The full-time whistle of Nottingham Forest’s final-day 2-1 loss to Preston signalled the end of a rocky campaign that saw a relegation battle, a managerial change and, ultimately, a disappointing lower mid-table finish. But the 17th place that Forest eventually achieved does not tell the full story of a campaign that, following the previous season, fans will be keen to forget.
No one needs reminding of how the 2019/20 campaign finished. Having been comfortably in the playoffs for the entire season, an awful run of post-lockdown form saw the Reds get only two wins from their final nine games, including a winless run in their last seven. They were made to pay on the last day of that season, with a 4-1 home loss to Stoke – coupled by playoff rivals Swansea winning by the same scoreline against Reading – saw them crash out of the final playoff place on goal difference.
Much to the distain of fans around the city, Forest’s form this season started where they left off. Summer signings such as Lyle Taylor from Charlton and Anthony Knockaert on loan from Fulham took a while to get going, as the East Midlands outfit lost all their first four games, with manager Sabri Lamouchi, for a long time considered one of the best managers of this club’s prolonged Championship spell, eventually sacked on 6 October without a win since June.
Chairman Evangelos Marinakis eventually decided to recruit experienced manager Chris Hughton for the remaining 42 games, who started well by finally helping Forest to their first points of the season with a 1-0 win at Blackburn in mid-October. Three further draws and a 1-0 loss at Middlesbrough on Halloween, however, left them only out of the relegation zone on goal difference.
When [Forest] lost three games in a row for the third time this campaign, relegation looked a real possibility
After winning two games in a row for the first time this season, against Barnsley and Wycombe in November, their results turned for the worse again, albeit with a tough run-in. Losses to Barnsley, Bournemouth and Swansea ended November on a negative note, before a solid point against promotion-chasing Watford looked like it would put Hughton’s side in good stead for the new year. However, when they lost three games in a row for the third time this campaign, relegation looked a real possibility.
December 15th saw the Reds finally get their first win since November, and it proved a vital result against relegation rivals Sheffield Wednesday. This proved the catalyst for an unbeaten run stretching until mid-January, including impressive wins against Preston and Millwall to move them six points clear of safety. January also saw a great deal of recruitment, loaning in James Garner from Manchester United and Glenn Murray from Brighton, both of whom spend the first half of the campaign at Watford.
Forest’s first home loss of 2021 came at the hands of Middlesbrough, who came out 2-1 winners at the City Ground and Britt Assombalonga getting what turned out to be the winning goal against his former club. The signings of Murray and Garner, however, were turning out to be a great approach from the club, with Murray scoring his first goals in a 3-0 win at Wycombe and Garner producing many Man of the Match displays as Forest only lost one game in their next eight following the Middlesbrough defeat.
The great run at the beginning of the year, however, calmed any fears about relegation, as Forest ended February in 14th place, 11 points clear of the drop zone
The Reds saw out February with a draw over their adversaries across the A52 – and now relegation rivals – Derby County, with Colin Kazim-Richards striking late for the Rams to deny Forest an important win. The great run at the beginning of the year, however, calmed any fears about relegation, as Forest ended February in 14th place, 11 points clear of the drop zone.
March was a relatively uneventful month, as Forest saw losses to Norwich and Watford, who were eventually promoted, as well as hard-earned draws against teams fighting for the playoffs in Brentford and Reading. Two further wins at the beginning of April against QPR and Cardiff removed any doubt of going down to League One, staying 13 points away from the bottom three, before a 1-1 draw with Stoke City was enough to mathematically ensure survival and another Championship season. A draw against now-relegated Sheffield Wednesday and the final-day loss to Preston saw Hughton’s side stumble to a 17th place finish.
The post-mortem into how the team went from a few points off automatic promotion at one point last season to almost getting dragged into a relegation scrap is well underway. Key players were sold in the summer, particularly Matty Cash and Tiago Silva, and by the time reinforcements were brought in (albeit on loan) it was too late. Forest had 16 draws throughout the season, the second-highest in the league, and need to work out how to convert them into three points next season to have any chance of getting promoted to the Premier League for the first time since 1999.
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