Sunday, June 4, 2023

We Are Staying Up, I said We Are Staying Up!

So, after all the drama and controversy of the World Cup it was back to the weirdly suspended drama of the domestic league season and, for Forest fans, the big question: could we manage to hold on to our restored status back in the top flight - one we'd waited for ever-so-patiently for twenty three years.

Previously: Argentina win the World Cup!

Steve Cooper's Magic

Before I rewind the clock back to the day I set off for blighty to spend a couple of weeks in England watching domestic football (and Forest four times) then head off to Europe, let's rewind just a bit more...
...  not even two years previously, to the 17th September 2021. 

Forest were really in dire straights then...

Championship Table on 17th September 2021

Forest were bottom of the league then too, but remember this was the second tier! Under Chris Hughton, the team had started terribly and Forest were bottom of the league without a win in their opening seven games. Predictably, a majority of Forest fans were calling for Hughton's head. Now, I was still hurting from the way they treated one of my all time footballing heroes, Martin O'Neil, just a couple of years before, so my first instinct was to back the manager. It usually is anyway, and I've always liked Hughton and thought he was badly treated at several clubs before us. So I was pleased when he was chosen to replace Sabri Lamouchi the season before. 

Anyway, even I had to admit things were looking very dire this time, and that perhaps a change of manager might change the team's fortunes. Most significantly, it's what Evangelos Marinakis thought and Chris Hughton was shown the door. After one match under caretaker, Steven Reid - which Forest amazingly won 2-0 away at Huddersfield, in came a young man I'd hardly heard of. Some strange-looking Welsh guy from Pontypridd called Steve Cooper who'd done well at Swansea last season.

Hughton Out... Cooper In

Talk about "managerial bounce"! Forest were immediately transformed. After drawing at home to Millwall in Cooper's first game in charge, Forest went on an amazing run of form winning the next four games, quickly climbing away from the relegation zone to 16th.

Although they were then brought crashing down to earth by eventual champions, Fulham in the next game, losing 0-4 at home, the only way was up. Forest would only lose another five games all season and, during Cooper's time in charge, they actually had the best record in the league. This was form that would take them into the play-offs for the first time in ten years and a wonderful Wembley victory against Huddersfield Town.

Forest's fantastic form under Steve Cooper last season

F.A. Cup Run

On top of that, the Tricky Trees also had a wonderful run in the F.A. Cup, beating Arsenal, last year's Cup holders Leicester City and Huddersfield to reach the Quarter Finals and a home tie against the mighty, mighty Liverpool, to whom they were unlucky to lose 0-1.

3rd Round Forest 1 Arsenal 0

4th Round Forest 4 Leicester City 1

5th Round Forest 2 Huddersfield Town 1

6th Round Forest 0 Liverpool 1

A lot of football fans these days are totally unmoved by the F. A. Cup. To them it's just an irritant. They'd rather their team got knocked out early, so they could "concentrate on the league". Well, here is a great counter argument to that attitude. Forest's great cup run clearly inspired the team and gave them a huge confidence boost. Remember, they easily qualified for the promotion play offs at the same time as this amazing cup run.

Final Table.

Having finished fourth in the table, Forest were tasked with playing fifth placed Sheffield United, away first. And the match couldn't have gone much better for Forest, winning the first leg 2-1 at Bramall Lane.

Of course, the home leg wasn't the formality we'd all hoped for and United had this tricky little lad called Morgan Gibbs-White on loan from Wolves. It was MGW who equalised and so the Blades took the game to a dramatic penalty shoot out.

But thanks to their idiosyncratic goalkeeper, Bryce Samba, Forest won through to Wembley to play Huddersfield Town in the play off final.

What a day that was, with Forest sneaking through by a goal to nil in front of more than 80,000 fans. We had a pretty good night too, watching it at Perth Casino.

Summer Transfer Madness

So, against all odds, and against Forest fans' natural expectations of the usual disappointment, we were heading back to the premier league for the first time in 23 years.

