Nottingham Forest 1 Sheffield United 1: Late anguish again for Blades

AFTER 15 games of the 2017-18 campaign, Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham side resided in the distinctly underwhelming position of 16th in the Championship table by early November.
Blades scorer Morgan Gibbs-White in action at Nottingham Forest. Picture: PA.Blades scorer Morgan Gibbs-White in action at Nottingham Forest. Picture: PA.
Blades scorer Morgan Gibbs-White in action at Nottingham Forest. Picture: PA.

It was a season, of course, which culminated in the West London outfit going onto win promotion via the play-offs.

Some fifteen league matches into 2021-22, the Serb’s current club Sheffield United found themselves in an almost identical situation to his former employer four years ago, with the Blades being one point and one place lower ahead of kick-off.

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It provided a spot of pre-match perspective by the Trent to two famous old clubs languishing next to each other in the bottom half of the division in the Blades and Nottingham Forest.

Anything is still possible, statistically speaking at least, in the capricious Championship. Although not too many will be putting their mortgage on either going all the way.

Given the teams’ proximity next to each other in the standings, the fact that there was nothing to separate them at the end did not constitute the biggest surprise in the world as well.

For United, there was the bigger sense of dissatisfaction after failing to see the game out when they took the lead 12 minutes from time courtesy of Morgan Gibbs-White's low finish.

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The loanee followed up his strike at the City Ground in parent club Wolves' 4-0 Carabao Cup routing of Forest back in August with a goal which looked like having more consequence.

In truth, Gibbs-White could not miss after being set up beautifully and instinctively on the left from Billy Sharp, who - as he often does - made himself heard on a night when several attacking players who are far younger again lacked conviction in Blades jerseys. .

Sadly for United's sake, another substitute in the twilight of his career in Lewis Grabban came to the party five minutes later by firing home a trademark poacher's goal at the near post - shortly after failing to connect at full stretch to James Garner's cross.

It was a soft concession as Grabban was left unchecked from Brennan Johnson's cross from the right and the agitation of Jokanovic was plain to see as his side spurned the chance of three precious points against the team with the joint worst home record in the division.

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After a lack of game management late on in Saturday's painful loss to Blackpool, this will not have helped his mood on an occasion when his angst was there for all to see in the technical area when United chose the wrong option going forward, which was quite often.

Jokanovic's side remain a work in progress between eras and between styles, but one still heavily indebted to the input of Sharp.

Forest are also finding their way and mojo again under Steve Cooper. It will take time as with United.

At least, Grabban's leveller will have pacified home supporters after howls of anguish midway through the second half when Johnson tumbled under pressure in the box from Chris Basham.

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Basham's evening was an otherwise decent one on a night when there were not many stand-outs.

Comfortably the best opportunity on a low-key first-half which did not live long in the memory arrived when Joe Worrall’s header flashed narrowly wide of the far post.

Both sides produced the odd half-decent pocket of inter-play, but it was cagey in the main in a half high on shape but low on genuine quality with just one effort on target, which was a token one at that with Jayden Bogle’s low angled shot dealt with in routine fashion by Brice Samba..

United operated with a 4-1-4-1 formation, with John Fleck playing in an advanced role while Oli Norwood sat deep. A possession count of 62 per cent enabled them to assume an element of control for spells, but there was little to overly frighten the Forest defence, who had rather more to worry about in letting in four unanswered goals to Fulham in their previous home game.

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The cuteness of Joe Lolley, always a danger between the lines and the tricky and direct Johnson represented Forest’s best hope, although in truth, it was a slow-burner.

A couple of timely blocks from Basham, making his first league start since the end of August in place of the injured Ben Davies, were well received, one of which took the sting out of a goalbound shot from Johnson which had otherwise hinted at danger.

United were unhinged on one early break when Lolley surged clear and shot wide while a set-piece chance saw Lyle Taylor’s effort fly just off target, but in the main, Robin Olsen was protected well.

The second half was scrappy before the controversial non-penalty award enlivened proceedings somewhat. As did the entrance of messrs Sharp and Grabban.

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Nottingham Forest: Samba; Worrall, Figueiredo (Mighten 79), McKenna; Spence, Yates, Garner, Colback; Johnson, Taylor (Grabban 63), Lolley (Zinckernagel 57). Substitutes unused: Horvath, Carvalho, Bong, Ojeda.

Sheffield United: Olsen; Bogle, Basham, Egan, Stevens; Norwood, Fleck (Hourihane 89); Brewster, Gibbs-White, Osborn (Sharp 76); Mousset (Ndiaye 66). Substitutes unused: Foderingham, Baldock, McGoldrick, Robinson.

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