But the game just seemed destined for a replay, with two late Cameron Pring efforts not troubling Matt Turner in the Forest goal; not much did as the hosts had zero shots on target in the 90 minutes.
Forest did have the perfect chance to turn this forgettable fixture into a memorable night in stoppage time, a free-kick on the edge of the box after Gibbs-White was brought down. Just right of centre, Danilo placed the ball and stepped up, skying his effort well over the crossbar and into a frustrated away end.
It was a game that neither side could argue they deserved to nick, with Gibbs-White carrying Forest’s midfield as Danilo made mistake after mistake and Orel Mangala kept being caught wide. While a replay perhaps isn’t what Forest wanted, they could take a positive — a first clean sheet in 13 games.
But it’s more minutes in the tank under the new manager, with Arsenal set to swing into town for an enticing meeting under the City Ground lights on Tuesday.