So after a 3-month break from The Championship, Forest returned to action at Hillsborough against Gary Monk’s Sheffield Wednesday side that had been struggling a fair bit prior to lockdown.
Team news wasn’t great for Forest with two of our most influential players of the season (Sow and Watson) both recovering from injury. It certainly felt good to see Forest back out on the pitch albeit after experiencing a 15-minute delay with the ifollow match stream.
What was most noticeable from the early stages was the tempo of the game. It picked up from almost where we’d left off at the beginning of March and it was encouraging to see. Whilst some of the games in the Premier League have been a little tentative to begin with, there were no signs of that at Hillsborough yesterday. Both teams started with a fair degree of purpose as the home side started to get on top in the early stages.
A lovely reverse pass from Barry Bannan put Jordan Rhodes in but some slight hesitation prevented him from getting a shot away as Brice Samba got out quickly to smother the shot. It was certainly a let-off for Forest as once more, Rhodes looked a threat up top when he seemingly struggles against the majority of Championship defenses. Colin Fray dropped a most unwelcome stat that Rhodes hasn’t finished on the losing side against Forest in his last 9 meetings.
Moments later Wednesday were causing Forest problems down the right again; a deep cross from Kieran Lee to the back post found Connor Wickham in space and looked to be heading the ball into the net except for a great block from Tobi Figueiredo just in front of goal. Either side of that – the Forest linked – Massimo Luongo – had a couple of longer-range efforts that didn’t trouble Brice Samba when he was well placed to at least hit the target.
Forest started pretty well in the 2nd half and mustered some early pressure. Ryan Yates couldn’t direct a flighted free-kick from Silva towards goal and a better pass from Joe Lolley, following a quick break down the right, almost presented Brennan Johnson with a chance in front of the Wednesday goal.
Wednesday looked a threat almost every time they came forward and seemed to be attacking our vulnerabilities in the air. They launched plenty of balls into the Forest box and were very close to opening the scoring just before the hour mark. Brice Samba mimed pegging his washing out as he got nowhere near Kieran’s Lee cross from the right. Connor Wickham really should have scored but instead headed against the foot of the post. As the ball ricocheted back to Kieran Lee, it looked certain he would put the ball into the net. His well-struck effort was superbly blocked on the line by Joe Worrall through an incredible body movement that horizontally dived across the goal. Worrall had saved a certain goal and Forest had to up their game.
Brennan Johnson almost produced at the other end immediately afterward; showing skill and strength to beat Iorfa inside the Wednesday box. Moving towards the 6-yard area; Johnson overhit his pass which eluded Lewis Grabban, unmarked at the far post. With a little more composure; that would have been a sure-fire goal but the work from Brennan to get himself into that position was encouraging at the least. It’s great to see him in the side and I’m hopeful that there’s more to come.
Joe Lolley put Forest ahead with a cracking goal in the 69th minute. Latching on to Matty Cash’s pinpoint pass over the top; Joe did well to nudge the ball into his path, held off the intentions of the Wednesday defenders before finishing into the bottom corner.
— Nottingham Forest FC (@NFFC) June 20, 2020
Lolley wasn’t quite finished there and a long-range effort from 25 yards had Wednesday keeper Wildsmith scrambling across his goal to palm the ball to safety. Not for the first time this season after taking the lead, Forest continued to retreat deeper and deeper for the last 20 minutes. Whilst Wednesday showed plenty of endeavour; they were lacking in quality but I couldn’t argue their merits of an equalizer because it had been coming and Forest had ignored the warning signs to get further up the pitch and were giving away preventable corners and silly free-kicks.
When the goal came, more could and should have been done to prevent it. In the passage of play leading up to the decisive corner for Wednesday equalizer; arguably Tobi Figueiredo or Brice Samba could have done more to prevent conceding it with no Wednesday player in real proximity of getting onto the ball into the box.
Last-minute corners are bad enough to concede with a home crowd baying behind the goal and inevitably; it encouraged Wednesday further. Typically, Forest made a mess of the more hopeful delivery into the box and it was a shocker to concede from a defensive perspective. Alfa Semedo appeared to be at fault; misjudging the flight of the ball when presented with a free header to get the ball to safety. Inexplicably, he jumped under the ball, missing it completely and enabled Connor Wickham, to nod home without needing to get off the ground. Figueiredo had gotten the wrong side of his man granted but ultimately Semedo should have dealt with it as the spare man. It was hard to swallow given that we were 3 minutes into injury time of the possible remaining 5. It’s yet another goal that can be added to this season’s collection of giving goals away with moments to see a game out. It’s massively frustrating that we aren’t learning and the lapses of concentration continue.
On reflection, it was a fair result and although there wasn’t too much to get carried away with in terms of performance; it was a whole lot better than the last offering against Millwall. I thought Joe Lolley looked sharp throughout; his first touch was excellent which allowed him to spin away from his man on a few occasions. He took his goal incredibly well. To have Joe firing already is a massive plus and his link-up play with Matty Cash down the right was excellent at times. It was encouraging to him to say at the end of the game that he was feeling as fit as he’s ever done.
Considering the midfield lacked quality and experience, I thought Brennan Johnson had a bright first league start and offered a few moments of quality with the ball that can hopefully bear greater fruits in the remaining games.
Hillsborough is far from a happy hunting ground and Forest played reasonably well as a collective. It seemed very much like back to business in terms of fitness and application, but sadly the season-long problems continue to hamper us. It really is schoolboy stuff at times. I’ve everything crossed that those 2 dropped points aren’t going to matter at end of the season but there’s no doubt they’ve already had implications on our automatic chances. We simply have to sort it out or ultimately it will cost us.
TEAM PERFORMANCE: 6 – Room for improvement but by no means a disaster.
SAMBA: 6 – A little suspect on crosses.
CASH: 7 – Good battle with Harris. Assist.
RIBEIRO: 7 – Steady enough performance.
WORRALL: 7 – Tremendous block prevented a goal.
FIGUEIREDO: 7 – Looked relatively solid until the very end.
SILVA: 6 – Subdued in the holding role and took one for the team. Needed further up the pitch.
YATES: 5 – Can’t fault the effort but not enough quality on the ball when we needed it.
JOHNSON: 6 – Promising full league debut.
LOLLEY: 7 – Looked sharp – cracking goal.
GRABBAN: 6 – Couldn’t really get into it.
SEMEDO: 5 – Not much of an impact but at fault for Wednesday’s goal.
DA COSTA: 5 – Settling in but no real opportunities to shine. Looked busy enough.
BOSTOCK: 4 – Came on for dying moments.
DIAKHABY: 4 – Came on for dying moments.