Naturally, our first thoughts were about how to strengthen the squad.

Splashing the cash is always something newly promoted clubs do, but for Forest this summer was far more critical than usual. Certainly the summer of 2022 transfer window was more important, and urgently so, than any they've had before. Forest only had 69 days between knowing they were going up and the opening Premier League fixture. They had to move quickly.

Not only was there the usual fearful gulf in quality to try to make up, and the need to add depth of squad to a pool of players that had only just scraped through from the Championship into the Premier League - worries every newly promoted side faces... In addition, Forest had the added complication that many of the players that had just won them promotion were only on loan and either chose to leave or their parent clubs declined to let them stay at Forest.

The club already had quite a bloated squad and in the 2021-22 Season, a total of 37 players had made some a first team appearance in one of the competitions, 33 in the league. Contrast that with their European Cup winning season in 1978-79 when the club played in 63 competitive matches with a squad of just 20 but with just 16 players playing more than six of them. (Read more about that fantastic season and the one before and after in my Forest 40 Years Ago blog... here.)

43 years later, in the 2021-22 season, Forest played 55 competitive games with a squad of 37, with 23 players making more than six appearances.

But, the amazing thing is that of the sixteen players that made most appearances for Forest that season, no fewer than NINE said "ta ra, mi duck!" and cleared off at the end of it.

Forest promotion heroes that moved on...
Samba, Lolley, Figueiredo, Grabban,
Spence, Garner, Zinckernagel, Davis and Lowe

I don't think there has ever been a promoted side facing that kind of loss before they'd even kicked a ball in the league above. All in all, perhaps over twenty players left the club.

Players Leaving - 22

So, clearly, something had to be done, not only to replace the players lost, but, critically, to somehow build a squad capable of gelling into a decent team to try to survive.

Credit to Forest's money man, Evangelos Marinakis. He didn't waste time in reaching for his pocket to start splashing the cash. 

Evangelos Marinakis
The best oligarch billionaire club owner there is.

It seemed that a day didn't go by in the summer of 2023 transfer window when Forest weren't being associated with, or actually signing someone. It felt like cheating on Football Manager.
The first big name signing was Jesse Lingard and I remember listening to the first Forest pod cast afterwards and how excited Colin Fray was about it all. But how naïve we all were. What was to follow made Jesse's signing pale into insignificance.

According to quickly cobbled together statistics, Forest signed 38 new players, either on loan or with permanent contracts over the two transfer windows. Contrast that with the time Forest went up in 1977... when they just bought Kenny Burns (ok, with Peter Shilton and Archie Gemmill to follow soon afterwards.)

Players arriving - 38

38 new players to melded into a team asap...

The newcomers... (I'm sure I missed a few)

Gibbs-White; Awoniyi; Danilo; Williams; Dennis; Mangala; Niakhate; Freuler;
Richards; Shelvey; Lodi; Wood; Boly; Toffolo; Lingard; Scarpa;
Kouyate; Ayew; Hennessy; Henderson; Aurier; Navas

So, almost a completely new squad and just a few weeks to meld these guys from all over the world into a team that could compete in the toughest league.

It's a good job Steve Cooper is magic!

But despite investing so much in so many players, Forest were destined to have one of the unluckiest seasons with regard to injuries.

Even before a ball had been kicked, in fact just eleven days after signing, our 8.5 million euros left back from Bayern Munich, Omar Richards suffered a hairline fracture on his leg and never played all season long.

Oh My! - Omar - out for the season

Hello... Hello... Forest are Back!

I remember when Clough & Taylor's Forest got promotion to the top flight in 1977. How exciting it was to see the fixture list with all those big clubs lined up, week after week. And so it was this season. All my cynical sneering about the "Greediership" was hypocritically thrown in the bin and I was "all in" with this. "We are Premier League!" and I was going to enjoy every minute of it, no matter what.

