Heading into the crucial part of the season, the Premier League challenge looms ahead for Nottingham Forest. Unfortunately, they have encountered another match to add to their already busy schedule. It seems that Forest has a tendency to create challenges for themselves, as they now must face Bristol City in an unexpected FA Cup fourth-round replay.
Forest is currently facing the possibility of losing points for breaking financial regulations, making it a harsh reality. Their main priority at the moment is to build a comfortable lead over the relegation zone. Nuno Espírito Santo cannot even fathom the idea of dropping down to the Championship, so the Cup is not a top priority for him. He acknowledged this in his post-game comments.
Despite expectations, Nuno appeared to be in good spirits externally. For Forest, the return of Morgan Gibbs-White from injury was a major highlight, but the fact that he had to be brought on at halftime showed their lackluster performance in the first half. Another positive was their first clean sheet since defeating Aston Villa in November, which was also Steve Cooper’s last win as coach. Nuno stated that conceding goals had been a major issue and they had prioritized working on this aspect. He also acknowledged that keeping a clean sheet was a big accomplishment for the team and that their second-half performance was much improved compared to the first.
Bristol City will be excited for the rematch at the City Ground, even though it means they will have to endure a difficult schedule of seven games in 23 days. Liam Manning, who took over for Nigel Pearson, has had limited time to train and implement his tactics with his players. After defeating West Ham in the previous round, his team had a chance to pull off another upset against a Premier League opponent. In stoppage time of the first half, Anis Mehmeti set up a potential goal for Tommy Conway, but Murillo’s timely intervention prevented it. From the resulting corner, City midfielder Jason Knight’s header hit the roof of Matt Turner’s net. Just a minute before, Forest fans behind Turner’s goal thought their team had taken the lead, but Danilo’s shot hit the advertising hoardings after hitting the City net.
In the beginning of the game, there was a careful and physical competition, with both teams staying within their 18-yard boxes. It was not a very fast-paced game. Andrew Omobamidele made a clever move to stop an early shot from Conway that could have caused trouble for Turner. City’s striker also missed a half-volley after receiving a cross from Mehmeti on the left side. The home team slightly outperformed the other in the first half, but both teams had extended periods of controlling the ball.
Nuno opted to stick with the same initial lineup that was used in their defeat against Brentford, and essentially chose his strongest team except for the substitution of Ryan Yates with Gibbs-White, who received a warm welcome from the fans. Forest and their supporters were hoping for Gibbs-White, a talented No 10 player, to make a difference in the game. His quick thinking led to a scoring opportunity for Chris Wood, who had previously been on loan at City in 2011-12. From about 20 yards out, Gibbs-White faked a shot with his right foot, hesitated, and then executed a beautifully chipped pass into the box for Wood. Unfortunately, Wood was not on the same page as Gibbs-White and could only manage a weak header towards City’s goalkeeper, Max O’Leary.
Nuno smiled widely on the sidelines in recognition of Gibbs-White’s daring pass, and it is expected that the talented playmaker will be in the starting lineup for Tuesday’s match against Arsenal. Despite their aspirations of reaching the playoffs, City were unable to convert another opportunity just three minutes later, as George Tanner’s cross evaded three opposing players, including Mehmeti who was left wondering how they missed the chance. “The team is feeling quite frustrated in the locker room, which I appreciate,” Manning stated. “I believe we demonstrated great courage by playing our own game. It was another valuable experience with many positives. We simply lacked a bit of poise and composure.”
Knight played a perfect pass to City’s substitute Nahki Wells in the later part of the game, but Murillo from the opposing team managed to block it and force a corner. Another substitute from City, Sam Bell, also had his attempt blocked, while Callum Hudson-Odoi from the other team fired a shot that hit the side netting. The side netting seemed to be a common occurrence throughout the game, with Cam Pring, the left wing-back, narrowly missing a shot on 85 minutes after Harry Cornick made a strong run from inside City’s half. On this particular night, Forest did not put in enough effort and were not much of a threat. In the 92nd minute, Danilo’s free-kick went over the goal when the home fans were finally starting to worry, summing up the game for Forest.