Nottingham Forest contemplate yet another set-piece collapse

Dubious substitutions came before a late Luton Town equaliser at Kenilworth Road, as the points were shared after a 1-1 draw in a bottom-of-the-table Premier League clash that neither side could afford to lose. George Edwards weighs up the performance

Last week, Nuno Espírito Santo went on a rant about referees, exasperated with the officials’ decisions “costing Forest points”.

There’s an argument to be made that he should stop doing the same.

Forest were coasting at Kenilworth Road. A goal up and with little pressure from the home side. That changed almost instantly on 75 minutes with the double substitution of Chris Wood and Divock Origi. Granted, Wood was injured — here’s hoping it’s not serious with the omission of Taiwo Awoniyi from the matchday squad — but the issue was with who came on.

The pair were replaced by Callum Hudson-Odoi and Felipe, meaning a switch in formation as the Reds went to a back five with no striker.

Nico Dominguez came on for Morgan Gibbs-White minutes later — another questionable choice — with the Argentine deployed up front.

Despite being a versatile player, Dominguez has never been a striker, and the substitution of Origi, who had dominated in the air all afternoon, meant Forest lost their outlet and there was no one in the middle.

It’s not the first time we’ve said this, think about the selection and subs away at Brighton, and cast your mind back to the reverse fixture when Steve Cooper’s changes proved fatal, the similarities uncanny.

Nuno’s substitutions just invited pressure — pressure that wasn’t there before hand. Sure enough, Luton saw more of the ball and began to grow in confidence, Forest with no way out.

Luton grabbed the equaliser in the last minute of regulation time when an out-swinging Ross Barkley corner was nodded down by Reece Burke, allowing unmarked substitute Luke Berry to swivel and lash home from close range.

Yet another concession of a late goal from a set piece, the same thing being said moreover, even after the hosts had given Forest a warning sign earlier in the game as they netted from a corner, but the goal was rightly chalked off for handball.

Fear engulfed the away end, and with seven minutes of injury time to play, it seemed to be heading one way.

Luton pummelled the Forest box but the Reds clung on, even having a late chance through Ryan Yates who volleyed from the edge of the box, narrowly shooting wide.

Despite the changes made by the manager, Forest ought to have killed the game off well before — another repeated theme of this season.

For the second game running, Origi had two clear chances to score in the first period. First, after 17 minutes, Gibbs-White played him through on the right but his lame chipped effort went over the goalie before being cleared off the line by Issa Kabore.

His second came on 33 minutes and another goal line clearance this time from Burke, as Origi was found by a sprinting Anthony Elanga, his shot past ‘keeper Thomas Kaminski but not Burke. The Belgian’s lack of end product a key reason why he is being deployed on the wing at the moment.

Luton dominated the start and end of the first half with three early Ross Barkley chances kept out, two saved well by Matz Sels and the third striking the post from 25 yards.

But in between those spells it was the visitors who had the chances. Origi’s blushes were saved by Chris Wood, Forest’s ever-reliable man in front of goal, who scored his 150th goal in English league football a minute after Burke’s heroics. Gibbs-White nodded wide for Neco Williams who returned the favour, as the midfielder turned and prodded a ball into the middle and Wood stuck a leg out to lift over Kaminski for 1-0.

A game with a cup final feel, it was always going to be tense. Rather than a walk down Wembley Way with the view of the famous arch, the welcoming streets of Luton and the ever-rusting Kenilworth Road played host to a relegation play-off; fitting that it was a meeting between the last two Championship play-off winners.

A thrilling spectacle, the game had a Championship feel at times. Raw, unfiltered and well-fought. The perfect game for someone like Ryan Yates, who, despite doubts from sections of the fanbase, delivered a wonderful display and left everything out there.

Much like Neco Williams, whose form just continues to shine, up and down the line like there was no tomorrow. Murillo kept Carlton Morris silent all game and nearly provided a magical moment of his own midway through the second half…

After being awarded a free kick, quick thinking from the defender saw him try and catch out Kaminski from inside his own half, the Belgian goalie back-pedalling and tipping over his crossbar, the effort destined for the top corner.

This came minutes before more goal line Hatters heroics, as Teden Mengi denied Elanga from doubling Forest’s lead after he played a sweeping one-two with Wood. Elanga drove goalwards and Mengi denied the Swede’s slotting strike towards the far corner, a clearance many couldn’t believe.

Although they had less possession, Forest had more shots, big chances and a higher xG over the 90 minutes. Given how awfully they seem to defend set pieces, chances must be stuck away if they want to pick up more points going forward.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Most Forest fans were fearful of defeat, so would have taken a draw before the game. The point keeps Luton three points behind Forest, before the looming points deduction that seems to be heading their way on Monday. And they didn’t lose, which would have been bruising.

The Reds are performing well and playing to their strengths; their direct counterattacking football makes most of their games entertaining.

Two home games beckon following the international break and as Crystal Palace and Fulham come to town, Forest must be confident in picking up points from them to regain any points they may lose between now and then.

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