The opening fixtures saw us playing away at St James' Park, the venue where I watched the most dramatic match I've ever seen as a 14 year old. Duncan McKenzie put Forest 3-1 up  in front of the Gallowgate End with twenty minutes to go against ten men. This was the signal for thousands of geordies to invade the pitch forcing the referee to order the players back to the dressing room. Forest defender Dave Serella was punched and when play resumed eight minutes later, to say the atmosphere was intimidating was the understatement of the century. 

Here are the highlights of that match again...

Of course, Newcastle went on to win 4-3 and even though the FA ordered the game be replayed (at Goodison Park, Everton) the fact that that drawn game was again replayed there and not at the City Ground will never be forgiven by Forest fans. Newcastle won that replay 1-0 and so earned themselves a place in the semi-final against Burnley and eventually a final v Liverpool, which they lost 3-0.

Anyway, back to 2022 and of course these days, under Saudi ownership, Newcastle United are a club with formidable resources and a great coach in Eddie Howe. Let's face it, none of us was expecting anything but a defeat on the opening day of the Premier League.

Yes, I did just write that: The Premier League.

After losing 2-0 to a side that were destined for a Champions League place, Forest started their home campaign well, beating West Ham United 1-0 before being unlucky to be held to a draw against Everton at Goodison Park. So four points from their first three games wasn't a bad start. We'd all have taken that.

In the West Ham match, Moussa Niakate badly pulled a hamstring and was out for 32 games - most of the season.

Niakate out for 32 games

At Everton, Orel Mangala suffered a muscle injury that would see him out for five games.

Then, Forest hit a very bad run. Losing at home to Spurs was, perhaps expected, as was getting thrashed at eventual champions Manchester City. But then two successive 2-3, crushing home defeats, to fellow promoted teams Bournemouth and Fulham, both from being in front, really was a shock to the system. Maybe we were going straight back down.

The day Forest lost at home to Spurs, Bournemouth were thrashed 9-0 at Liverpool and their manager, Scott Parker, became the first managerial casualty of the season. Of course, their new coach stepped in just in time for the Forest game.

Thomas Tuchel became the second manager to be sacked, by Chelsea, after their lackluster start to the season. Graham Potter stepped up to take the poisoned chalice, leaving Brighton for a big fat cheque.

A 4-0 thrashing away to previously bottom club Leicester (that honour now passing to us) and we all awaited the news... "You're getting sacked in the morning" seemed to be the likeliest outcome. Evangelos Marinakis has a reputation for pulling the trigger and Forest were undeniably very poor at Leicester. Wolves fired Bruno Lage the same weekend, so we all awaited the seemingly inevitable news.

But the dreaded announcement never came. Instead Steve Cooper was invited to sign a new contract and this seemed to breed some renewed confidence in the squad. Could this turn out to have been the key decision of the season?

A draw at home to Aston Villa, at least put an end to a run of five successive defeats, and we were unlucky to lose at Wolves, Brenan Johnson missing a penalty. Then, a gritty, hardly-deserved, but much needed point at Brighton was followed by a massive 1-0 win over Liverpool and some hope had returned.

The next managerial casualty was Stevie Stevie Gerard. Sacked by Villa as they slumped to fourth from bottom having won only two out of their opening ten games. In came Unai Emery.

Hello, Hello... Good to be Back, Good to Be Back.

So, when I set off to watch Forest in the Premier League before the World Cup there was some cause for optimism. OK, we were still bottom of the league, but we had some winnable games coming up and Steve Cooper was still the man.

This was the table as I flew to England with four Forest matches lined up, starting with the hardest possible, away to league leaders, Arsenal who were flying. Then it was three matches at the world famous City Ground - at home to Brentford in the legaue, Spurs in the League Cup and Crystal Palace in the league.

Click here to read my blog posts about them but below are videos of the match highlights.

The following Monday, it was Southampton's turn to spin the wheel of fortune and sack their manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. The fifth sacking of the season.

