It was inevitable, wasn’t it? Of course Forest would thrive on football’s green weekend. Climate change is solved and so are all Nottingham Forest’s problems.
Okay, maybe not. But it’s hard to overstate the significance of that result for Forest, especially as they were some way short of their best. And it’s just as big a result for Leeds, who were largely excellent and unrewarded in the first half but wildly disappointing in the second.
The nature of this year’s mass relegation fight has changed the six-pointer. They are coming with both far greater frequency than usual but also feeling absolutely gigantic far earlier in the season.
This felt like one of the biggest yet. That’s in part because of how yesterday’s results shook things up at the bottom, but more so because of the result here. It keeps both teams on their recent trajectories. Forest really do look like they’re easing clear of things now. They’re six points clear of the bottom three, level on 24 points with Crystal Palace who nobody is really considering in relegation trouble, and unbeaten in five games.
Leeds, on the flipside, are now winless in seven and outside the bottom three on goal difference alone from Everton who’ve just activated the Dyche and beaten the leaders.
This was a performance to worry Leeds. Maybe the new signings will improve things but this had pretty much everything you don’t want in a game like this. When they were playing well they were wasteful; when they weren’t playing well they looked awfully tame. And they topped it all off with a horrible goal to concede.
The goal ticked so many boxes for ‘Things that happen to struggling sides’. The foul was clumsy and needless, possibly also on a player who was offside. The defending of the free-kick was poor, with Pascal Struijk’s headed clearance woefully inadequate. But even then, you’d get away with all that more often than not because the difficulty tariff of Brennan Johnson’s 20-yard volley on a dipping, spinning ball was very high indeed.
Leeds don’t get away with much right now, though, and Johnson steered it beautifully into the bottom corner to continue his good form. It seems glibly reductive to say the difference between the teams was as simple as a confident forward making a half-chance look simple and less confident forwards making clear chances look difficult. But it also seems quite accurate.
Certainly in that first half anyway, when new boy Keylor Navas – back at a club with some European Cups in its pocket after dropping down a level with PSG – proved his worth on debut with a string of saves that fell mainly in the ‘good, but you’d be disappointed not to make them’ category.
Although the goal came in the first half, it was the second period that perhaps showed more clearly why Forest should feel quietly, cautiously confident about beating the drop. They controlled the game expertly, and another clean sheet is good reward. Five of their six Premier League wins this season have been 1-0 and that feels like solid planning rather than being a bit dicey on this evidence.
The magnitude of the game meant it could never truly be described as serene, but Steve Cooper must surely have expected a more vexing and stressful second half.
The relative ease with which Forest held out bodes well for them and spells real trouble for Leeds, who always look like they have a defensive calamity or two about them.
It was tough to say before this game which team looked in greater danger of relegation. It felt quite obvious by the time the final whistle blew at the City Ground to a roar from the stands and the reactions from the players that told you of its importance.