Nottingham Forest welcomed relegation rivals Everton to the City Ground on Sunday for a game which held massive possibilities for both clubs. For the Liverpudlians, this was a chance to drag the Tricky Trees back into the relegation race and for Forest, it was an opportunity to create a seven-point gap between themselves and the relegation zone. As Dom Allin found out, neither eventuality would occur, as a draw continued the hinterland of worry for both clubs.
On my way to the ground, the air was filled with discussions, chats, and chants. The usually full pub gardens I routinely walk past had a few fewer empty glasses and a few more worried glances; the home fans knew this game could undo months of hard work. Forest’s opponents had just had their new manager bounce curtailed by a 4-0 loss at the Emirates in the week, but despite this many Forest fans viewed themselves as the underdogs. This was due to one man and his infamous style of play: Sean Dyche. The former Forest academy graduate had been seen a lot at the City Ground this year as well as occasional night out at Rock City. More pressingly in the context of this game, though, his style of play had historically been Forest’s undoing.
Playing the Forest way is playing the Brian Clough way; keeping the ball on the floor, use of tricky wingers and no arguing with the referee; ‘nice clean attractive football’, as Clough used to say. Whilst I am not saying this has endured at Nottingham Forest since his retirement, I believe it still runs through the club. This ethos though has always come unstuck against big bruising teams, and any of Neil Warnock’s old sides are exactly what I mean by this.
No matter how good the football Forest have played down the years, they have always been bullied by teams like Cardiff City, who bump and bruise a result out of the Reds. The type of football that Kieffer Moore relishes is exactly what I dread as a Forest fan, and I could just see this delving into a rugged Everton victory which would end the unbeaten home streak.
The noise and atmosphere triggered a reaction within the Toffees and the standard of football was about to decline sharply
Until the penalty, the game failed to settle, and neither team felt on top. The penalty that was given to Everton was just, and Jonjo Shelvey’s 90 minutes were summarised by that foul, late and misguided. The visitors took the lead with a skilful penalty, as Gray opened his body to place the ball to Navas’ left as the keeper had been fooled by Gray’s seemingly closed-off positioning.
The goal brought about Forest’s maturing into the game; passes began to be strung together and players created goal-scoring opportunities. Then came the equaliser, and of course it was Brennan! Brennan Johnson’s positioning for this goal was so important. At the start of the season, it felt as if the Premier League was always a second ahead of him. However, Sunday marked another step towards his exciting pinnacle, and he was right where he needed to be! Following Johnson’s finish from a tight angle it was 1-1, and the City Ground was bouncing again. The noise and atmosphere triggered a reaction within the Toffees and the standard of football was about to decline sharply.
The game then regressed into 1970s shirt grabbing, pettiness and late challenges, simply put the referee lost control, which allowed Dyche’s side to benefit. This might sound like a Forest fan shouting at clouds, but the referee really struggled. It felt to me like he was out of depth and was inconsistent. I must pay him some of his dues, as he did get the Coleman penalty shout correct; kicking a planted foot which has already won the ball is not a penalty.
On multiple occasions, however, there would be an initial foul on a Forest player who would lose the ball, the Forest player would emulate to the same extent what the Everton player had done, and the foul would be called on the Forest player. Just infuriating. For me, it ruined the football game. If we are going to have a rough and tumble game of football, let’s do it. But let’s not be inconsistent, ruining any flow of the game, it only led to head-to-head confrontations and more dirty challenges.
I don’t see how Everton fans can be proud of that side playing that style of football. I am not placing Forest on a plinth; Lodi’s play-acting was not what I want to see in the Garibaldi Red of Nottingham Forest. However, Everton went beyond what I deem reasonable in this field, for a club that once played such lovely football under Howard Kendell this felt like true desperation. Challenges were flying all over the place, some even of the pitch, but this is exactly what Dyche wanted. It gave Everton a desperately needed edge!
How can a league that spends the most on transfers not afford a high level of professional officiating?
The referee’s inconsistencies were highlighted with the free kick that led to Everton’s second goal. Gibbs-White was brought down, his shirt pulled followed by a big collision, a clear foul. Following this a Forest player went shoulder to shoulder, the Everton player crumbled to the turf, and the free kick was given. Baffling.
The reluctance to play advantage just meant the game resembled American Football. This is not directed at this specific referee, but I am so fed up with inconsistent referees. The standard of Premier League refereeing isn’t good enough. We all know it. And I do not believe in conspiracies or biases, these are humans not prepared enough or supported by the leagues. How can a league that spends the most on transfers not afford a high level of professional officiating? I will leave that for a less frustrated writer to write for Impact, but my frustration is that there is so much money in the Premier League, of which a tiny portion is spent on the refereeing.
Everton’s second goal from the spurious free kick was poorly defended, it was the typical switching off at the back following a delay in play which Forest are so susceptible to. We saw it at West Ham and we saw it again on Sunday, and it is costing Forest significant points. Everton dominated the rest of the half, and that half-time whistle could not come soon enough for Steve Cooper’s men.
The second half was predominantly Forest’s. Everton would aimlessly regain the ball on the edge of their box and charge up the field, seemingly creating a goal-scoring opportunity, but every single time it was halted by Worrall or Felipe. I never felt Everton could have scored a third and taken the game away from the home side, and I can’t remember Navas needing his gloves too much in the second half.
2-2 felt disappointing to both sides
Everton looked like a side playing for the badge, buoyed by the passion of Dyche, and I wonder how profitable that may be with 12 more games to go? Forest – whilst they did not look worlds away from their relegation rivals – had far more skill and passing ability.
Felipe and Worrall looked a little more settled than I expected, the former on numerous occasions making thunderous challenges on the ball. It also has to be mentioned how wonderful Colback was! Despite the millions Forest have spent, the utility player from last season was the most competent midfielder and won every challenge and made up for the disappointing performances of Shelvey and Freuler.
By the 70th minute, the game remained all Forest and typically the goal would come from a break and Forest’s very own Brennan Johnson. It was a finish which told the world that Brennan Johnson is a Premier League player. Yates supplied the assist on his return to Premier League football following an unspecified injury. The stalwart, whilst evidently not at full fitness, was welcome back on the pitch, revving up the home fans and reminding Everton players Forest can put in some crunching tackles too.
There were two more chances where Forest could have won it, the one that stands out was when Ayew had a chance to shoot or cross the ball and compromised both, meaning the outcome was neither. Forest need a full-time out and out striker, and whilst Chris Wood was not woeful against Everton, it is a glaring miss from a side struggling to score.
2-2 felt disappointing to both sides. Everton blew a 2-goal lead whilst Forest could feel hard done by the second goal and should have scored one more. It is a reminder that Forest remains in the tricky position of four points above the dreaded 18th, but also that they have something special with Gibbs-White and Brennan Johnson.
The draw prolongs both clubs’ Premier League troubles. Forest have tricky fixtures coming up, and this game felt on paper a chance to buy some credit before Liverpool, Tottenham, and Manchester United. Ultimately, on the day, I think Forest fans will feel happy to get anything out of this disappointing fixture.
Featured image used courtesy of Dom Allin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
In article image 2 courtesy of Dom Allin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image
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