Forest’s homegrown star hits brilliant equaliser to light up basement scrap
AS time ticked by and with Nottingham Forest starting to lose heart, Everton manager Sean Dyche could see a clear route out of the bottom three.
Yet nothing is ever easy with Everton. In a game badly lacking class and composure, Brennan Johnson showed both with a brilliant finish 13 minutes from full-time. It kept Everton in the relegation zone and earned Forest a point that ensured they stay 14th, four points above the line.
Nothing is certain in one of the tightest survival battles in years but we can be fairly sure Johnson will not be involved in too many more relegation scraps. Though an exciting game, it was desperately low-quality stuff — but Johnson still shone amid the mess.
Forest’s homegrown forward now has nine goals in all competitions this season. Though this club signed 30 players in an attempt to banish relegation through transfer market power, a player who has been here since childhood is doing more than most to keep them up.
Dyche would expect a similar impact from Dominic Calvert-Lewin but simply cannot keep his star forward fit. This was the fifth game in a row that Calvert-Lewin missed and after giving opportunities to his other centre forwards, Dyche chose to go without one here and largely, it worked.
Demarai Gray was the furthest forward and put Everton ahead with an early penalty, but with no natural frontman to mark, Forest’s defenders were puzzled. After Johnson had equalised, Abdoulaye Doucoure restored Everton’s lead and only Johnson’s fabulous second denied them the win.
It was Everton’s first point on the road under Dyche and might have provided them with a template for the rest of the season.
He said: ‘We’ve got to stamp out the mistakes but we defended well and countered. There were a lot of plusses about the performance. We know we have to win games but you have to restart and this showed a real step forward.’
Forest would be fine if only they could sort out their away form. The City Ground atmosphere is among the best in the league and has helped Forest stay unbeaten in their last nine home matches.
The flipside is a team who go to West Ham and get hammered 4-0, which Cooper is determined to change. ‘We need to sort out our away form,’ he said. ‘ What happened at West Ham can sometimes be damaging.
‘So it was great for us to show character and resilience and get something out of the game. The games will be like this from now to the end of the season but that’s brilliant. Let’s go.’
As the league’s lowest scorers and without an orthodox striker, an early Everton goal seemed unlikely — yet that is exactly what happened. Dyche’s men were given a helping hand by former Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, whose foolish challenge on Dwight McNeil gifted the visitors a penalty. Gray converted it and the one-time Leicester player milked it by sliding on his knees in front of the Forest fans.
Forest were disjointed in the opening exchanges but it did not take them long to draw level. Morgan Gibbs-White played a one- two with Chris Wood and though Jordan Pickford saved the shot, he could only palm it into the path of Johnson, who steered in the equaliser. Forest’s tails were up and James Tarkowski did just enough to stop Wood heading in Renan Lodi’s cross. At the other end, Everton screamed in vain for a second spot-kick when Seamus Coleman tumbled under pressure from Jack Colback. Their frustration did not last long, however. Just before the half-hour mark, Tarkowski headed Pickford’s free-kick into the danger zone, where Michael Keane outjumped Joe Worrall. Remo Freuler failed to track the run of Doucoure, who guided his header beyond the flailing Keylor Navas. Forest were doubly angry because they had been denied a free-kick when Gibbs-White was impeded seconds earlier.
There was a physical edge to the game and it nearly spilled over after the break. After a series of ferocious challenges, Gibbs-White
and McNeil had to be pulled apart, with both were shown a yellow card. Gray and Lodi followed them into the book and then it was the turn of Doucoure and Jack Colback to square up. Johnson had been comfortably the best attacker on show and he demonstrated it again with a sumptuous finish to reel Everton in with 13 minutes left.
The Wales star carried the ball at the Everton back four, swapped passes with substitute ryan Yates and guided the ball calmly into the top corner from 15 yards with his weaker foot.
Forest finished the stronger with Andre Ayew — another substitute — seeing a shot parried that just eluded the onrushing Johnson. Then Johnson went for the hat-trick goal but was just off target on the angle.
NOTTINGHAM FOREST (4-3-2-1): Navas 6; Aurier 6, Worrall 5.5, Felipe 5.5, Lodi 5.5; Shelvey 6, Freuler 6.5 (Dennis 70min, 6.5), Colback 7 (Yates 70, 6.5); JOHNSON 8, Gibbs-White 6.5; Wood 5 (Ayew 71, 6.5). Scorer: Johnson 19, 77. Booked: Gibbs-White, Lodi, Felipe. Manager: Steve Cooper 6.5. EVERTON (4-1-4-1): Pickford 6; Coleman 7, Keane 6.5, Tarkowski 7, Godfrey 6.5; Gueye 7; Iwobi 7 (Davies 89), Onana 6.5, Doucoure 7.5, McNeil 7; Gray 6.5 (Maupay 89). Scorers: Gray 10 (pen), Doucoure 29. Booked: Godfrey, McNeil, Gray, Tarkowski, Davies.
Manager: Sean Dyche 6.5. Referee: John Brooks 5. Attendance: 29,353.