What Nottingham Forest did against Chelsea sums up frustrating season as City Ground point made

Nottingham Forest players and head coach Nuno Espirito Santo (right) on their lap of appreciation after defeat to Chelsea in the final home game of the season
Nottingham Forest players and head coach Nuno Espirito Santo (right) on their lap of appreciation after defeat to Chelsea in the final home game of the season -Credit:Getty

Nottingham Forest know all about unlikely final-day goal swings. The memory of them is enough to make the blood run cold for those of a Reds persuasion.

Even by 2020’s gut-wrenching standards, though, it would take something near-miraculous for Forest to be on the wrong end of one this time. Not that head coach Nuno Espirito Santo will entertain any such talk.

The Reds are safe, but not safe. Effectively over the line, but not mathematically so. Another season of Premier League football secured, just not quite with the padlock on - yet.

READ MORE: Nuno on Forest lessons to learn, safety not certain and City Ground row

READ MORE: Nuno delivers Forest warning after Chelsea defeat

“It is not over. It is virtually. But maybe I am the only person who has seen too many things in football to allow our players to relax,” Nuno said.

Forest know all about 3-2 defeats, too. They have had a fair few of them this season.

This latest one rather summed up a frustrating, trying grind of a campaign. It has been tough.

Earlier results on Saturday meant what happened in the clash with Chelsea didn’t really matter. But the outcome wasn’t particularly befitting of an electrifying, carnival atmosphere on the banks of the Trent.

Frustrating finish

The Reds played well. Very well. Bar two minutes at the end when they switched off and allowed their opponents to turn the game on its head.

Callum Hudson-Odoi had put the hosts 2-1 up with 15 minutes to go. That should have been that. The roof came off the City Ground and the party level cranked up another notch.

But six minutes later, Chelsea were level. And then before Forest had caught their breath, it was 3-2.

It told a familiar tale. Seven times the Reds have lost by that scoreline this term, with four of those defeats coming during Nuno’s tenure. If the team are to progress next year, concentration and game management are big areas for improvement. Likewise, defensive errors need cutting out.

Nuno himself admitted there are “a lot of lessons” to learn. “Everything has to be more aggressive - not only today, but through the season this has happened to us,” the Portuguese said. “It is very hard to bounce back and then not manage the game properly.”

Positives to build on

Final reflections on the campaign will come once Forest have made mathematically certain of their top-flight status. But the end assessment is likely to be something of a curious mix.

There is the basis of a good team in place. Saturday showcased some terrific individual displays again.

Ola Aina should be tied down to a new contract immediately, along with Willy Boly. Ryan Yates was thoroughly deserving of the standing ovation he got when he came off, even if he couldn’t quite double his Premier League goal tally - albeit not for the want of trying. Murillo treated the crowd to his full passing repertoire and Hudson-Odoi once again proved what a bargain signing he has been - and this time it came against his former club. He enjoyed that one, saluting the crowd after a trademark finish.

Forest could (should) have won this game. They should have got a draw at the very least. They had so many chances.

Switching to a back three generally worked well, just as it had against Manchester City. With time to work in pre-season and a few additions, that may well be the way forward next season.

The Reds were on the front foot from the off. They took the game to Chelsea. They hit the woodwork twice in the second half. But once they had got themselves in front, they could not hang on to that lead - not for the first time this term.

There is encouragement from the way Forest have shown they can play under Nuno, but also some concern that the same errors have kept persisting. The Reds boss has a good base to work from, but some refinement is needed.

Point made

Saturday wasn’t just about what happened on the pitch. A very clear message was sent off it.

If the club’s hierarchy were not aware of the strength of feeling in the fanbase a proposed move away from the City Ground has provoked, they should be now. It came across loud and clear.

Owner Evangelos Marinakis was in the stands as chants of “Toton’s a ********, I want to stay here” and “stand up for the City Ground” rang out. Nuno made his own personal plea for the club to stay put in his post-match press conference.

And if any more evidence were needed of just how soul-stirring Forest’s historic home truly is, Saturday provided it. This was the perfect showcase.

Bathed in May sunshine, the place was absolutely rocking. News of goals going in elsewhere filtered through as supporters were filing in during the build-up. It meant that by the time kick-off came, with the earlier matches completed, the noise was deafening. Mull of Kintyre was spine-tingling and ear-splittingly loud; perhaps it came with a little extra emphasis on the words “my desire is always to be here”. A rendition of ‘Waka Waka’ had the crowd bouncing. And so it continued throughout.

The only dampener was the result. The team’s lap of appreciation didn’t contain the same kind of jubilant scenes as against Arsenal a year ago.

Nevertheless, the City Ground showed in all its spectacular glory what it is about. This was the famous old stadium at its special best. Point made.

To the final day

And so to Turf Moor to close the 2023/24 campaign. Burnley are already down. The Reds are three points ahead of 18th-placed Luton Town

A Forest defeat, a Hatters win over Fulham and a 12-goal swing is required. There shouldn’t be any need for nail-biting. Famous last words and all that.

“Obviously we knew the results before but in our heads we are playing for ourselves,” Hudson-Odoi told Premier League Productions (via the BBC). “We tried to get a result for ourselves regardless. The boys fought but couldn't get the result unfortunately.

“You never know in football. There's one game left but hopefully we're safe now and we can focus on Burnley next weekend.”

The frustration from Saturday is that the Reds didn’t secure safety on their own terms, in front of their home crowd. It was all set up nicely for them to do so.

Not taking chances and throwing away opportunities has been one of the stories of this season, though. Ending on a positive note, against the Clarets, is important. Just don’t mention Stoke…

Where do Forest need to improve next season? Have your say in the comments below