Brennan Johnson’s two equalizing goals allowed Nottingham Forest to extend their unbeaten home record to nine Premier League matches and deny Everton their first away win since October, which would have taken them out of the top three.
The Nottingham-born striker, who has scored nine goals so far this season, almost scored a late winner on a day that left Forest four points above the relegation zone. “He just wants to get better,” said Steve Cooper, his manager. “He’s on an upward curve and doing really well. He gets numbers. I don’t mind saying positive things about Bren because he always works hard and wants to improve. He loves this club, he grew up around the corner so it’s great to see him score a deuce today.
Sean Dyche, back on his old ground, was also content with a point after his well-organized side, leading with penalty goals from Demarai Gray and Abdoulaye Doucouré, succumbed to Forest’s impassioned second-half response that was feisty, charming and exciting game. Everton have seven points from Dyche’s first six matches.
After the two lost by four goals last time, it was a positive result for both sides. For the lowest-scoring teams in the division, this match was not going to turn into the plenty of goals the opening half-hour promised, yet both will believe they have the momentum to retain their status in the top flight.
Perhaps Dyche, a former player of the youth team of Leśna, a resident of this parish and a regular visitor to City Ground between work, felt more at home; surely Forest was too kind to the hosts in the first half when they defended poorly. It was the first time Everton had scored twice in the first half this season.
Gray, replacing Neal Maupay as Everton’s lone striker in front of a five-man midfielder, capitalized on an early penalty conceded by Jonjo Shelvey after tapping Dwight McNeill for his sixth goal of the season with a side kick from the penalty spot to the right as Keylor Navas dived the other way. Without the injured Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Dyche could have fielded a squad without a centre-forward earlier. “Honestly, I don’t remember,” said the Everton manager. “I don’t care if he’s a recognized striker or not, I thought Demarai did really well. He technically did very well and is stronger than you think.
Forest, undefeated at the City Ground in the Premier League since September, began dominating territory. Their pressure paid off as Morgan Gibbs-White smartly dropped from the front into midfield, turned to play a one-two with Chris Wood and hit a 20-yard shot that Jordan Pickford parried to send Johnson back at close range.
Everton, however, seem to be more organized under Dyche, and once they broke through, they hampered Forest’s defence. Pickford’s long free-kick – much in controversy after Gibbs-White claimed he was fouled in the center circle against Gray – was thrown by James Tarkowski, with Michael Keane nodding over Forest’s advancing defence. Doucouré timed the moment perfectly when he came in from behind and headed into the net for his first goal in 18 months.
Navas had to tip McNeil’s shot from distance and Gray should have done better when he missed the back post as Dyche demanded pre-match rather than let his shot be blocked, but after the break Forest was in the lead, although
their passion seemed overflowing for a moment as John Brooks, the referee, threatened to lose control. Both managers had their reservations – Dyche that Séamus Coleman was fouled in the box by Jack Colback, Cooper that Brooks blew a free-kick at Forest as they entered the last third of a third with a man – but it was more about the referee’s lack of authority than any particular the decision concerned.
There were five bookings in six minutes as Gibbs-White and McNeil followed by Renan Lodi and Gray engaged in jostling matches. Tarkovsky was also warned when he flew dangerously into the fight on Lodi. “I was disappointed with the referee,” said Cooper. “He had too much influence on the game”
Everton looked set for a win that would take them above Leeds and West Ham when Cooper went all out. While Everton delayed their substitutions, Forest’s triple substitution with 20 minutes left gave them new energy and allowed Gibbs-White to play in his favored No. 10 role behind three forwards.
Doucouré gave the ball away cheaply on the counter-attack and Johnson ran to the Everton defense before passing the ball wide to substitute Ryan Yates. His even return allowed Forest’s top scorer to open his body and land a shot with his left foot into the top corner.