So that was the end of my time in England and we had the unprecedented situation that the top leagues of Football League went into hibernation as the World Cup was due to start in Qatar.

To read my posts about the Qatar World Cup 2022, start here.

So, for several weeks, Forest's league position was frozen like this...

... in the bottom three, but three points away from 14th place. We would definitely have taken that at the start of the season.

Forest storm back after the big restart

So, after the World Cup was over, we had the big restart. How would Forest do?

Of course, it had to happen. One of Forest's players that went to Qatar, Cheikou Kouyate got injured in Senegal's opening match against the Netherlands and would miss at least three games for Forest after his return.

Kouyate - another injury for Forest.

After their wonderful win against Spurs in the League Cup 3rd round, Forest had been drawn away to Blackburn Rovers, who were doing well in the Championship. So this was definitely a potential banana skin - one, of course some Forest fans would have been happy to see. Not me.

Forest ended up winning easily. 4-1 and so booked a place in the quarter finals.

Forest's first league match after the restart, and their last in 2022, was on Boxing Day, at Old Trafford. Hardly an easy return to Premier League action and it was no surprise that Forest were comfortably beaten 3-0.

This result allowed Wolves to overtake them, putting Forest back down to 19th place in the league.

The first game of 2023 was on New Years day, another tough one, at least one would usually think that - against Chelsea. This season, though, things were not going as smoothly as usual for the club.

Forest did well and deserved to draw 1-1.

This was a point gained that moved us up a place in the league.

The following Wednesday, on January 4th, Forest travelled down to St Mary's to face bottom club Southampton and surely our best chance, so far, of an away win. This, they managed to achieve with a single goal from Taiwo Awoniyi and so Forest moved out of the relegation places for the first time in months. Gustavo Scarpa, the talented Brazilian, made his Forest debut that night, coming on as a sub with twenty minutes to go.

Bad luck struck again though and Taiwo picked up a groin injury that would keep him out of the side for the next 15 games. Murphy's Law struck again.

Taiwo scored... and then got injured

Forest leapt five places up to 15th, their highest place since back in August.

The Saturday after that, Forest travelled north to Blackpool for the F.A. Cup 3rd Round. After their impressive dispatching of Blackburn Rovers in the League Cup 4th Round, I wasn't the only Forest fan expecting an easy win. Blackpool, after all, were struggling in the Championship. Disappointingly for me, Cooper opted to play a weakened side that were easily overwhelmed by the spirited tangerines. We were lucky to get away with a 4-1 defeat in the end.

The games were coming thick and fast now and the following Wednesday it was back to the City Ground for a League Cup quarter Final against Wolves. This was an extremely tight and feisty affair which ended up being decided 4-3 on a penalty shoot out. So, Forest were through to their first semi finals in decades.

It was back to the league again on Saturday, 14th January, and another crucial game against fellow strugglers, Leicester City. Forest turned on the style and won, quite comfortably, 2-0 against our East Midlands rivals.

This took Forest to the dizzying heights of 13th in the Premier League and I was honestly starting to think that a mid table place was achievable. We now had a five point gap above the relegation zone and as West Ham lost at Wolves, Southampton won 2-1 at Goodison Park and Bournemouth lost 2-0 at Brentford, there was just two points separating the seven teams below us.

That was the good news, but the bad was that Forest's terrible luck with injuries continued. Ryan Yates was taken off around half time and would miss the next six games with a mystery illness. Worse, Dean Henderson, our promising young goalkeeper on loan from Manchester United suffered a "grade two" tear on his thigh late in the game. He managed to hobble on until the end but that would be his last game of the season for us.

Latest Injuries: Yates (6 games) and Henderson (Rest of the Season)

At the match the following Saturday, on 21st February, I was really quite confident that Forest would win their second away game of the season at Bournemouth. That would have sent us seven points above them in the league and pushed the "cherries" into deep trouble, but instead we had to settle for a point.

