Nottingham Forest 2-2 Everton

Johnson brace denies Blues a vital win.

Two set piece goals, one a penalty from Demarai Gray and the other an Abdoulaye Doucoure header on the end of a free kick saw the Blues earn a point against Forest for whom Brendan Johnson bagged a brace of equalisers in a must-not-lose game for both sides at the City Ground.

Last time out, both Forest and Everton lost 4-0 to London sides, Forest at West Ham, Everton at the league leaders, Arsenal so with neither side in goalscoring form and leaking goals seemingly for fun, this game according to many pundits had nil-nil written all over it… oh how wrong can they be.

Forest were the busiest club in the last two transfer windows, signing players at a rate that bemused many and left Evertonians envious of their ability to attract and complete deals in the allotted time schedules both last summer and more recently in January.

Forest head coach Steve Cooper was fully expecting a positive reaction from his players when he told his pre-match media gathering, “When you work and play for this club and these supporters you have to do your very best to turn up every single game. We’re representing something really important to the city and the community and that’s something we value.”

He continued, “We’re thinking about ourselves and we have a mindset of looking forward. We’ve got to concentrate on what we do and we’re still very much in the process of trying to become something. Our priority is for us to be at our best because if we do that, it means we can continue to build. We can also use the low moments to build because we’ve had some difficult results and performances but, it’s part of the process of getting to where you want to be.”

And turning his attention to Sunday’s fixture he noted, “Everton are up next and you need to think about what it takes to succeed against them but, we’re also very clear that we need to look after ourselves because in the end that’s the most important factor of where you end up. You want to be here playing in the Premier League, playing for something and we want to play with the anticipation of doing well and succeeding, we want the players to have the mindset that they can achieve good things and the game can’t come quick enough.”

The Forest boss duly named his starting line-up: Navas, Aurier, Worrall (c), Felipe, Lodi, Freuler, Shelvey, Colback, Johnson, Gibbs-White and Wood.

Lying four points behind Forest, Everton were painfully aware of just how important a positive result against the hosts could be in the fight to avoid relegation to the Championship. But, it’s the desperate lack of goals that is the biggest issue for Sean Dyche to try and resolve, and Blues fans will be hoping that the news he advised on Friday will help that cause. “Dominic Calvert-Lewin is recovering and getting strong. We’ll see [for Sunday], as we will over James [Garner] too.”

James Garner and Nathan Patterson both turned out for the Under-21s in the youngsters’ Premier League International Cup quarter-final clash with PSV Eindhoven on Thursday evening as the duo continue to build their fitness ahead of a return to senior action. Midfielder Garner, who sustained a back injury prior to the mid-season break for the World Cup, managed 84 minutes, while right-back Patterson, who Dyche revealed last week is “a bit behind” his teammate, lasted 64 minutes in a defeat to the Dutch outfit at Goodison Park. Dyche advised: “Patto is a little bit behind because he got a knock on his knee but, played 70 minutes last night. Jimmy [Garner] is a little bit closer.”

Sean Dyche admits building a positive mentality within the group at Everton is a work in progress but, is confident there has been plenty of evidence his players are heading in the right direction. Despite going into the Forest game on the back of two defeats, the boss claimed there were plenty of plus points from the Villa and Arsenal games saying, “Since I have been here, I have seen it (players stepping up). I think that’s been obvious, I hope, with most of our performances. There’s been players who have been saying, ‘I am ready’. We want that to continue. We want that positive edge, we want that to continue. Some players play in that way where they are making the difference, and that rubs off very quickly. We want more players to take that on and join in with that mentality when people are playing right at the top of their game.”

Goals win games and going in search of three priceless points, Dyche made two changes to the side that started at the Emirates, putting his faith in this starting eleven: Jordan Pickford, Seamus Coleman (c), Michael Keane, James Tarkowski, Ben Godfrey, Alex Iwobi, Amadou Onana, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Dwight McNeil, and Demarai Gray.

At the City Ground toting watches, whistles, coloured cards and shaving foam was referee John Brooks.

Before kick-off, an immaculately observed minutes silence for the loss of life in the Greek train crash this week was observed by both sets of supporters containing another incredible sold-out section of travelling Evertonians.

McNeil won an early free kick on the left that Gray sent to the back post for Doucoure, Forest partially cleared and won a goal kick as a shot from McNeil went well over the bar. Godfrey clattered into Johnson to give the home side their first free kick, Everton complaining about a challenge by Worrall on Pickford that went unpunished.

After a decent passing move led to a cross from Iwobi into the Forest area, McNeil pounced onto a loose ball and was felled clumsily by former RS Shelvey, nine minutes gone – penalty to the Blues – although VAR looked hard to find a way to deny it, without succeeding. Demarai Gray placed the ball on the spot and converted high to the left of Navas as the Spaniard went low to his right – One Nil Blues !!

The noise now was coming from those battle-hardened travelling Blues fans as the early goal appeared to have rattled the home side, passes going astray and gleefully celebrated by the visiting fans. Through the opening quarter of an hour, Everton had looked more determined and having grabbed the lead were in no mood to let it slip easily. A Forest free kick for a foul by Gray on Worrall, saw a good punch clear by Pickford and a wild follow-up shot go wide of the target.

But, the lead was let go as Forest built through midfield and a one-two between Gibbs-White and Wood saw the former shoot and a fingertip save by Pickford wasn’t enough to stop Johnson drawing the home side level in the 19th minute as he pounced on the loose ball. Forest were now buoyant and won a corner off Tarkowski that bizarrely Godfrey headed behind for another when under no pressure – Pickford easily dealing with a shot from Shelvey.

