Three things we learnt from Sheffield United v Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest grabbed their first away league win of 2024 at Bramall Lane, coming from 1-0 down to beat Sheffield United 3-1, taking a huge step towards safety in the process. George Edwards assesses the performance

Wouldn’t they just have loved to have dragged us down with them?

Sheffield United away was never a formality and wasn’t pretty at all. However, three points are the most important thing in football, and Forest weren’t going to let a win slip through their fingers this time, facing the league’s bottom side.

Ex-Red Ben Brereton Diaz’s spot kick put the Blades’ ahead after 17 minutes before Callum Hudson-Odoi responded to make it 1-1 at the break. Captain Ryan Yates grabbed his first Premier League goal to make it two before Hudson-Odoi struck gold again, finding the far corner for the second time.

Forest now sit on 29 points, three above Luton with two to play, before any potential points are handed back to them by the Premier League. Here are three points from that incredible and timely victory:

The golden triangle saved them

Reverting to a back four seemed the sensible choice for this one, with the Reds aiming to play their own football and blunt the Blades. But their first-half performance was lacklustre, and they had their golden defensive trio to thank for the half-time scoreline.

Willy Boly has been the missing cog this season. The Reds have looked far better with him at the heart of their defence, and his height complements Murillo perfectly, with the Brazilian also compensating for Boly’s lack of pace.

It’s the first time they have played as a duo since the Luton away game, and they looked solid there until the manager intervened. Every time Sheffield United seemed to win the ball back, with one pass, they were onto Forest’s defence, so the pair had to be on it.

And that they were, with 10 clearances, five blocked shots, five tackles and four interceptions between them across the 90 minutes. They couldn’t stop it all, though, with Matz Sels being the hero on three occasions.

He was furious as Brereton Diaz sent him the wrong from the spot and took a clattering from a recovering Murillo minutes later, nearly having to be subbed. This only fired the Belgian up, with three sublime saves to follow.

He smothered two one-on-ones in either half, from Cameron Archer and Brereton Diaz, also tipping over Gustavo Hamer’s 25-yard stinger in the first half. With Thibaut Courtois out of the Euros, performances like this will only aid his mission to become the Red Devils’ number one, and also Forest’s survival hopes.

Back five to stay?

I was an advocate for the back four to return for this one, with Forest playing their own style and imposing their own game plan. But their first-half struggles have been documented and Nuno switched to a back five after the third goal, a move that certainly shored things up.

Yates and Danilo both like to get forward, with neither of them specialising in sitting and protecting the backline. The back three employed against Manchester City allowed one of Boly or Moussa Niakhaté to step out when needed and cover the holes in midfield, with no natural number six ahead of them.

Defence has more often been the Achilles heel this season, their three goals yesterday showed they are always a threat in front of goal. It would be no surprise to see Nuno switch next week, and having this level of adaptability can only be a positive, with the transition looking smooth.

Forest also managed to defend five corners in the game, a welcome statistic amidst their set-piece woes.

Survival is within reach

Oh, what a win can do.

Especially given the lack of quality at the bottom of the league, three points in this relegation fight are monumental. Forest went from anxiously looking over their shoulders at 3pm to comfortably smirking at the gap come the final whistle, sitting three points ahead of Luton and with a much healthier goal difference.

It’s certainly not done yet, with Luton facing West Ham and Fulham in their final two. We saw how much togetherness aids a battle like this last season, with Forest getting over the line despite looking down and out for large periods.

There’s a chance that they get a boost in midweek without kicking a ball, with the outcome of their points appeal surely to follow next week.

Forest would be just a point from safety based on their points earned on the pitch, and that’s providing Luton won both games. They may not have wanted to be discussing relegation at this stage, but their fate is within their own hands now as they look forward to hosting Chelsea next Saturday.

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