A win for West Ham against Everton  knocked them back and pushed Bournemouth back into the bottom three too. This was the final straw for Everton and Frank Lampard became the sixth manager to bite the dust. Sean Dyche would be his replacement.

Southampton lost at home to Villa and Leeds could only draw at home to Brentford, Our four point margin at the time looked that it would only get bigger.

At the top, Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-2 to restore their five point gap at thee top with a game in hand. This was going to be the Gunners' season!

The following Wednesday, 25th January, it was back to the Cup and Forest's first semi final for donkeys' years.

But any hope of a quick return to Wembley were soon dashed when the in-form Marcus Rashford scored for United after just six minutes - far too easily. Manchester United stayed in control of the two-legged tie from that point on really and Forest just had to make way.

At least the second leg came quickly, just a week later, on February 1st, and so Forest were clinically put out of their misery, losing 2-0 on the night and 5-0 on aggregate and win through to a final against Newcastle United at Wembley. 

Getting dumped out of the F. A. Cup at Blackpool had, at least, given us a weekend off, so Forest were probably a little fresher than our opponents for the next league match, at home to fellow strugglers Leeds United the following Sunday, 5th February.

In goal for the reds that game was another signing from the January transfer window - amazingly Keylor Navas, from Paris Saint-Germain. Navas played an absolute blinder and almost single-handedly kept a very attacking Leeds side at bay. We rode our luck that night, no doubt, but a brilliant volley from Brenan Johnson was enough to see us winning yet again.

This win put Forest six points clear of the relegation zone and level on points with Crystal Palace. We were almost a mid-table side now, weren't we? Good news for us, but Leeds took it badly and sacked Jesse Marsch, the eighth sacking of the season. In came Javi Garcia. 

Ominously, Arsenal inexplicably lost at Goodison Park to Everton but Manchester City lost at Spurs too, so no worries for them, right?

Southampton were well beaten at Brentford and Brighton beat Bournemouth. Wolves got a massive 3-0 win against Liverpool to ease their fears and Leicester thumped in-form Villa 4-2 away to lift them away from the drop zone too.

Forest certainly had had a brilliant new year and amazingly, at this point in time, Forest had the best record of any Premier League club in 2023.

I often seem to play the role of Mr Jinxer and I started to think Forest were destined to finish in the top half. After all, Navas couldn't possibly ever conceded a goal from now on.

Not quite... Forest were about to embark on an eleven match run without a win.

First up was Fulham away at Craven Cottage. I really believed Forest would win this, so defeat was really quite hard to take.

Even harder, really, was that fate was apparently simply taking the piss. In the 7th minute of the game, a rather innocuous looking through ball caused not one, but two Forest defenders to both go down with hamstring injuries. Two players both down and out in the seventh minute.

Willy Boly and Scott McKenna off and Joe Worrall and Filipe on. This though, to be fair and honest, was a blessing in disguise because if the season had started at that moment Filipe could well have earned the player of the season award. Boly missed the next 13 games.

Boly & McKenna both off in the 7th minute

Luckily, key results went our way that day, so we stayed six points about the drop zone. Everton losing at Merseyside their rivals, Leeds losing at home to Man Utd with Bournemouth drawing with Eddie How's Newcastle. Wolves won again, at Southampton - prompting them to sack their newly appointed coach Nathan Jones after just three months in the job.

Next week, on Saturday, 18th February, Forest faced the seemingly unbeatable Manchester City under the masterful coach Pep Guardiola. Arsenal had lead the table for pretty much the whole season and a few weeks ago were eight points ahead of City, but they had started their characteristic wobble and City seemed to be gaining in confidence again. So, surely, Forest would be put to the sword like they were at the Etihad.

Arsenal slipped up at home to Brentford and almost lost it. Man City, meanwhile overwhelmed Villa 3-1 so that gap at the top was now three points but Arsenal still had a game in hand.

