Nottingham Forest put in arguably their worst performance of the season on Tuesday night, as they were hammered 4-0 by Leeds United at the City Ground. From the first whistle to the last the Reds were left wanting as they were out-played and out-fought by the visitors, leaving many supporters disillusioned, wondering how the club have got themselves into such a mess. The season began with hopes of a third successive promotion push – now there is a real threat Forest could exit the Championship at the wrong end come May.
The defeat brings Steve Cotterill’s honeymoon period as Forest manager to an emphatic end. Things looked to be steadily improving under the new boss as he won four of his first six games in charge, but back-to-back defeats at Cardiff on Saturday and to Leeds have seen Forest slip back into the relegation zone.
In previous games under Cotterill prior to the Leeds outing, Forest were at least showing positive signs, with a greater work-rate, will to win and some decent football in spells offering hope that they would be moving up into the safety of mid-table sooner rather than later.
The showing against Leeds has rank alongside some of the worst performances from a Forest side in the last decade, and there have been a few shockers during that period. In the opening exchanges Leeds were allowed to carry the ball forward through the heart of the pitch, and Forest avoided going 1-0 down within the first five minutes. That set the tone for the game in many ways as Leeds were hassling the home side all over the pitch and looked good going forward.
Prior to the game all four sides of the City Ground took part in a minute’s applause for former Leeds midfielder Gary Speed in the wake of his tragic death over the weekend, the players and supporters from both sides showing their respects. The travelling Leeds support filled the lower half of the Bridgford End and on eleven minutes began chanting Gary Speed’s name for eleven minutes. They kept up their chanting and as soon as the eleven minutes were up, Robert Snodgrass put United in the lead, hesitant Forest defending giving him the time and space to beat Camp with a well-placed, powerful drive.
Camp then made a mess of a long-ball forward, trying to chest it away from Snodgrass outside the area but instead gifting it to the Leeds winger, who was denied a second by an excellent block from Guy Moussi. Leeds doubled their lead when Lucciano Becchio – who won a worrying amount of aerial duels against Forest’s centre-backs on the night – nodded the ball over Joel Lynch to Jonny Howson, who unleashed an excellent volley high into the net.
Forest strung together some decent moves with Andy Reid looking the most creative player, but there was a lack of cutting edge up front which saw attacks break down, allowing Leeds to win back possession on several occasions. Four minutes into the second period Becchio ghosted ahead of his marker and made it 3-0 with a glancing header and yet again this season, Forest conceded from a cross into the box, things were now getting embarrassing.
Ishmael Miller came on as a half-time substitute and tried to make something happen, his physical presence asking questions of the Leeds defence and his header forced a save from goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, but it was the Yorkshire side who struck again. Moussi slipped to let Howson clean through on goal and after his shot was saved the ball fell to Adam Clayton, who put it into the net as many Forest fans headed for the exits with 25 minutes still left to play. To compound the misery, Reid collected a second booking and was sent off, while Lynch picked up an injury late on.
Supporters were left in disbelief at what they had seen and boos rang out around the ground at the final whistle. It was the worst performance of Steve Cotterill’s tenure and probably the worst of the campaign. Even though the Reds suffered a 4-1 loss at home to West Ham United and were beaten 5-0 at Burnley when Steve McClaren was manager, they were competing in those games for spells but fell apart after conceding goals. Against Leeds they struggled to maintain periods of attacking pressure and rarely looked threatening – by the end the team lost their shape and balls were being hit aimlessly out of defence.
Some posts on the LTLF Forest Forum suggested the events surrounding Gary Speed fired up Leeds even more to win – certainly their manager Simon Grayson would’ve wanted to honour his former Whites teammate with all three points, but Forest did not offer much throughout the 90 minutes so it is hard to agree with that excuse.
It was surprising to see Forest perform so bad, considering the improvement shown since Steve Cotterill arrived. Hopefully it was a bad night at the office for all concerned but the harsh fact is if the Reds continue to play in such a poor manner, they will be in serious danger of relegation.
In previous posts I’ve remained as positive as possible about Forest’s season and it is worth noting the club are four points away from mid-table and seven adrift of the play-offs. The Leeds match is just that – one match and nothing has been decided yet. There are 27 more before the season is over, so there is still time for things to improve. The league remains as notoriously tight as ever, with Bristol City’s resurgence under Derek McInnes and good form from Watford seeing those two sides leapfrog Forest to push the Reds back into the bottom three. Any hopes of play-off football have surely been extinguished in the past week, the priority for now is to pick up some consistency and more importantly, results.
Earlier this week, Steve Cotterill said he wants to offer new contracts to some of Forest’s top players, but will have to let others go to free up funds first. Whether some players are unsure about their future and are not performing to their best as a result is unclear, however if there are members of the playing staff seeking a move elsewhere, they’re not helping themselves by performing so poorly. With just over a month until the transfer window re-opens, it will be interesting to see whether Cotterill rings the changes by selling some players and bringing in new faces – it could be a wise move to freshen up the squad for the second half of the campaign.
Forest travel to Brighton at the weekend and will face a side who’ve fallen away after a bright start to the season, but remain a tough proposition at home. The in-form Lynch is struggling with a groin problem so Forest might have to revert to a more familiar back four, moving Luke Chambers to centre-half – after he endured a torrid time at right-back against Leeds – and recalling Chris Gunter to that position. Wes Morgan and Greg Cunningham should keep their places on the South Coast but the whole defence need play a part in restoring some pride. Forest’s goals against column is not a pretty sight by any means.
The Leeds result and subsequent drop into the relegation zone has to act as a wake up call for the Forest players to sort things out. The vast majority of them reached the play-offs for two consecutive seasons and they must now show the kind of form which made Forest one of the best sides in the league in that time. They have the quality to do that, but must put in the performances when on the pitch. If they don’t, Reds supporters will have every right to feel aggrieved.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going up podcast member and Nottingham Forest blogger
Steven tweets at @steven_toplis