Nottingham Forest might finally have lift-off. A 1-0 victory over Liverpool on Saturday was only the club’s second win of what has been a difficult season following promotion from the Championship. Forest are still in the relegation zone, but they now have renewed belief that they can be competitive at this level after all.
The summer was always going to be a busy one for Steve Cooper and co. No fewer than left the City Ground following their defeat of Huddersfield Town in the play-off final, as contracts expired and loan deals ended.
Still, Forest probably went too far in their efforts to build a new squad. A total of 23 players arrived in Nottingham, giving Cooper a bloated squad to work with. It appears that even Evangelos Marinakis, the club’s colourful owner, disagreed with the strategy: he sacked Forest’s recruitment team earlier this month.
At the same time, Marinakis backed Cooper by handing him a new three-year contract. It was a hugely popular decision with the supporters. They rightly recognised that Forest would not be in the Premier League were it not for the Welshman, who inherited a team that was in the drop zone of the Championship last September.
Given the extent of the overhaul, it was always likely to take a while for Forest to get going this term. And so it proved: their first 11 matches produced just one win, and even that 1-0 defeat of West Ham United in August was somewhat fortuitous. Cooper, understandably, struggled to get his new-look team to gel immediately.
A 4-0 thrashing by Leicester City led some to predict the manager would be sacked, but it was at that point that Marinakis decided to offer him a new contract. Since then, Forest have been better. Only one of their last four games has ended in defeat, and there were battling draws with Aston Villa (1-1) and Brighton & Hove Albion (0-0) before the victory over Liverpool last time out.
Cooper has not quite settled on a first-choice starting XI, but his selections have become more consistent of late. Steve Cook and Scott McKenna have emerged as the go-to centre-backs. Ryan Yates, Cheikhou Kouyate and Remo Freuler appear to make up Forest’s favoured midfield trio. And two of Brennan Johnson, Jesse Lingard and Morgan Gibbs-White are likely to support lone striker Taiwo Awoniyi going forward.
Awoniyi scored the only goal of the game against Liverpool on Saturday. Forest were worthy winners, and although they relied on another sub-par showing from the Reds, Cooper was delighted with the way his players acquitted themselves.
“It’s a brilliant win. To win a game against Liverpool you have to play well and you have to have big moments, particularly in both boxes – and we did, with scoring the goal and creating some more chances, and the saves and the defending we did in our box was fantastic,” he said after the match.
“But it’s only a win. We’re nowhere near the league position we want to be in or have the points tally we would hope to have had by now.
“At the same time, it’s given us a good reference point now to build on. That’s we have to do now. We don’t want that just to be words; we have to really look to do that.”