Nottingham Forest claimed their first win under the tutelage of Steve Cooper last night in emphatic fashion, defeating Barnsley 3-1 at Oakwell.
The Welshman witnessed his side come from behind to earn a deserved point against Millwall on Saturday, and his players showed that character again last night as they ended up breezing towards three points.
Cauley Woodrow put Barnsley ahead inside 19 minutes, winning a penalty following a clumsy Tobias Figueiredo error and sending Brice Samba the wrong way from the spot.
But the Reds were by no means out of the contest, and on the hour mark, the game began to turn on its head.
Philip Zinckernagel found an equaliser for the Reds following a swift move, before Brennan Johnson fired low into the bottom corner after beating the offside trap to put Forest into the lead.
In the latter stages, Lewis Grabban put the game beyond Barnsley’s reach when he tapped in Alex Mighten’s low cross at the far post. Three goals and three points for Forest in South Yorkshire.
An away end filled with over 2,000 spectators from Nottingham were jubilant after the final whistle, with Forest now yielding seven points from their last three games and turning a corner under new management.
Here, we take a look at three talking points that emerged from last night’s win at Oakwell…
Grabban the difference
Grabban was a doubt heading into last night’s clash after he limped off with an injury at the weekend, and Cooper even admitted that it was a risk to include him in any capacity at Oakwell.
But it was a risk which certainly paid off, with his introduction on the hour mark moving Forest up a gear and providing them with a real focal point going forward.
His first touch saw him play Johnson through on goal – the winger selfless as he squared for Zinckernagel, who had the easiest job of rolling the ball into an empty net.
Grabban may have even got himself on the scoresheet before he eventually did so, too. A similar, swift attacking move saw Johnson beat the offside trap, advancing towards goal with the striker to his left.
Johnson was emphatic, though, as he fired across goal and found the bottom corner, before wheeling away to celebrate in front of the away end.
Grabban’s goal was a finish we have come to expect from the 33-year-old. It was Alex Mighten’s work, as the tricky winger weaved his way into the area before pulling the ball back to the far post.
There was Grabban, who displayed his predatory instincts and side-footed into an empty net. Not much work required, but a crucial goal nonetheless.
Forest had been playing with a fluid front three beforehand, and even though that was proving dangerous, Grabban’s hold-up and link-up play made the ultimate difference.
Another string to Johnson’s bow
As alluded to before, Forest went without a recognised a striker in Grabban’s absence, with Cooper choosing to start Zinckernagel, Johnson and Joe Lolley in an interchanging, fluid attacking line.
Zinckernagel and Johnson interchanged throughout, with the latter showing his ability to play anywhere across the front line and use his pace to full effect.
If fans weren’t aware, then it is no secret that Johnson is undoubtedly one if, if not the quickest player in the Championship.
But the timing of his run to beat the offside trap on multiple occasions, before switching through the gears and getting to full speed, was tantalising. The weight of the pass for Zinckernagel was faultless, and the finish he produced was emphatic.
When you have a player who brings that much speed and quality to the side, it is a wonderful weapon to have, whatever position he plays in.
We have seen players like Ollie Watkins perform in the Championship, starting out wide for Brentford before eventually moving central and filling Neal Maupay’s void.
It is perhaps no wonder, then, that the Bees pursued Johnson on multiple occasions during the summer. From a Forest perspective, thank heavens they weren’t successful in doing so.
Fearlessness reaps rewards
Chris Hughton had his critics whilst in charge of Forest, and one of the main issues fans had with him was his reluctance to change system and tactics in time of need.
These are new times under a younger, more progressive coach, however, and Cooper’s fearlessness last night won Forest the game, to put it simply.
They were knocking on the door without really showing any conviction in the final third, working the ball into dangerous areas without applying the finishing touch.
But on the hour mark, a change from their 3-4-3 system to a 4-2-3-1 and introducing Grabban reaped rewards. His first touch led to the equaliser, and Forest had a platform to build from.
Even when they took the lead, Cooper saw that as an opportunity to keep on punishing the Tykes. Alex Mighten was introduced, and his energy and fresh legs saw him dance past two Barnsley defenders, getting to the byline and crossing for Grabban, another substitute, to finish.
Changes swung the game in Forest’s favour. They now have their first win under the belt under their new head coach, and the positivity is something which they have failed to see in recent times under a different regime.