But fate seemed to shine down on Forest and City, and their goal monster, Erling Haaland wasted a couple of chances you'd have put your house on him scoring. City did take the lead but seemed to be coasting to a 1-0 win when Forest scored their goal of the season, with every player touching the ball in the move, to equalise at the death. That seemed to signal that Forest were going to be ok and we moved up a place, back above Leicester City but instead...  things were only going to get worse.

Serge Aurier picked up a hip injury and had to go off late in the game. He'd miss the next three.

Aurier out for three games

In midweek Arsenal hosted Manchester City and the result really marked the turning point in the championship race. City won comfortably 3-1.

At the weekend Arsenal won powerfully 4-2 at Aston Villa to seemingly regain the advantage at the top. Meanwhile Bournemouth got an impressive win at Wolves to move out of the bottom three being replaced by West Ham who lost at Spurs 2-0. Everton beat Leeds in the big relegation battle and Leicester were well beaten at Old Trafford.

The next Saturday, 25th February, Forest headed to West Ham United for another attempt to get their second away win. A win might have put Forest eight point above the drop zone but, of course, that didn't happen and Forest were mauled 4-0.

The defeat didn't knock Forest down the table but our safety margin narrowed to four points as Leeds beat Southampton. Everton were back in the mire after losing 2-0 at home to Villa. 

Bournemouth were smashed 1-4 at home to Manchester City but Arsenal won 1-0 at Leicester City to keep them two points ahead with a game in hand.

Into March, and Arsenal won their game in hand, comfortably against Everton 4-0 to restore their five point lead at the top. More weird play problems at Forest, though as Gustavo Scarpa more or less rules himself out of the reckoning as he had to travel back to Brazil to try to sort out a cryptocurrency scam. Apparently, he lost a million pounds! 

Forest's next game was one of the "must win" matches - a six pointer against Everton and another chance to increase the gap between us and the bottom three.

Again, we failed to take advantage and we could only draw 2-2. The good news was that Ryan Yates made his return, coming on as sub for the last twenty minutes.

Southampton beat Leicester to move off the bottom after Bournemouth's hearts were broken at the Emirates. They lead 2-0 but ended losing 3-2. With Manchester City beating Newcastle 2-0 at the Etihad, it was a close thing. West Ham were thrashed at Brighton. 

Again, things could have been worse. The gap between us and the relegation places stayed at four points - but now it was Wolves who leap frogged above us in the table after a 1-0 win over Spurs.

Next week, 11th March, Forest had a tough away game at Spurs - one of those games you go into knowing you're going to lose, and so it proved. 3-1 this time. Spurs' form had been bad, so of course it had to change against Forest.

The gap now was down to just two points and things were starting to look worrying again. Bournemouth got an amazing 1-0 win over Liverpool to take them off the bottom, and putting south coast rivals Southampton back there despite a great 0-0 draw at Old Trafford. All the other bottom teams drew.

Again both Arsenal and Man City both won, so the gap at the top was still five points. 

The following week - another tough game. This time at home to high flying Newcastle United.

More bad news injury wise and Ryan Yates, having only just started to get back to his early season form after his mystery illness and early in the second half he picked up a nasty shoulder injury that would see him out of contention again for the next nine games. 

To rub salt in the wound, Newcastle sealed a cruel late winner and the points were collected by for the Geordies and Forest were in trouble now. 

Both Leeds and Everton won so Forest slumped back to 16th place, albeit still two above the drop zone. It was getting ridiculously tight at the bottom now, with just four points separating the bottom nine clubs.

 Arsenal beat Crystal Palace 4-1 keeping them ahead of Man City. Patrick Viera was shown the door and Roy Hodgson came back for another spell at the club. The ninth sacking in the Premier League.

This was getting ridiculous. Now Chris Wood, the January signing who'd finished off that great move against Manchester City was now... you've guessed it - injured. And again for the rest of the season. The number and variety of injuries Forest were experiencing this season belied that there was something systemically wrong at the club. Wood was injured away on international duty for New Zealand.

