Steve Cooper is a man feeling pressure right now. The Nottingham Forest chief is struggling to pull his side away from the relegation zone. A harrowing loss at Villa Park over the Easter weekend sees the Reds languishing in the bottom three.
Cooper has transformed the fortunes of the Midlands based club since taking over from former Republic of Ireland defender Chris Hughton back in September 2021. The Welshman guided Forest away from trouble to a remarkable turnaround of finishing in the play offs. That form saw Cooper’s side sweep aside Sheffield United over two legs before then reaching the promised land yet again by defeating Carlos Corberan’s Huddersfield Town side. It was the first time Forest were back in the big time since 1999.
The style of play that Cooper demanded of his side in the Championship was attacking football. That attacking football has been hit and miss this season with the Midlanders only finding the net on 24 occasions. Granted, a promoted side struggles jumping up a division Forest spent heavily to try to stay up. Owner Evangelos Marinakis opened the chequebook for Cooper and over €184.25 million has since been splashed out on players.
A huge turnover of players caused Forest to be slow out of the blocks and found themselves behind the eight ball. Thirty players have made their way through Wilford Lane throughout the course of the summer and winter transfer windows respectively. Morgan Gibbs- White has yet to hit the high notes since his arrival from Wolverhampton Wanderers. A hefty €29.5 million fee has yet to reap rewards for the Reds as the forward has only contributed two goals and five assists. A player of the former England under-21 stars calibre should be striving to better himself.
Brennan Johnson has been a leading light for Cooper this season. The son of former Forest player David Johnson has climatised to top tier football at ease. The pace of the Wales international has wrecked havoc for defenders and his contribution of eight goals and two assists have outshone his team mates. The academy graduate has taken the role of the front man for the struggling Reds and continues to flourish. His brace against Everton at the City Ground was enough to gain a point over a fellow relegation rival. The forward is definitely going to be a permanent fixture in the Premier League even if Forest go down.
The poor results at the start of the season certainly didn’t help Cooper. Eight defeats in the first 15 top flight games including a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Erling Haaland and Manchester City damaged confidence. The World Cup break came at the perfect time for Cooper and his charges as the former England youth coach could get his squad together and gel. That upturn in fortunes began as Forest defeated basement boys Southampton away from home and added another victory over a rival Leicester City.
More signings were made such as experienced Newcastle midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, and former Real Madrid shot stopper Keylor Navas was drafted in on loan from Paris Saint-Germain. Chris Wood a veteran striker from Newcastle was also drafted in. Those signings had sparked a run of no defeats for Forest in the month of January and the feeling around the City Ground was surrounded with positivity.
Fast forward a couple of months later and the City Ground natives found themselves without a win since toppling strugglers Leeds United at home on the fifth of February. Forest had suffered five defeats in their last eight outings and this horrific form has seen any hopes of staying up fading quickly. All the hard work put in by Cooper and his staff has not borne fruit and the war chest given by Marinakis, may not even be enough to stave of a return back to the second tier.
The huge clash at Elland Road was a game which Forest would have been aiming to get something from. However, poor execution in front of goal meant that the sorry Reds succumbed to a 2-1 defeat. It could have been a lot worse. Javi Gracia’s Whites had 21 attempts on the Costa Rican’s rear-guard with only six on target. Forest themselves could only muster one attempt on target from a possible 13 efforts. That kind of conversion rate will not keep a side up.
The game at Villa Park was ought to be a fiercely contested fixture. Forest needed to show enthusiasm, courage and bravery in the final third to inflict damage on their Midlands rivals. None of those traits were forthcoming and the Villains ran out comfortable victors through Bertrand Traore and Ollie Watkins. A poorly executed six attempts on the Villa goal and just two of those on target, is just not going to cut the mustard at this level. Forest are marooned in relegation trouble in 18th.
Next up for Cooper and his troops is a huge and daunting home game to Erik Ten Hag’s Manchester United. United themselves, are on the back two wins in a row and head to the City Ground looking to consolidate their place in the top four. The Reds need a huge performance more so, in the oppositions half of the field. An away trip to Anfield swiftly follows this blockbuster game for Cooper’s men and and any kind of a result whether it be a point or by a miracle three, will spur the men from the East Midlands onto believe they can stay up.
The time for Brennan Johnson, Morgan Gibbs-White, Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Worrall to stand up and be counted for, is now. These players need to roll their sleeves up and prepare to do everything for the cause of the Forest faithful to stay up in this bruising division. Pretty football does not matter at this juncture it’s all about survival. And mostly importantly, these players need to fight for their manager just as he is doing for them. Otherwise, the axe could be wielded on the unfortunate Welshman who guided them back to the top table.