To establish Nottingham Forest as a Premier League club – and keep Steve Cooper, a manager beloved among its fans in situ – an improvement in away form is desperately required. A game lost from a winning position, albeit one held for just 43 seconds of play, was a severe blow to both objectives.
Even though they knew precisely what was coming, Forest’s failure to deal with James Ward-Prowse’s expert delivery from corners and Tomas Soucek’s aerial prowess cost them the point to which they had been clinging since Jarrod Bowen’s headed equaliser. That, too, arrived via Ward-Prowse’s boot. One win from seven, just four points away from the City Ground, and 15th place with Bournemouth improving fast, spells imminent danger.
“We’ve not done our jobs and been punished for it,” said Cooper, for whom Ward-Prowse’s “fantastic” delivery offered no excuses. “If you are not willing to stay with your man and head the ball then you are at the risk of conceding goals. I am really disappointed that we have not won, and it’s all our own fault.”
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While speculation over the widely admired Cooper may seem odd to outsiders, Evangelos Marinakis is an owner with his own, wilful mind, even if retaining the Welshman’s steady hand seems a worthy route to becoming the next Brighton or Brentford. Or indeed a West Ham, even if David Moyes’s team have lately been enjoying cup competitions and European expeditions rather than the Premier League. This was a first win in five league matches.
Ward-Prowse received his manager’s compliments, gloved in criticism of his colleagues. “He is world class at his deliveries, if I was him I’d be disappointed that the other boys haven’t scored more headers,” Moyes said.
Forest’s initial damage was self-inflicted rather than via Ward‑Prowse. As Cooper became only the second Forest manager, after Frank Clark, to make it to 50 Premier League games, his team were down by the third minute. Nicolás Domínguez, trying to pass upfield, succeeded only in hitting the rear end of his teammate Ibrahim Sangaré and Lucas Paquetá required no invitation to smash beyond Odysseas Vlachodimos. The Greek goalkeeper, impressive as a debutant the previous week, could not bail out Domínguez before Paqueta performed a celebration to recall the 1990s dance sensation the Lambada.
Forest’s first-half response was admirable, their first big chance to pull level in the first half coming in the 12th minute, Alphonse Areola getting plenty of hang-time to claw away Taiwo Awoniyi’s header. Vladimir Coufal against Anthony Elanga, down the Hammers’ right flank, was becoming the key battle. Coufal’s early yellow made his afternoon’s work harder yet it was from the other flank that Forest’s equaliser bookended a first half of which they had slowly gained. Sangaré pinged Morgan Gibbs-White clear and Areola could only palm into the path of Awoniyi.
After so many years of sterling service, Michail Antonio is being phased out as the leader of West Ham’s line. Bowen’s direct running is now the central foil for the twinned creative talents of Mohammed Kudus and Paquetá. Though with neither Paquetá nor Kudus much committed to pressing – Kudus providing zero protection to Coufal – such artistry comes at cost. “I don’t want us to lose that toughness,” Moyes said, characteristically doubtful of marrying verve with endeavour.
Anthony Elanga (left) puts Nottingham Forest ahead in the second half. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
Forest almost took the lead in slow‑motion fashion as the second half began. Elanga and Awoniyi combined, and home fans sighed with relief when the striker failed to hit the target. To take the lead, Ola Aina, pushing up from full-back, angled the ball to Elanga, who had again escaped Coufal.
Yet Elanga’s lengthy, elaborate celebration was followed immediately by Bowen, performing an unlikely impression of Antonio, climbing to divert Ward-Prowse’s arrowing corner. “I can’t believe how easy the goals we have given away were,” Cooper said.
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For Bowen, that made it 11 goal involvements in 13 games, including nine goals. A bull-like physique honed in the potato fields of his native Herefordshire, as well as Ward‑Prowse’s nine assists and two goals in 15 games represent Moyes’s best hope of arresting his team’s slide from a decent start to the season.
Antonio, old dependable, was thrown on in search of a winner from a Forest team that had begun to sag and look to the clock. All 11 Forest players were in their box as Ward‑Prowse repeatedly aimed for Antonio and Kurt Zouma but Soucek, just as dangerous, much improved after last season’s dip in form, would prove the matchwinner.
First, he went headlong to produce a save from Vlachodimos, before Bowen forced another corner. This time, Vlachodimos, diving low, could not deny him. There was still time for Areola to save from Divock Origi but Forest’s away travails were soon confirmed as an ongoing, troubling concern. A better away performance than usual was cold comfort for Cooper. That “we have just thrown this away” was as much as he could offer.