Steve Cooper’s Forest are back in the big time after Levi Colwill’s own goal proved crucial
WEMBLEY STADIUM — After a 23-year wait that feels at least three times longer for a fanbase routinely starved for success and forced to revel in past glory, Nottingham Forest is back in the league after a remarkable resurgence under Steve Cooper big time.
Huddersfield 0-1 Nottingham Forest (Colwill and 43′)
It was a play-off final to be endured rather than enjoyed, as is generally the case on such occasions. Chances were almost nonexistent, controversy emerged towards the end and Forest did just enough to last against Huddersfield, with Levi Colwill’s own goal separating two clubs that largely canceled each other out.
For Colwill, who owns Chelsea, it has been a successful season, his first in professional football, and a fantastic one at that, but turned into an unsuspecting villain on a day when nobody seemed to be the hero. An own goal was perhaps a fitting way to decide a game that just seemed to come naturally.
Ryan Yates, Forest’s native midfielder who was instrumental in their promotion push, had both the first big chance and half chance of the game. He nodded wide a delicious James Garner free-kick when it looked easier to score, before slamming a shot enthusiastically over the bar after Forest zigzagged through two rows of blue and white stripes.
If Thibaut Courtois was the obvious man of the match in Saturday’s Champions League final, there were few standouts at Wembley Stadium. Yates and his midfield partner, Manchester United loanee James Garner, were probably the standout players and both played key roles in the only goal.
Garner’s speculative cross shot from long range flew over Colwill’s right knee into the top corner as Yates tried to punch him. The goal came at a crucial time for Forest, just before half-time and just as Carlos Corberan’s side were beginning to feel comfortable.
The first-half pattern was set after a bumpy 10-minute opening; Forest had the ball and Huddersfield diligently got away, waiting for the best opportunity to capitalize on a mispass or loose touch and break the pace. Forest’s opener had the effect of opening the game, ripping Huddersfield out of their low block and dragging them onto the field.
The Huddersfield players appeared free, removing their ties, swarming forward and forcing sloppy turnovers. Jonathan Hogg, the Terriers’ only relic from the Premier League three years ago, missed a huge chance after heading over the goal from a corner. Harry Toffolo was cautioned after rolling over Jack Colback’s outstretched leg in the penalty area. Both fans expected a VAR reversal, which didn’t happen. You’ve certainly seen them given.
Not long after Lewis O’Brien, Huddersfield’s own action man, went down with Max Lowe after a leg tangle. Jon Moss, who officiated his final game, waved it off. You saw that too.
Adding to the nail-biting drama, Forest’s semi-final hero Brice Samba limped away as the final elapsed after six added minutes. But Huddersfield lacked the quality to capitalize on a panicked second-half performance from Forest.
For Cooper and Forest, attention will soon turn to retaining key members of this squad and adding quality to it. Their starting XI consisted of four loanees – Djed Spence, Garner, Phillip Zinckernagel and Keinan Davis – and two others, Sam Surridge and Max Lowe, came off the bench. Cooper will want to keep the majority of these for the next year.
But this victory has almost certainly ensured that Forest will hold on to their best players. Brennan Johnson, quiet at Wembley but a livewire throughout the campaign, will certainly remain, as will captain Joe Worrall and Yates, who have all risen through the ranks.
After years of producing talented players for other clubs, Forest can now count on sticking with them. That’s one of the big benefits of a long-awaited promotion, along with a £170m cash injection.
“It’s a relief, of course, but also pride,” Steve Cooper told Sky Sports after the game. “I love being with this football club, it has changed my life. My family is here, the players’ families are here – this football club is about belonging to a city. It comes together on game day. We took over Wembley today and are in the Premier League.
“This football club builds on positive eras of the past and we want to build on that. We’re proud of that, but at the same time we have to think about what if? Can we get the Premier League? Can we play attractive football? What if we could develop young players? And we did that by showing an attitude and a commitment not to be beaten. We deserve it.
“It’s a glamorous world to be a footballer and a manager, but it’s also a tough and hateful one. And I just wanted the players to know that I will be their number one supporter and I will give them my all through thick and thin. That doesn’t mean I’m gentle with them or not asking anything of them, but everyone loves to be loved. We tried that with the players.”
Corberan hinted his side were unhappy not getting at least one penalty that day but refused to criticize the referee or VAR for their decisions.
“I haven’t watched yet, but all the players who got fouled thought that if they didn’t get the foul, they missed the opportunity to attack,” Corberan said.
“But you have the VAR and the referee and if they understand there is no foul, I can’t say anything. All I can do is accept.
“I understand that [having] Only a referee is complicated, but having the support of the VAR increases the possibility of making a fair decision. So if they understand there were no penalties, maybe that’s because there were no penalties.”