Well, that was rough. After a leap forward it feels like Nottingham Forest reversed months of progression in a four-goal thumping against relegation rivals West Ham United. Dom Allin was in London to feel the pain.
After a superb point and incredible atmosphere last Saturday against Manchester City the wider footballing public would have presumed Forest would go on to increase the gap between themselves and the relegation fearing mass. But of course they didn’t… this is Nottingham Forest.
I cannot tell you how typical Forest this is. To get a fantastic point against a wonderful team only to ‘play down’ to the level of a positional rival and get dominated. On the train to St. Pancras memories of failing to gain momentum after big results twisted themselves around me and I could feel that something typically disappointing was about to occur. But not something that bad.
This formation, despite having three central defensive midfielders, was not able to control the flow of opposition breaks
Forest set up with a very similar team to the one that set up against Manchester City, with Chris Wood coming in for Danilo pushing Johnson and Gibbs-White more firmly into the midfield. This formation, despite having three central defensive midfielders, was not able to control the flow of opposition breaks nor was it able to hang on to the ball.
Fielding three defensive players is understandable in the context of having three clean sheets away from home, and its success against Manchester City. However, it led to an uncountable number of stray passes between the back line and the offensive wingers of Gibbs-White and Johnson who created sparse opportunities.
Cooper had essentially played eight defensive players, creating a vast void for Forest to close when moving the ball from the back. Unfortunately, this led to aimless and wildly ambitious deep balls which were snuffed out creating opportunistic numerical attacking positions for West Ham on multiple occasions.
Anything going forward for Nottingham had to go through Gibbs-White or Johnson, as Chris Wood was isolated by his positioning and not fast enough to latch on to balls over the top of the defence. This meant West Ham’s full backs and midfielders could swamp the two young wingers and retrieve the ball. This evidently frustrated the pair, whose rare goal scoring opportunities were snatched at, a desperate attempt to assert themselves into the game.
West Ham were unlucky not to take an earlier lead with two close attempts being tipped over the bar by Navas and by the inside of the post. At half time, Forest would’ve been happy with a goalless draw after creating a few chances.
Introducing Ayew for Jonjo Shelvey was bizarre
The game would remain relatively flat until the 70th minute, bar the occasional break which would be squandered or somewhat dealt with. Cooper then shifted Forest into a 4-2-2-2 formation, and the Reds’ midfield was quickly over run leading to a series of three goals in quick succession. Introducing Ayew for Jonjo Shelvey was bizarre. Wood had offered little to nothing for Forest all game whereas Shelvey had been workman-like, snuffing out dangerous second balls and closing down midfielders.
Danny Ings’ brace came in quick succession following this substitution utilising his poaching abilities in a crowded and disorganised defensive box securing the claret and blue fans a rare three points. Ings’ performance just highlighted how forgetful Wood had been for the Trees.
Forest had, to my eyes, given up on the game
Declan Rice’s goal – whilst superb – demonstrated how Forest had, to my eyes, given up on the game. Rice was not closed down and was able to side-foot a fabulous curling shot past Navas into the side netting from outside the box. Placing no pressure on an England midfielder outside the box, what do you think is going to happen?
Cooper has an interesting conundrum; lose the defensive security of four at the back supported by three men in front of them to increase Forest going forward, or to maintain that reliability and hope for excellence from young wingers who can become frustrated.
Forest have only scored three goals away from home this year, which simply is not enough to transgress any form of relegation battle. Forest also suffer from a very low goal difference, having lost games 6-0, 5-0, and two 4-0s.
Saturday felt like a devolution for Forest, heads dropping and conceding clusters of goals. I am sure one bad result on the road does not undo the months of progress for the Tricky Trees, especially with results going their way elsewhere in the table. Forest also have somewhat favourable home fixtures going forward, facing three teams in the relegation zone leaving their fate somewhat in their hands.
Forest are not safe and it will only get more treacherous from here
Away form has to improve for there to be any security for Cooper’s men, however Anfield and the Emirates await the travelling Forest fans. This has to be seen as a wakeup call. Forest are not safe and it will only get more treacherous from here.
Featured image courtesy of Dom Allin. Permission to use given to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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