Nottingham Forest 2 Everton 2
Brennan Johnson’s two equalisers enabled Nottingham Forest to extend their unbeaten home run to nine matches in the Premier League and deny Everton their first away win since October that would have lifted them out of the relegation zone.
Keeping Forest four points above the drop zone when they were far from their fluent best should be seen as a favourable outcome for Steve Cooper’s side before they visit Tottenham next. Sean Dyche, back at his old stomping ground, may also be relieved with a point after his well-organised side, leading through goals from Demarai Gray’s penalty and Abdoulaye Doucouré, succumbed to Forest’s impassioned second-half response in what was a feisty and niggly clash.
Everton, with seven points from Dyche’s first six games, entertain Brentford on Saturday.
For the division’s lowest-scoring teams, this game was not scheduled to turn into the goal glut that the opening half-hour promised. What was also surprising was that Forest, usually so good at home, should be the side trailing by that juncture, against the team with such a poor record on the road.
Perhaps Dyche, a former Forest youth-team player, resident of this parish and a regular attender at the City Ground during his time out of work, felt more at home; certainly Forest were unduly accommodating hosts as they defended poorly in a first half where the visiting team prospered on the counterattack. This was the first time this season Everton had managed to score twice in the first half.
Gray, replacing Neal Maupay as Everton’s lone striker in front of a five-man midfield, converted the early penalty conceded by Jonjo Shelvey’s trip on Dwight McNeill. He converted his sixth goal of the season, in all competitions, by sidefooting his spot-kick to the right as Keylor Navas dived the other way.
Forest, hitherto undefeated at the City Ground since Fulham won here in September, proceeded to dominate territorially, enjoying 68 per cent of possession in the ensuing 10 minutes. Their pressure paid off when Morgan Gibbs-White intelligently dropped off the front into midfield, turning on receiving a pass into feet, and ran at the Everton back line before playing a one-two with Chris Wood.
When Gibbs-White’s right-footed shot, from the edge of the penalty area, was parried to one side, Johnson reacted most sharply to turn in his eighth goal of the season from close range.
Forest’s tails were up. Wood’s header, from Renan Lodi’s left-wing cross, was deflected over by Tarkowski as the home support turned up the volume to maximum as usual. The City Ground is an evocative throwback in these days of smart new homogenous stadiums, the atmosphere seeping out of the stonework.
Everton appear more organised under Dyche and when they did break, panic could break out in Forest’s defence. Jack Colback was fortunate not to concede another penalty when, blindside, he tangled legs with Séamus Coleman as the Everton captain forayed along the touchline into the Forest area.
It was all too simple when Everton scored again. Jordan Pickford’s long free-kick – much disputed after Gibbs-White claimed he had been fouled in the centre circle before Gray was – was headed on by Tarkowski for Michael Keane to nod over Forest’s advancing back line. Timing his run in behind perfectly however was Doucouré to nudge home a header from close range for his first goal in 18 months.
Navas had to tip over McNeil’s long-range blast and Gray should have done better, when arriving late at the back post as Dyche had demanded prematch, than allow his shot to be blocked following Doucouré's cross from the left.
Forest, with only one win in eight games, were not lacking in passion but this was in danger of overspilling at the start of the second half. No team managed by Dyche is ever going to back down, for that matter, so there were five bookings in six minutes as Gibbs-White and McNeil, then Lodi and Gray, engaged in shoving matches. Tarkowski was also cautioned as he went flying dangerously into a tackle on Lodi. His defence that he did not connect with the player rather missed the point.
The game seemed to be dipping into a lull, with Everton enjoying some easy possession high up the field without pushing to create chances, though Cooper deserves credit for his brave substitutions. Perhaps it is always more straightforward to gamble when chasing a game but while Everton made no changes at this stage, Forest’s triple change 20 minutes from time gave them renewed energy and allowed Gibbs-White to play in his favoured No10 role behind three strikers.
When Gibbs-White gave away possession on the edge of the D, Everton had space to break away towards halfway comfortably. Doucouré gave the ball away cheaply however and Johnson ran at the Everton defence before slipping the ball wide to the substitute Ryan Yates. His squared return allowed Johnson to open up his body and fire a left-footed shot into the top corner.
Johnson almost curled one in for his hat-trick from Gibbs-White’s pullback late on but a point each was about fair. – Guardian