Nottingham Forest vs Leeds United. Premier League.
The City GroundAttendance29,363.
Report and free match highlights as Nottingham Forest boosted their survival hopes with a 1-0 win over Leeds; Brennan Johnson scored after 14 minutes in the only goal of the game; Forest are now six clear of the bottom three, while Leeds are level on points with the drop zone
Wednesday 15 February 2023 16:16, UK
Brennan Johnson’s stunning first-half strike moved Nottingham Forest six points clear of the relegation zone with a 1-0 win over Leeds – who are now seven league games without a win under Jesse Marsch.
Johnson's brilliant volley on 14 minutes came against the run of play as Leeds dominated the first half of the match at City Ground, but debutant goalkeeper Keylor Navas was in inspired form - making four close-range stops before half-time.
Luis Sinisterra was guilty of missing several first-half chances and despite the introductions of January signings Weston McKennie and Georginio Rutter after the break, Leeds ran out of steam and lacked sharpness as the match drew to a close.
While Forest have put distance between themselves and the drop zone, Leeds are level on points with 18th-placed Everton, with only goal difference keeping them out of the bottom three. Marsch's side face a league double-header against in-form Manchester United next week.
In the Sky Sports studio after the game, pundit Micah Richards said under-fire Leeds boss Marsch looked "defeated" on the City Ground touchline - and the head coach admitted he is frustrated with himself.
"I have frustration with myself," Marsch told Sky Sports. "I don't look at the team and blame them. I want to get more out of them."
Nottingham Forest: Navas (8); Williams (7), McKenna (7), Boly (7), Lodi (6); Freuler (6), Mangala (5), Danilo (5); Johnson (8), Wood (6), Gibbs-White (7)
Subs: Aurier (7), Colback (7), Surridge (6), Ayew (n/a)
Leeds: Meslier (6); Ayling (7), Wober (6), Cooper (5), Struijk (4); Roca (6), Adams (6), Harrison (5); Sinisterra (4), Bamford (4), Gnonto (5)
Subs: McKennie (6), Summerville (6), Rutter (5), Firpo (6), Greenwood (n/a)
Player of the match: Keylor Navas (Nottingham Forest)
Leeds, who watched relegation rivals Everton and Wolves win on Saturday, came out on the front foot and camped Forest's team into their own half for the opening 15 minutes.
The visitors' best chance in that period came from Sinisterra, who prodded towards goal from close range after Tyler Adams' ball forwards, but Navas was equal to the effort and the subsequent loose ball.
Forest's first foray forwards led to their opener against the run of play, with Johnson earning a free-kick from Pascal Struijk, before finding the net from the resulting set-piece.
Morgan Gibbs-White's delivery was cleared as far as Forest's No 20, who found the bottom corner of Illan Meslier's far post with a stunning volley from just inside the box.
That was a rare Forest attack in the first half - with Leeds dominating the rest of the half and Sinisterra was guilty of an even worse miss after the goal.
Wilfried Gnonto was played in through the left of the box and his cross found his Leeds attacking team-mate around six yards out, but Sinisterra could only blaze over Navas' bar.
Forest also needed Navas to be on the top of his game, denying Luke Ayling twice in quick succession before stopping Gnonto's near-post drive from inside the box.
Steve Cooper made two changes at the break, with Danilo and Orel Mangala withdrawn for Jack Colback and Serge Aurier - and it shored matters up in midfield, with Leeds less threatening after the break.
Gibbs-White saw a header fly straight at Meslier following Johnson's breakaway run down the right, while Neco Williams fired over during a counter on the left.
Leeds saw another Sinisterra chance go straight at Navas, before Marsch brought on McKennie for his Leeds debut off the bench.
Yet it was still Forest who kept on threatening, with substitute Sam Surridge curling an effort over the bar in a decent opportunity to extend the hosts' advantage.
Leeds' inefficiency in front of goal was summed up by Crysencio Summerville curling a strike over in stoppage time after Meslier came up for a corner.
Leeds head coach Marsch rued his side's inability to make the most of their early dominance in Nottingham.
"I'm frustrated and disappointed," Marsch told Sky Sports. "We had a really good start and were on top of the match. We had chances to score and then their set-piece, it was their only time down the pitch in the first half and we go down 1-0.
"I have to find a way to get more out of the group. I have to make sure that we don't feel sorry for ourselves. We have to find a way to stay strong and keep going. But I take responsibility. I have to find a way to get more out of us to make sure when we're on top of games, we don't lose them.
"I feel like we've had this feeling a lot: we've played quite well, been on top of matches, but we find ways to lose. So it's a young team, we have to accept there will be mistakes in there. But we have to find ways to become winners, to turn performances into points.
"It feels like it's moving in the right direction, but it's not enough. We have to get more out of it."
In the other camp, Forest head coach Steve Cooper admitted he himself was disappointed with his side's display in the first half.
But Cooper said his players deserve an outcome like this after playing well in the past and not getting their rewards.
"The purist in me is disappointed with our football today, if I'm being honest. We can play better than that," Cooper told Sky Sports.
"The first half was not a good version of ourselves. The second, defensively I thought we were excellent. We didn't play so great with the ball and at times the game didn't really need that. The outcome is the most important thing, but my job is to look deeper than that and work out how to get better.
"It's probably the first time we've not played well and got something. We've played better and lost games this year. So weirdly, the lads deserved that today for the first time.
"We're on a good run, it takes all sorts to be on a good run. But the attitude of the players is amazing. The desire, the couple of changes at half-time, everyone got on with it. We take the points and we move on."
Sky Sports' Graeme Souness:
"Nottingham Forest rode their luck in the first half and were better in the second 45 minutes, but I thought Leeds were disappointing.
"There was a lot of huffing and puffing from Leeds with no real end product. The quality just wasn't there when it really mattered.
"The Leeds board will look at it like this: they have supplied the players and now it is up to the manager, and you have to get wins."
"It's great for Forest because they didn't play to their normal standards at home, but they dug in, they held on and they got away with it."
Sky Sports' Lewis Jones:
Jesse Marsch has made Leeds very easy to play against. Even tactical novices can work out that if you stop his side from being able to counter-attack, they simply don't have the required guile and creative nous to unlock a defence.
Leeds have now won just two of their last 17 Premier League games - the last of those wins came at Anfield where Marsch's men had 31 per cent of the ball and were allowed to unleash their pace and power on the break. In their last two games against Brentford and this defeat at Nottingham Forest, their possession average has been 65 per cent as teams have dropped deep and asked Leeds to break them down. It's worked a charm. Leeds failed to score in both and created just a total of 1.19 worth of expected goals. In the second half at the City Ground, after a bright first-half display where they were unfortunate to be behind, the lack of courage and creativity on the ball was staggering. The longer the game wore on, the more the belief seemed to ebb away.
"I have to find a way to get more out of us to make sure when we're on top of games, we don't lose them," Marsch said.
He needs to find that fix, and fast.
Nottingham Forest travel to Fulham next up on February 11; kick-off 3pm. They then host champions Manchester City at the City Ground on February 18; kick-off 3pm.
Leeds face Manchester United twice in four days next week, first travelling to Old Trafford on Wednesday; kick-off 8pm. They then welcome Erik Ten Hag's side to Elland Road live on Sky Sports on February 12; kick-off at 2pm.
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