Nottingham Forest had Brennan Johnson to thank as the Welshman scored twice to give his side a valuable point in the Premier League survival race as they drew 2-2 with Everton at the City Ground on Sunday.
Johnson’s goals were the highlights of an overall unconvincing performance from the Garibaldi but his individual brilliance has given them a huge point closer to survival as the result sees them maintain a four-point gap over their opponents in the relegation zone.
Everton were left to rue not putting the game to bed. They were outstanding in the first half. Sean Dyche’s men knew exactly what they needed to do to unsettle the hosts and did just that as Forest struggled to get into any rhythm. Dyche made a bold call to hand Gray his first start since he took over the reins from Frank Lampard and opted to have the former Leicester City attacker lead the line.
While Gray had a tough time trying to win the physical battle with the towering Forest defenders, he caused them numerous problems because he kept drifting into different positions to receive the ball. He showed great composure to put his side in front from the penalty spot after Jonjo Shelvey recklessly tripped Dwight McNeil in the box inside the opening 10 minutes.
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The Toffees had completely unsettled the Tricky Trees’ game plan and it was fairly easy for them to get in and around the final third as Forest couldn’t deal with Everton’s high energy in and out of possession. Steve Cooper’s men did find a pathway into the game which came through their own threatening spell. Their most creative midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White dropped deep to pick up the ball and exchange a one-two with Chris Wood before stinging the palms of Jordan Pickford, with Johnson slotting home on the rebound.
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Forest then started to apply their own pressure on the visitors and created a few decent openings, but Everton were able to regroup and become the more threatening side. Gray, McNeil and Alex Iwobi were proving troublesome for the Forest back line to deal with.
The Toffees found themselves back in front around the half-hour mark when Abdoulaye Doucoure nodded the ball past Keylor Navas after meeting a flicked header from Michael Keane. This forced Cooper to change things for his team at the break which saw them come out a lot hungrier in the second half, taking the game to Everton.
There were plenty of feisty clashes between the two sets of players which reflected the gravity of the match in terms of the Premier League’s relegation battle. Forest saw a lot more of the ball in the second half but they didn’t do enough to ask questions of Everton’s defence. They kept trying to throw balls into the box for Wood, but they were either overhit or comfortably dealt with by the men in blue.
Although Forest were applying more pressure than they were in the first half, their defence still looked rather vulnerable as Everton constantly found joy in playing penetrating passes, and they could've easily wrapped up the match with some of the openings they conjured up. And they were left to rue not taking the game away from their opponents as Johnson popped up with his second equaliser of the match through a delightful finish into the top corner.
There is no doubt that this result serves Forest better than it does Everton but one thing is for certain, we are still in for a few twists and turns in this year’s relegation battle.