As Nottingham Forest, that storied former club, had been waiting for a moment like this as they overcame West Ham to savor their first Premier League victory in 23 years. As the announcer waved the City Ground turnstiles open an hour and a half before kick-off, his voice cracked slightly as he welcomed the Forest fans to this pulsating stadium for a top-flight game a once again, he offered a reminder. of the sense of the occasion.
An absorbing and fiercely contested match only added to the electric atmosphere, the palpable pre-match. Both teams saw goals disallowed and Declan Rice had a bad second-half penalty awarded by Dean Henderson as Taiwo Awoniyi’s first Premier League goal proved the difference. West Ham could count themselves unlucky as they also hit the woodwork twice.
Forest, then, is on the way. As the old adage goes, strikers don’t care how the goals go and Awoniyi’s first in Garibaldi red was messy to say the least. The goal came from Harry Toffolo’s run and cut-back for Jesse Lingard, whose shot was tame enough for Ben Johnson to block, but on the brink of half-time, Awoniyi was in the right place in the right time to open your account after a £17 m Movement. Lingard, who spurned West Ham in favor of a move to Forest this summer, got off to a flying start, but this gutsy Forest performance was about the collective, a squad understandably still coming together. Steve Cooper turned to the Forest fans and clenched both fists. “I talked to the players about how there were probably three generations of fans here today, one that remembers the good old days,” Cooper said, dedicating the win to fans who couldn’t get tickets.
In an open letter, Forest chairman Nicholas Randall said the club has no plans to make up the numbers on their return and, given how difficult it is to keep track of the ticket rush – the purchase of Neal Maupay seems to get it. spending north of £125m, they seem to mean business. French midfielder Houssem Aouar is also close to signing. “I really hope everyone is looking into why we’ve had to make so many signings and not just put the narrative ‘Forest have signed loads of players – why?'” Cooper said. “There has been a real reason behind i [it has been] a real need. We would have liked to continue with last year’s squad and add a few players, but that was never going to happen. We’re still in that process of becoming the team and squad we want to be.”
Forest also showed intent on the pitch. Eight of their summer recruits started here, including Orel Mangala and Awoniyi, who both came on as substitutes last weekend. West Ham, on the other hand, looked very familiar but for naming two goalkeepers on their bench. Awoniyi provided a welcome focal point and Mangala showed touches of class, drawing gasps as he half-volleyed a pass to the lively Neco Williams, who eventually cleared off the line to deny Kurt Zouma an equaliser. Only water breaks midway through each half brought calm to a frantic game.
David Sullivan, the West Ham co-owner, arrived at the ground in a royal red Rolls-Royce, but some Forest supporters took another form of transport – arriving by boat on the River Trent. The buzz was palpable in an afternoon full of lasting images; captains Joe Worrall and Rice standing side by side in a narrow tunnel; Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis in an open-necked white shirt, praying for a VAR review to go in his favor before Brennan Johnson’s strike was disallowed; Henderson kissing the stands after saving low to his right to deny Rice from 12 yards; pure noise as Born Slippy, the Trainspotting anthem, played before the game. Something seemed to be brewing from the moment Awoniyi won an early corner and David Moyes’ face was etched with frustration as he repeated his oh-so-nears. “We had enough chances to score the goals, but we didn’t take advantage of them,” he said.
West Ham were denied the opener after referee Robert Jones was encouraged to visit the VAR monitor, with former Forest striker Michail Antonio clearly going into Mangala from the ball in the seconds before Saïd Benrahma went into the bottom corner. Pablo Fornals smashed the underside of the crossbar 23 seconds into the second half and just after the hour mark Benrahma curled a free-kick against almost the same part of the goal frame. West Ham’s best chance then came when Scott McKenna was booked for handball after a VAR check to prevent Tomas Soucek sweeping Benrahma’s cut-back into the net. Rice stepped up, but Henderson, in front of Gareth Southgate, went the right way and saved. “I know Dec’s favorite side [on penalties] as I have trained with him before [with England]” Henderson said. “I just stuck with what I knew and luckily he put it in.”
As Forest supporters gleefully declared before and after the final whistle: Forest are back.
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