Steve Cooper’s first game in charge of Nottingham Forest ended in a 1-1 stalemate with Millwall at the weekend.
The Welshman took to the City Ground home dugout for the first time as he watched his side earn a deserved point on home turf.
It would have been a nervy yet exciting day for Cooper, with most of his family watching on from the stands as he looked to kick his tenure off in the best possible way.
Forest did go a goal down, though, with Matt Smith towering above Joe Worrall before nodding in Sheyi Ojo’s cross to give Millwall the lead.
Forest were much better in the second half, though, and they found an equaliser through Max Lowe, albeit in fortunate circumstances.
The left-back’s cross deceived Bartosz Bialkowski, sailing over the goalkeeper and cannoning in off the post, to subsequently earn Forest a point.
Cooper said he learnt a lot about his side after his tenure kicked off with a point, what did we learn from the performance and result? We take a look…
Patience is required
Forest have changed their system in the last two games, deploying a 3-4-3 formation. Steven Reid initiated the idea whilst in interim charge in the win at Huddersfield last week, and Cooper stuck with it on Saturday.
Having played variations of a similar system during his tenure at Swansea – particularly in his second full season in charge – this looks like it will be what Forest go with heading forward.
As the group of players learn to adapt to a new system, which will require composure and ability to play the ball out from defence, one thing that will also be required is patience.
From each goal-kick, Brice Samba passes the ball out to Joe Worrall and Scott McKenna, and Forest were normally pressed quite high.
A few moans and groans were heard from the stands when they gave the ball away on a couple of occasions, but there has to be patience whilst Forest are in this learning process and as they look to master this new philosophy.
Grabban injury proves costly
Grabban netted his second goal of the season in the win at Huddersfield – a trademark goal for the striker, who guided his diving header past Lee Nicholls from close-range.
From a similar position on Saturday, Grabban saw his effort denied by Bialkowski at point-blank range, after Djed Spence was able to stretch his legs and deliver a cross into the area.
Grabban was certainly looking like the player who scored 20 goals in 2019/20 under Sabri Lamouchi, threatening to once again show his predatory instincts in front of goal.
But the striker was to be withdrawn soon after, picking up a thigh injury after a collision with Bialkowski, and that ultimately proved costly.
Forest missed that focal point to build from for the rest of the contest. Grabban’s intelligence often sees him drop into a deeper-lying role, which allows Brennan Johnson and Joe Lolley to push ahead of him.
But Lyle Taylor, who replaced him on the day, tends to want to lead the line and play on the last man, and he lacks the ability to hold up play and bring others into the game.
Grabban’s injury halted Forest’s early momentum, and they will hope that the 33-year-old isn’t missing for too long.
Wing-backs the way forward
We have already alluded to the 3-4-3 formation and how Forest fans need to be patient as they progress the ball from the back.
But one major positive which has emerged from the change in system is how the wing-backs – Spence and Lowe – have performed in the last two games.
Lowe’s goal was obviously fortuitous, and the fact he chose not to celebrate and simply walked back to his position with a grin on his face told us that his cross was by no means an effort on goal.
But it was just rewards for what has been a fine start to his time at Forest since joining on loan from Sheffield United.
On the opposite flank, Spence’s drive and power at both ends of the pitch saw him be named the club’s man-of-the-match on Saturday.
On current form, it is hard to suggest why Middlesbrough boss Neil Warnock decided to loan out the full-back in the first place.
Forest have lacked energetic, attack-minded full-backs since Matty Cash and Yuri Ribeiro impressed in 2019/20. They now have two in Spence and Lowe.