Nottingham Forest will be despondent as they undeservedly lost 1-0 to promotion chasing Swansea City in the Championship.
Chris Hughton’s side were the better side throughout, but couldn’t make their superiority pay and were made to rue that when Connor Roberts scored Swansea’s only meaningful effort in the 87th minute.
Anthony Knockaert had hit the bar for Forest in the first half and Lewis Grabban also had an effort just flash the post, but they couldn’t find the clinical touch when it mattered.
In the aftermath of a gutting result, here are four things that we learnt…
James Garner is already a contender for signing of the season…
It may seem strange that an on-loan teenager would be so revered, but James Garner is no normal teenager.
The 19-year-old Manchester United midfielder not only offers solidity from a defensive standpoint, but his ability to drive and pick out the right pass shows maturity and a level of skill years beyond his age.
Within just a handful of games, he has already not only established himself as a staple of Forest’s midfield, but also one of their key players.
It’s very easy to see why he’s been dubbed as Michael Carrick’s successor and Reds fans will be hoping that Ole Gunnar Solksjær believes another year under Hughton’s stewardship is best for his development.
…and he’s vying with Anthony Knockaert
It’s genuinely a travesty that Knockaert’s G/A figures are so low – two goals and one assist in 22 games – as he is comfortably Forest’s most creative player.
Time after time, game after game, Knockaert, who was a Chris Hughton favourite at Brighton, will deliver an absolute peach of a cross and it will go begging – and Swansea was no exception.
Midway through the first half, Knockaert from deep delivered a perfect in-swinger into the box, centre halves on the turn so they couldn’t get to it…but despite having two red shirts in the box, no-one could attack it.
It must be incredibly frustrating for Knockaert that his output isn’t getting the figures he deserves – he also hit the bar on the stroke of half-time – but that doesn’t take away his vital importance to this Forest side.
The Reds are growing in confidence…
Obviously good results brings better morale, but if you were to compare Forest on the night to the same side a few months ago, you’d think you were looking at teams from two different seasons.
Forest didn’t just try and play for a point at The Liberty Stadium, they played to win – even dominating for good periods of the game.
The one touch passing and the threat on the counter made a huge difference, to the point you’d be hard pressed to know who was going for automatic promotion and who was in a relegation battle.
While it makes the first half of the season even more frustrating as there’s too much ground to make up, the Hughton effect is seemingly in full swing, which bodes well for the future.
…but Forest don’t get their rewards
The sense of injustice on that Forest team bus going back to Nottingham will be extremely high, as somehow they left empty handed.
A routine cross by Jake Bidwell wasn’t stopped by Cyrus Christie and it appeared as if Yuri Ribeiro lost Connor Roberts, who couldn’t miss.
At the very least, Forest deserved a point, but were left to rue their missed chances and – once again – individual mistakes.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but Forest are very much on the right track – they will win a lot more than they lose playing in this vein.
Will Nottingham Forest bounce back against Blackburn Rovers?