Chris Wood, out for the season

Forest now had two "must win" games over the Easter break. The first at home to Wolves and the second at Elland Road. If only Forest could win one or both of these...


Forest rose above Everton in the league, but their margin of safety narrowed now to just a point. Leicester lost at Crystal Palace and West Ham beat Southampton. Arsenal beat Leeds 4-1 whilst Manchester City did the same to Liverpool. This signaled the end of the line for Brendan Rogers as Leicester City pulled the trigger. Graham Potter was shown the door at Chelsea too - their second sacking of the season, the twelfth altogether.

A few days later, things got worse for Forest at Elland Road despite Forest taking an early lead. 

Forest now were facing the abyss.

We were now only out of the drop zone on goal difference. And our goal difference was terrible. Luckily, one of the four teams tying with us on 27 points was Bournemouth and theirs was even worse. Bournemouth lost at home to Brighton and Leicester lost at home to Villa.

Antonio Conte parted ways with Spurs to make it the 10th dismissal of the season.

Next, on 8th April, we faced a very in form Aston Villa side away, again, expecting the defeat that inevitably happened.

So, that was Forest back in the bottom three again for the first time since 1st January. Bournemouth got a fine win at Leicester putting them right back in at and, significantly, Leeds got hammered 1-5 at home to Crystal Palace. Everton lost 2-0 at Man Utd.

The key result in the title race was Arsenal throwing away a 2-0 lead at Anfield to end up drawing with Liverpool 2-2 as Manchester City were winning at Southampton 4-1/

And the fixtures did not get any easier. Manchester United at home was followed by Liverpool at Anfield.

Everton (home to Fulham) and Leeds (1-6 at home to Liverpool) both lost too, so again it could have been worse. Bournemouth earned a fantastic three points with a 3-2 win at Spurs, whilst Leicester City (away to Man City) and Southampton (home to Palace) both lost again.

Arsenal could only draw at West Ham, so it was getting very tight at the top.

At Anfield, Forest played really well and in the end were unlucky to lose 3-2. 

Leicester beat Wolves 2-1 to leapfrog over us and move out of the bottom three. Only Southampton were now below Forest in the table and things were looking very dire indeed. The Saints got an amazing point at the Emirates after a 3-3 draw. Arsenal were bottling it.

Three home games remained, against Brighton, Southampton and Arsenal. If ever there was a must win game it was at home to Southampton - and surely that was a possibility. But where else were any points coming from? Brighton were having their best season ever and Arsenal were still top of the league. Forest's away form was terrible and three games in London, at Brentford, Chelsea and Crystal Palace did not offer much hope. It wasn't looking good.

On Wednesday 25th April Forest hosted high-flying Brighton & Hove Albion at the City Ground - another sell out crowd packed into the ground to give the reds their never-ending unconditional support.

What a night it was... Forest winning 3-1. Leeds and Leicester drew, which was a good result for us. Bournemouth won at Southampton and Everton were taken apart at home by Newcastle.

But of course, there had to be some bad news too. Another injury, right? This time it was Neco Williams, playing some of his best form ever, clashed with Brenan Johnson and picked up a nasty facial fracture. Off he went... for the rest of the season.

Neco Williams - out for the rest of the season

The key game in the title race was at the Etihad, where Manchester city brushed Arsenal aside 4-1 to close the game at the top just two point with two games in hand. It looked all over now for the Gunners.

Forest's win against Brighton was exactly the result we needed and it took Forest out of the relegation zone again.

Four days later, Forest had another trip to London and another team who were having their best season ever - Brentford, at their brand new stadium. After our win against Brighton, though, I was confident that we'd get something and for most of the game it looked like that "something" might be three points.

Incredibly, terrible defending in the wall at the end of the game allowed Brentford to score a late winner and so we went home empty handed.