Gray was hurt in an accidental challenge with Colback and gingerly got to his feet and Everton appealed strongly but in vain, for a second penalty as Coleman got behind Colback and he appeared to catch the Everton skipper and send him tumbling to the grass. The two goals had certainly upped the ante from both sides, painfully aware of the importance of the need for a victory to both clubs, play switching end to end and making for entertaining viewing for neutrals.

Aurier fouled Gana Gueye and was lucky not to be booked, the free kick wasted by the Blues. Johnson was lectured for his reaction to a foul being awarded to Everton for a foul by and the free kick saw the Blues regain the lead, Pickford sending the ball long for Tarkowski to find Keane and his header forward was perfect for Abdoulaye Doucoure who’d got free and send a telling header beyond Navas just before the half hour mark.

The Blues regaining the advantage took a little of the sting out of Forest and the somewhat frenetic nature of the opening half hour calmed down a tad as Everton looked more composed on the ball, looking to construct their attacking forays forward while Forest chased shadows and another measured build-up saw Navas make sure a McNeil shot went over the bar at the expense of the Blues first corner. Forest smuggled the ball clear as we reached the 40-minute mark and Godfrey halted Johnson in his tracks as the home side did get forward.

Another stiff challenge by Godfrey on Johnson saw the Blues defender booked for his troubles in conceding a free kick wide on the Forest right hand side. Johnson needed some treatment for the awkward fall he’d taken and the free kick was defended successfully. A harsh call on Iwobi gave Forest another free kick wide left and Everton pulled everyone back to keep Forest out and did so through a combination of Doucoure and Gana Gueye to launch a counter attack that saw Gibbs-White get back to block a shot from Gray on the end of a low cross from Doucoure.

Two added minutes were announced with nothing else to report on and the Blues led at the break – time for a half time beer.

Half Time: 1-2

No changes so, as we were for the start of the second half with the Blues attacking the goal behind which the massed ranks of travelling supporters were encamped. Gray and McNeil worked the ball for an early cross that Forest cleared before Onana could get to it and Aurier and Gray exchanged unpleasantries before a throw-in to the home side.

Everton defended a Forest free kick in a scrappy start to the second half before tempers threatened to boil over as McNeil reacted to a challenge by Gibbs-White on Godfrey that saw both booked for their indiscretions and Everton defended the free kick that had been given to the home side. Forest won a corner, as a shot on the turn by Shelvey took a deflection off Tarkowski, and duly wasted it.

Forest were trying to impose themselves on the Blues, and more push ‘n shove ensued between Gray and Lodi again, both players seeing yellow cards for their troubles. Tarkowski was next to be booked for a stiff challenge on Johnson and when Everton countered, Navas had to be quick off his line to clear a poor back pass from Felipe.

McNeil to Coleman and his first time ball over the top for Iwobi was played a bit too strongly but, a good idea from the skipper. Onana felt the force of a tackle from Gibbs-White as we reached the hour mark and the strains of The Goodison Gang song rang around the City Ground while he received some treatment. Everton, understandably were happy to slow the tempo of the game and disrupt Forest who, were trying to force the pace in search of a second equaliser.

Pickford with an easy take on a cross from Aurier saw us through the 65-minute mark with both sides warming up possible substitute changes on the touchline while Everton continued to stifle the home side with Alex Iwobi putting in some good defensive play to deny Gibbs-White and take the ball clear to midfield. Keane headed a Johnson cross clear and Iwobi again marshalled Lodi well to force him backwards.

A triple changes on 70 minutes saw Colback, Freuler and Wood replaced by Yates, Dennis and Ayew respectively for Forest.

Good positioning and work by Godfrey denied Johnson getting on the end of a through ball, the ball cleared to half way where Forest looked to try and build another raid. Everton got down the other end and determination from Iwobi and McNeil saw the latter win a corner. Worrall beat Keane to the Gray set piece to head clear and Iwobi got back quickly to foil Ayew trying to get clear.

Into the final quarter of an hour of this vital game and Forest came again after a free kick was cleared and when the ball came back into the Everton area, Johnson retained his composure to send a fine shot into the top corner.

Felipe was booked for a foul on Gray as the Blues looked to break out from the back and the big question was could either side find a winner in the final eleven minutes. Johnson with a clear pull back on McNeil went well for Everton as Aurier was bursting forward, Forest dealing easily with the Blues free kick and getting forward with Ayew testing Pickford with a shot that the England keeper tipped just far enough away from Johnson to deny him a hat-trick chance.

Yates cleared for Forest as Coleman got into the area and tired to tee-up McNeil, and the game switched again with Forest breaking and Dennis getting away with a clear foul on Gana Gueye to win a free kick that led to some pin-ball in the Everton area, Forest keeping the pressure on before Johnson curled a shot across the face of goal and wide.

Five minutes to play and with Forest in the ascendency, could Everton hold on or maybe nick a winner on a counter attack or Route One ball forward?

Good defending by Yates denied Iwobi as he burst forward on a nice back heel pass from Doucoure and Sean Dyche made two late changes as Neal Maupay and Tom Davies replaced Demarai Gray and Alex Iwobi on 88 minutes. Five added minutes were announced, five minutes to secure a point or win two more?

Worrall blocked a cross from McNeil and Davies and Dennis clashed in the centre circle with Davies booked for his part in it. Everton defended the free kick and with nothing else of any significance coming to fruition, both sides earned a point and probably felt they both served a bit more.

Full Time: 2-2

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