It has been a rollercoaster campaign for Nottingham Forest. Having reached the Premier League for the first time in 23 years, Forest have spent the entire season battling relegation, but they have nevertheless secured their top-flight status after beating Arsenal 1-0, and they’ll be looking to close out their season with a trip to Crystal Palace. A season like no other has seen records broken for players signed, seemingly unrecoverable lows and exhilarating highs at the City Ground. In this piece, I take a look at the crazy combinations that have balanced each other over the course of the campaign for Forest.
Forest have narrowly survived in their return to the big time, and it’s thanks in large part to their home form. 8 wins, 6 draws and 5 defeats is an excellent return for a newly promoted side, leaving them in 10th place in the home league table. Not only have Nottingham Forest gone out and won games on their home patch, but they’ve also defended excellently when it really mattered. Clean sheets in wins over Leeds, West Ham, Leicester City, and Crystal Palace were priceless, especially considering these sides were all in the relegation mix throughout the season.
Whatever your feelings on the way Nottingham Forest are run by Evangelos Marinakis, there is no denying that he’s emphatically backed Steve Cooper this season. Firstly, there are the over 30 players that he bought in to pump life back into Forest’s promoted squad which was largely made up of loans or players not up to Premier League standard. But more importantly, he’s also recognized the brilliance of Steve Cooper, sticking by his young coach after a 4-0 thumping away at Leicester which had Forest fans fearing the worst.
Steve Cooper has emphasised countless times over the course of the campaign just how important the atmosphere at the City Ground is in terms of getting his team over the line. The raucous environment created by Forest supporters in the tightly packed stadium, which gives a very 90’s feel to games, likely goes hand in hand with the excellent home form.
Not only have the fans been a brilliant asset to the team, but they have also been of great benefit to the Premier League in general. After a 23-year stay outside the top flight of English football, they have added a real sense of enjoying the ride and getting behind their team – much like Leeds in their first top-flight campaign under Marcelo Bielsa.
The general feeling from Forest fans seems to be that they may have a superstar on their hands with 22-year-old Brazilian midfielder, Danilo. Signed from Brazilian giants Palmeiras for £18 million in January, the central midfielder looks to have adapted to life in Nottingham very smoothly.
One of those players who looks like he can do it all, Danilo has three goals in his last five games. Danilo became respected in Brazil for his off-the-ball aggression and high energy when winning the ball back for his side, but since his arrival in England, he has also demonstrated a classy passing range and good close control under pressure.
Morgan Gibbs-White and Brennan Johnson
These two British talents have been central to absolutely everything that has been good about Forest this season. People were stunned when the rumours of Gibbs-White’s transfer fee started to swirl in the summer of 2022 but the attacking midfield has silenced the many doubters since, £42.5 million will look a fair price if Forest can beat the drop.
A wonderfully creative and inventive player, MGW is a player who simply sees things that other players and spectators do not (See his backheel assist against Southampton at home for one example). The link-up between him and the flying Welsh winger Brennan Johnson has allowed Cooper the option of sitting in and countering attacking with deadly precision at times this season. Johnson has contributed 8 goals and 3 assists in his first Premier League season whilst Gibbs-White has chipped in with 5 goals and 7 assists.
Predictably if your home form is as good as Forest’s and you’re in a relegation scrap, it likely means your away form is abysmal – this is the case with The Reds. One away win in all season, just 10 goals scored and 43 conceded has put massive pressure on Forest to perform at home. While they have just about gotten away with it this season, this pattern of away results and performances may not prove sustainable if they are to have a long stay in the Premier League.
Particular low points were the 4-0 defeats to West Ham and Leicester when the defence completely capitulated, conceding goals in quick succession, and then more recently the failure to hold on to lead against Brentford in a 2-1 defeat. A win in that game would have practically ensured survival but a Keylor Navas mistake and a late Joshua Dasilva winner summed up Forest’s season away from home.
Like nearly all teams that find themselves in a relegation scrap, Forest have been hampered by injuries throughout the season, with a few notable absences taking a toll on the club’s form. Taiwo Awonyi, for instance, has been one of the club’s best signings. The ex Liverpool forward provides a focal point for Cooper’s side in attacking phases, drawing in defenders and leaving more space for those around him. So when the striker missed 12 games due to a groin injury, Forest endured a terrible run of form, generally looking much less threatening in the final third.
Thankfully for the Forest faithful, he’s been back with a bang for the final stages. Two vital braces at home against Southampton and away to Chelsea have put his side’s destiny in their own hands. Elsewhere Giulian Biancone, Moussa Niakhate, Chris Wood, Omar Richards, Scott McKenna, Dean Henderson and Jesse Lingard (and more) have all missed a decent chunk of games through injury.
When a team makes as many signings as Forest, it’s inevitable that some won’t work out. For every Danilo, who’s hit the ground running, there is a Gustavo Scarpa – who also came from Palmeiras in January but has spent a lot of time back in Brazil chasing money he lost in a Cryptocurrency scheme during the pandemic. There is little doubt over Scarpa’s talent but in a relegation battle, the best ability is availability.
Other disappointments include Chris Wood, who’s come in on huge wages but didn’t play particularly well before getting a season-ending injury. Unfortunately for some, their whole time at Forest has been injury-plagued like the aforementioned Biancone and Richards. Then there’s Remo Freuler, who had European football fans jumping for joy at the prospect of seeing the former Atlanta midfielder in the Prem. But the man who was becoming thought of as one of the most complete midfielders in Serie A has been really underwhelming in Forest’s midfield before eventually losing his place in the side.
Finally, things haven’t worked out for Jesse Lingard the way he would have liked. Having signed on a one-year deal, again on big wages, the attacking midfielder has failed to recreate his heroics at West Ham and hasn’t scored a league goal or registered an assist. Lingard has now fallen completely out of favour and looks certain to leave the club on a free transfer.
Forest sit 16th in the table, six points clear of the drop, and whilst Everton, Leeds and Leicester will go into the final matchday fighting for their Premier League status, they will head to Selhurst Park in the knowledge that their top-flight status is already secured.
By: Wilf Macdonnell / @WilfMacdonnell
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / NurPhoto