Nottingham Forest’s hopes of automatic promotion took a big blow on Tuesday night, with the Reds losing 1-0 at home to a struggling Charlton Athletic side.
Forest have recently catapulted themselves to within touching distance of the automatic promotion places after recent wins over Brentford and Leeds, and with those two sides facing off at Griffin Park on Tuesday night, Sabri Lamouchi would have known that victory for his side could see them climb into the top two.
Buoyed on by their enthralling 2-0 win over Leeds at the weekend, Lamouchi made five changes to his side as they prepared to come up against a wounded Charlton side.
The most notable change saw Tyler Walker come in for leading goalscorer Lewis Grabban. The former came off the bench to score in stoppage time on Saturday – a goal that helped them secure an invaluable 2-0 victory over Marcelo Bielsa’s side.
Elsewhere, Gaetan Bong came in for Yuri Ribeiro to make his full debut for the Reds, and Ryan Yates, Carl Jenkinson, Adama Diakhaby all came in for Samba Sow, Matty Cash and Sammy Ameobi respectively.
Charlton – setting up in a 3-5-2 system, showed in the early stages that their formation could cause Forest problems.
Wing-back Alfie Doughty took the game to the hosts almost straight away, enjoying plenty of space down the left-hand side, and his awkward shot had to be tipped behind by Brice Samba at the front post on 12 minutes.
And, after a quiet opening 20 minutes, the visitors’ positive start was rewarded with a goal, with the left-hand side proving to be successful again.
Naby Sarr won a loose ball on the halfway line and delivered an exquisite cross towards the back post, and there was Lyle Taylor to dive in at the far post and volley in. A beautiful assist, matched with an emphatic finish, and not much Brice Samba could do at all.
Sarr very nearly turned from hero to zero for Charlton just a minute later, though, diverting Carl Jenkinson’s cross from the right over a helpless Dillon Phillips and onto the crossbar.
Charlton’s goal seemed to wake Forest up a little as they went in search of an immediate response. Tiago Silva found space in midfield, but his powerful shot from around 25 yards flew just wide.
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But as Forest looked to attack, that opened up gaps for Charlton to counter in numbers. A foul wasn’t given in the middle of the park, allowing Tomer Hemed to bear down on goal, before firing a wild effort high and wide with his left foot.
Towards the latter stages of the half, Forest continued to apply the pressure. Lamouchi’s team selection presented Adama Diakhaby with a chance to make an impression on his full debut, following his loan arrival from Huddersfield Town last month.
The Frenchman showed plenty of pace but his first-half performance left a lot to be desired. On 33 minutes, the Frenchman ran onto Tyler Walker’s knockdown, but despite having space in front of him, he ballooned a first-time shot well wide, much to the frustration of the home faithful.
The duo then combined again seven minutes later. Diakhaby’s cross from the left finding Walker, but his flick could only skim the far post as he looked to score two goals in as many games.
The half fizzled out and the whistle blew to mark the end of a frustrating 45 minutes for Forest, lacking cohesion in midfield and in the final third, which in turn allowed Charlton to capitalise.
The second-half began and Charlton nearly found a second goal if it weren’t for resilient defending from Forest. Lyle Taylor was given too much space on the edge of the area and the striker threaded a ball through to Hemed, but two shots in quick succession were blocked well.
Frustrations began to grow amongst the home crowd, especially after Gaetan Bong’s loose touch allowed Charlton to retrieve possession and break again. Lyle Taylor has plenty of options either side of him, but the killer pass to Hemed was too powerful and the latter could only fire away.
You sensed that changes had to be made in order for Forest to get back into the game, and that turned out to be Bong’s final piece of action.
Lamouchi made a double change on the hour mark, with Matty Cash and Alfa Semedo replacing Bong and Tiago Silva respectively – Charlton making their first changes, too, with Doughty and Erhun Oztumer being replaced by Aiden McGeady and Ben Purrington.
Cash looked to make an immediate impact – the rampaging full-back received the ball in acres of space down the right, but his cross sailed wide for a goal-kick.
It was starting to look like one of them nights for Forest. Their passes were sloppy and their frustrations were starting to show.
On 68 minutes, Lamouchi made one final throw of the dice, handing a debut to January recruit Nuno da Costa, who replaced Ryan Yates.
The crowd began to voice their discontent as a short goal-kick routine resulted in the ball being put out for a throw-in, rather summing up what a lacklustre performance it had been for Forest thus far.
With 15 minutes remaining, Forest started to throw men forward. Cash’s cross was much more accurate this time, and it found Walker, who could fire straight into the palms of Phillips from point-blank range.
Joe Lolley has been Forest’s creative spark in recent weeks, scoring vital goals against Brentford and Luton and setting up Walker for his goal against Leeds.
But the winger was unable to create anything for the Reds when they were in need of that spark, as his cross sailed well over the head of Semedo and out for a goal-kick in the final few moments.
That was to be that on the banks of the Trent, as Charlton claimed a massive away win in their fight for survival.
Boos rang out at the City Ground as Darren Bond blew his whistle, on a night where they watched their side struggle and fail to play with any real cohesion at all.
The five changes made to the starting line-up proved to be costly, which leaves Forest with plenty to do ahead of this weekend’s away clash against automatic promotion rivals West Bromwich Albion.