Will Nottingham Forest’s qualities see them over the line?

Ahead of Sheffield United on Saturday, Nottingham Forest must learn from their mistakes if they are going to sustain Premier League survival, says George Edwards

Forest’s display against Manchester City proved exactly why Premier League survival was a mere expectation at the beginning of the campaign. As they often do against the better sides, Forest were up for it on Sunday. Professional footballers should be up for every game but from the first minute, when the ball dropped and they crafted an opening down the left, you knew they weren’t going to let the title favourites off easily.

At this stage in the season, results matter far more than performances. The time for playing well is over and three points is all that matters. However, when playing sides like City, context is a huge factor and Forest ended the game with perhaps the better credibility of the two sides.

They created chances that on another day Chris Wood would have taken, got rid of the ball without dwelling on it too much and were happy to seize upon their moments in possession with direct and quick passing. Under both Steve Cooper and Nuno Espírito Santo, Forest have never been a team that dominates the ball, so games like this seem to suit them better.

You have to give Nuno kudos too. Changing the setup of the team for a specific opponent is a risky game. Think back to when the manager rested key players away at Brighton, or the substitutions in both Luton games that invited opposing pressure and threw away Forest victories.

But when facing perhaps the best team in Premier League history, adjustments in style are inevitable. Last year, they packed the midfield and tried to force City out wide, as a Chris Wood equaliser earned Forest a vital point. This time around a back five was deployed, rather the opposite to last season, with a rather lightweight looking midfield of Danilo and Morgan Gibbs-White.

It worked on the whole, but the amount of space Kevin de Bruyne picked up in many instances — the second goal being exhibit A — was criminal and something that can’t continue. The back five did pave the way for Willy Boly’s return while bringing the best out of Ola Aina, plus substitute Gonzalo Montiel’s defensive frailties were disguised.

Forest can take a lot from the defeat to get them over the line and secure survival, with Sheffield United, Chelsea and Burnley to come. They proved that they have the quality to trouble and compete with any side in the league and can match anyone if their hearts are in it. Those levels of hunger simply weren’t shown at Goodison Park and have been lacking in many of the Reds travels this season, levels that must be maintained for the trip to Bramall Lane.

However, the formation may not be the way to take Forest over that line. It worked almost perfectly against City, but the Blades are certainly a different prospect, so it would make sense for Forest to stick to their laurels and approach the game in their own style.

Consistency was just beginning to build from a defensive point of view, with the potential injuries to Murillo and Neco Williams casting that into doubt, but Boly’s return will prove pivotal and thankfully there are no international breaks on the horizon. City had scored 17 in four league games before their City Ground visit, so for Forest to limit them to two goals and a single notable save from Matz Sels, all while offering more of a threat going forwards, shows that they’re more than a competent Premier League outfit.

The Reds are hoping to finally get some clarity on their points situation sometime this week and should be able to well and truly bury that hatchet for the final three games. Deductions aside, the Reds would sit five points above Luton and in relative safety. They are a miles better side than the Hatters, who offer very little apart from resilience, but that factor can be the difference in a relegation scrap.

Seasons very rarely depend on one game but this Saturday’s duel looks crucially important. By kick-off they’ll know Luton’s result and what they need to do to remain above the dotted line. Forest must now focus on themselves, on playing their football and on grabbing just a third away win of the season.

If they can, then, looking through the side, they don’t seem to be many players away from making a push up the table. A semi-reliable goalkeeper, an increasingly sound defence, plenty of midfield options and two potentially lethal strikers. It would be sickening were Forest to blow this chance down to dreadful set-piece defending, a failure to sustain a lead and a points penalty; here’s hoping the City defeat can be the catalyst for good rather than a foreboding feeling of if onlys.

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