Leicester and Everton drew 2-2 which again was convenient for us. Southampton were well beaten at St James' Park, so it was now looking like two teams from five, from West Ham down to Everton.

In midweek, Manchester City played their two games in hand, both at home to relegation struggler. Of course, they won both. 3-0 v West Ham and 2-1 v Leeds. Taking them to the top of the league for the first time in ages.

Forest had a bit of an extra break before the next, massive crunch game at home to bottom of the table Southampton, which was played on Monday night, 8th May. 

What a game that was, with Forest edging through 4-3 in the end, though it really should have been 5-2.

Leicester lost 5-3 at Fulham and West Ham beat Manchester United 1-0, but the most amazing result of the night was Everton winning at Brighton 5-1 to take them out of the bottom three.

Leeds became the third premier league club to sack their manager twice in the season and Javi Garcia was shown the door - to be replaced by... wait for it... Sam Allardyce. This was getting desperate for Leeds.

Now, Forest had a bit of breathing space - a three point gap, as we leapfrogged Leeds into 16th place and put them right in the mire. Southampton were now practically relegated.

Next was another trip to London, five days later, where we faced a Chelsea side that had failure-in-chief Frank Lampard reinstalled as boss after they'd sacked their second manager of the season. Chelsea had just beaten an in-form Bournemouth side away, so this was going to be very tough, especially as Forest headed off to Stamford Bridge on the back of seven consecutive away defeats.

Forest took an early lead and looked the better side in the first half. But, typically, Chelsea came back to score two and it looked like the same sad story before Taiwo Awoniyi added a second to rescue a precious point. 

Leeds United also drew at home to Newcastle and so our three point margin of safety was maintained. Southampton lost at home to Fulham and so were the first club to be relegated from the Premier League. Leicester City were crushed 0-3 at home to Liverpool, as were Everton to Manchester City.

Two to go.

Forest's last home game was against an Arsenal side that had blown their seemingly very strong title challenge a couple of weeks before. Surely their confidence would be battered. Their penultimate match, on Saturday, 20th May, kicked off after Wolves' home tie against Everton, so having seen them draw at Molineaux (only equalising right at the end), Forest actually had their Premier League safety in their hands. Win... and they were staying up!

I don't remember there aver being so many ecstatic people at one ground. It certainly capped even the glory days under Cloughie. Funny that, I guess we just didn't appreciate all that success when it was happening to us week after week for years, but all those years in the doldrums had taught Forest fans to savour being back in the top flight, to relish every minute of it. And this was delicious!

Leicester City kept their chances alive with an unlikely 0-0 draw at Newcastle. Leeds were facing the abyss after a 3-1 defeat at West Ham

That was it. A six point gap between us and the bottom three meant we could enjoy the last Saturday of the season with no worries whatsoever. 

How many times had we looked at that fixture, Crystal Palace away, and imagined how it could turn out to be another of those "must win" games? In the end... it was a "must party" instead.

On the last day of the season there was nothing to play for for us, or at the top of the league, but Leicester City could still avoid the drop if they beat West Ham and Everton failed to beat Bournemouth. Leeds United, theoretically, could be the one to stay up if they beat Spurs, Everton lost and Leicester failed to win. 

Taiwo Awoniyi scored for the fourth successive game for Forest but Palace equalised to spoil Forest's late surge up the table. Still, no complaints. After seven successive away defeats, we were now starting an unbeaten run of two.

Leeds collapsed at home to Spurs and Leicester put in a great performance to beat West Ham. Alas, it was too little too late. Everton managed to beat Bournemouth to escape the drop on the last day of the season again.

Final Table...

Full Fixture list...

Forest's Roller Coaster Premier League return:
Decent start. Bad Spell. Great Spell. Terrible Spell. Good Spell.

Player Appearances 2022-23

33 players played some part in our Premier League return.

This was how the roller-coaster season looked from the point of view of league places...

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