What Nuno did after Nottingham Forest win as attention turns to Morgan Gibbs-White and Murillo

Nottingham Forest head coach Nuno Espirito Santo celebrates securing survival with players and in front of the Reds fans at Burnley
Nottingham Forest head coach Nuno Espirito Santo celebrates securing survival with players and in front of the Reds fans at Burnley -Credit:Getty


No sooner had the full-time whistle gone, Nuno Espirito Santo puffed out his cheeks. It had been that kind of season for Nottingham Forest.

There was a party atmosphere in the away end at Burnley and the Reds head coach was planning to mark securing survival with a few beers and a day off. But for the most part, the past nine months have been a slog.

By the end, getting over the line was all that mattered. In that sense, it was job done at Turf Moor. It came with a sense of relief - perhaps for Nuno, too.

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Any nerves over falling victim to a 12-goal swing soon evaporated and Forest notched up a second successive win on the road - some feat in itself given their record on their travels. Signing off on a positive note was important.

Sunday’s 2-1 win didn’t exactly tell us anything new. Now, thoughts will quickly turn to where the club go from here. How do they build? How do they progress? How do they avoid finding themselves in another relegation fight in a year’s time?

Nuno’s “entertainers”

“The platform is there,” Nuno said as he reflected on the season as a whole and his team’s triumph over the Clarets. “The platform is there, the platform is there.”

The Portuguese wanted to emphasise that particular point. And he was keen to send another message, too, as more than once he described how his team have “entertained”.

Improving the style of play was one of the key targets for the Reds this term. Nuno has managed that, even if victory at Burnley wasn’t exactly a thriller.

There was a real end-of-season feel about the fixture. Forest were effectively safe before kick-off and their opponents were already relegated. In the May heat, the exertions of the previous 37 league games also showed.

Having gone 2-0 up in the space of 15 minutes, the visitors were largely content to let the Clarets do much of the chasing. Forest had just 27 percent of the possession but were effective on the counterattack, while goalkeeper Matz Sels had a relatively quiet afternoon amid Burnley’s wastefulness in front of goal.

Game management has let the Reds down at times at Nuno, and there was an element of that at Turf Moor. Sels was denied a clean-sheet in the most unfortunate of circumstances as Josh Cullen’s effort took a heavy deflection off Murillo. Forest didn’t offer too much going forward after that, but they would have kicked themselves if they hadn’t seen the win out. They did what they needed to do.

Creating a bond

Nuno was asked in his pre-match press conference on Friday whether this had been the most challenging season of his career. He rebuffed the question but spent the next few days weighing up how to answer it.

“I didn’t answer on Friday, so I am going to answer today. It will allow me to be a little bit more expansive,” he said.

The Portuguese pointed to how tough it had been to take up the position of head coach midway through the season, in December. It was a new experience for him and his staff, joining a club with a campaign already under way.

Creating a bond among the squad, Nuno admitted, was not easy. He has also had a lot to deal with during his time in charge, from a points deduction to refereeing controversies and being without a number of players due to injuries and the Africa Cup of Nations. It has taken time for Nuno to get to know his squad, and vice versa; for the group to gel under their new manager.

Sunday showed the progress made. After chopping and changing early on in Nuno’s tenure, Forest have had a largely settled side in recent games. Some tweaks have been made week to week and there has been a switching of formation, but the crux of the team has been there. It has made a difference.

Relationships have developed across the pitch. For example, Chris Wood’s opener was the sixth time he had been set up by Anthony Elanga in the league - the most by one player for a teammate across the division, according to Opta.

And if you wanted a show of unity, it was evident right at the end. Players, staff and club officials stood in front of the away end for some time after the final whistle, drinking in the celebratory atmosphere. They all linked hands and saluted the crowd.

Transfer talk

Player sales are inevitable this summer. Reluctantly, the club may need to sell one of their bright young talents to avoid falling foul of financial rules again.

Nuno certainly expects the transfer vultures to circle. Most likely they will have their eyes on Murillo and Morgan Gibbs-White. Both have been linked with a number of clubs already.

Sunday was a typical example of why the duo have their suitors. Indeed, there was a passage of play where both played superb balls within a minute or two of each other.

As usual, Gibbs-White was at the heart of plenty of the Reds’ attacking threat. He has been the team’s go-to man for much of this term, just as he was last season. He had a hand in Wood’s second and could have got on the scoresheet himself.

Murillo might have done the same. If the Brazilian does end up going to pastures new this summer, it will be with some regret that he didn’t get a goal in the Garibaldi. He wasn’t far away with one effort in Lancashire and forced a solid save with another from a free-kick.

Having been crowned the club’s player of the season in the build-up to the game, Murillo raised the trophy aloft in front of the crowd amid the celebrations at the end. As they had done throughout the match, Reds fans serenaded him with his chant.

Both the defender and Gibbs-White have had excellent seasons. As have others. Whatever happens in the transfer window, the aim is to emerge with a more balanced squad with sufficient cover in all areas.

Show of support

From the first minute until well after the last, the travelling Reds contingent never stopped singing. Some had made the trip dressed as referees, in reference to the club’s run-ins with officials. Some wore Gary Neville masks, to make a point to the pundit over some of his comments. Several inflatables bounced around. It was a riot of noise, colour, relief and jubilation.

The full repertoire of chants got an airing. Wood, Gibbs-White, Murillo, Harry Toffolo, Danilo, Ryan Yates, they all got plenty of love. As did Nuno. A strong connection between supporters and this group - and this manager - was evident.

For some, there may still be a question mark over whether the 50-year-old is the right man to take the team forward in the long-term. But you wouldn’t have known it with the backing he got at Turf Moor. Fans chanted his name and urged him to give them a wave. At full-time, he was shoved forward to take some of the acclaim. He jumped up in the air while holding the hands of Elanga and Gibbs-White.

Forest had secured a third successive season in the Premier League. Improvements are required and it will be another big summer at the City Ground. But as Burnley gathered in a huddle ahead of their return to the Championship while the Reds celebrated, it was a reminder that surviving, let alone thriving, in the top-flight does not come easy.

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