Morgan Gibbs-White can keep Forest up – but only if his defenders help him out

It was an afternoon when Morgan Gibbs-White became only the fourth Nottingham Forest player to ever reach double figures for both goals (10) and assists (15) in the Premier League.

And the ability of the man who plunges his fingers in his ears to celebrate his goals — but never quite with as much purpose as he does in front of Wolves fans — to continue making a noise in the top flight will be pivotal in their hopes of securing survival.

With just five games remaining, next weekend, Gibbs-White will go head-to-head with two of the other men who have achieved that feat (the other being Bryan Roy) at Goodison Park.

The fact that Steve Stone played his last professional game for Leeds in 2006 and Ian Woan retired in 2004, after a season with the wonderfully named Syracuse Salty Dogs in New York, tells a story of how long Forest spent outside of the Premier League.

Stone and Woan were both part of the Forest squad that last played in the Premier League in 1998-99, even if Stone left to join Aston Villa before relegation was confirmed.

The duo, who are now assistants to Sean Dyche — who retains his own fond memories of his time at Forest, despite having a less successful spell as a player at the City Ground, where he never made a first-team appearance — would surely find it bittersweet if they can inspire an Everton win against their former side.

Forest sit 17th in the table, just a point behind Everton, who play the first of two games in hand against Chelsea tonight. Next weekend’s game will surely be billed as the profit and sustainability (PSR) derby, as the two sides to have been hit by points deductions for breaching regulations — and who both decided to appeal against their punishments — go toe to toe on Merseyside.

Both teams will want to ensure that their fate is decided on the pitch, rather than by people sitting behind a desk — with Forest’s appeal hearing set to take place during the week starting Monday, April 22, as they look to secure a reduction in their four-point penalty for PSR breaches last season.

It is a massive game for Forest, but every remaining fixture will be.

And they head into those decisive matches on the back of a performance that perfectly illustrated Forest’s entire season. Never have the strengths and weaknesses of this Forest side been laid bare so transparently in the space of one game. They remain a frustrating, maddening team of extreme contrasts.

GettyImages 2148518150 scaled

(Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

The brilliance of Gibbs-White was at the core of the attacking threat that could and should have seen them score more than two goals — and win.

After being stepped down from corner-taking duty, with Gio Reyna — the USMNT player making his first Premier League start — and Danilo handed that responsibility, Gibbs-White responded by heading home a Reyna delivery at the near post.



Reyna’s late cameo gives Forest a peek of what to expect from USMNT star

His cheeky celebration, right in front of the Wolves fans, was his response to the flak he had received from them since he joined Forest for an initial £25million ($31m at the current exchange rate) in the summer of 2022.

Forest’s second came after Gibbs-White had rampaged into the box, only to be halted by a timely challenge from Matt Doherty — but with Danilo on hand to emphatically sweep home the loose ball.

morgan gibbs white wolverhampton wanderers 2

But the fact that they did not claim a precious victory was down to two moments of all-too-familiar defensive fragility. Matheus Cunha put Wolves in front after being allowed to carry the ball half the length of the pitch, before slipping in between Andrew Omobamidele and Ryan Yates and into the box, where he beat Matz Sels with an angled shot. It was a fine individual strike, but one that also owed a lot to individual errors.

Cunha’s second of the game came when Forest conceded from a set piece for the 22nd time. It is already the most set-piece goals conceded by any Premier League side in a season since Fulham shipped 25 in 2013-14. For context, that was a Fulham side that conceded 85 goals overall, as they finished in 19th place and were relegated. Bournemouth conceded 21 last season. Brighton (2017-18) and Hull (2016-17) also conceded 21.

Chris Wood has so often been the hero under Nuno Espirito Santo, scoring nine goals since the latter’s appointment. But only he will know why he turned his back to the ball and enabled Max Kilman to attack a header that Sels could only parry, allowing Cunha to pounce.

4 13 Nottm Forest vs. Wolves match dashboard wide 1

On Sunday, Forest face an Everton side that has scored 15 set-piece goals so far — almost half of the 32 goals they have scored overall. Only Arsenal, with 18, have more. Manchester City, who visit the City Ground on Sunday April 28, have 13 set-piece goals.

Forest’s improved attacking threat — they have scored 14 goals in their last 10 league games but have had an average xG of 1.64 per 90 minutes during that period — remains their biggest asset.

To put it into context, Liverpool (2.28 per 90) have the highest average xG this season, followed by Manchester City (2.03), Arsenal (1.98) and Chelsea (1.92). Had Forest maintained their recent xG over the course of the campaign, it would be the eighth best in the division. But Forest have also conceded 17 goals in those 10 games, while keeping only one clean sheet.

Last season it was their home form — where they secured 30 of their 38 points — that kept them up. That included wins over then-Champions League hopefuls Brighton and title-chasing Arsenal at the City Ground in the final stages. That should give them some hope even in the face of challenging remaining home games against Manchester City (who they drew 1-1 with at home last time) and Chelsea (Saturday, May 11).

But it feels as though Forest’s away games might be a more likely source of the points they need to keep them up. As well as Everton, Forest face relegation rivals Sheffield United (Saturday, May 4) and Burnley on the final day. While it would be premature to write off Burnley just yet, Forest’s basic challenge is to secure more points than 18th-placed Luton.

Normally, around 36 points is enough to achieve safety. Whether it will require quite that many this time around, with points deductions in play and three underperforming promoted sides, remains to be seen.

In Gibbs-White, Forest have a player who can provide the creativity, intelligence and individual brilliance to lead them closer to that target. But they must also ensure that their defensive fragility, particularly from set pieces, does not drag them down.

(Header photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top