Nottingham Forest 2-0 Aston Villa: Ola Aina and Orel Mangala score superb long-range strikes as Emiliano Martinez lends a helping hand to Forest as Steve Cooper’s side end a six-match winless run
Top goalkeeper in the world on Monday, match-deciding roar on Sunday. Top sport has a habit of bringing the best back to earth and after Aston Villa’s shocking defeat at Nottingham Forest, Emi Martinez knows that feeling all too well.
The Argentina star won the Yashin Trophy at last week’s Ballon d’Or ceremony after his brilliant performance helped his country win the World Cup last year.
Those weeks in Qatar will be among Martinez’s happiest memories, but he will still want to forget his afternoon at the City Ground as quickly as possible.
With Villa trailing 1–0, Martinez’s flew down the left to reach Orel Mangala’s 25-yard effort early in the second half but failed to make a strong enough connection, allowing the ball to bounce back off the crossbar turned into the net.
While Forest were already ahead after Ola Aina’s fifth-minute strike, Martinez’s mistake left Villa with too much to do. It was only their third defeat in the league this season as Forest won for the first since their victory over Chelsea on September 2.
Forest’s long run without a win had caused some disquiet within the hierarchy, but this should bring the smiles back. As boss Steve Cooper jumped around his technical area during stoppage time to cheer up the crowd, he reflected the spirit of his team.
After last weekend’s 3-0 defeat to Liverpool, Cooper made a goal change, giving the summer a first start to the season by signing Odysseas Vlachodimos and leaving former Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner on the bench.
Cooper arranged his side in a 4-1-4-1 formation and allowed Villa most of the ball, using his own pace on the flanks and causing problems on the break. And the plan worked brilliantly as Forest took the lead within five minutes.
Anthony Elanga escaped down the left and found Harry Toffolo inside him, who played the ball square to Aina. It was a fine strike that flew in from 22 yards, although Unai Emery would have been unhappy if Douglas Luiz had failed to close down his opponent. Villa keeper Emi Martinez’s view may also have been blocked by Luiz and Pau Torres.
Villa lucked out shortly afterwards when Nicolas Dominguez and Taiwo Awoniyi – making his first start in over a month after injury – fouled Boubacar Kamara on the edge of his own penalty area. Referee Jarred Gillett saved Kamara by calling a foul as Awoniyi went to shoot, leaving Cooper fuming.
Emery’s plan is based on full-backs Lucas Digne and Matt Cash providing width while John McGinn and Nicolo Zaniolo drift upfield. But Toffolo and Aina did well to keep Digne and Cash quiet, while Villa’s high defensive line left them vulnerable as Forest wanted to play forward early.
Zaniolo’s failed cross almost crept in at the near post and Elanga did well to block Digne’s volley at the far post. Then came Villa’s best chance when Murillo – who was excellent before half-time – was robbed by Ollie Watkins. Watkins fed Moussa Diaby and the Frenchman played in Zaniolo, but his shot was too close to Vlachodimos.
Villa’s frustration grew and there was a heated exchange between Luiz and Torres shortly before the break – although there was still time for another moment of controversy.
Awoniyi was bundled into the penalty area by Kamara before the action was overturned for offside against Dominguez. A VAR check ruled the call correct, but Cooper clearly tapped as he drove through the tunnel.
If the first half started badly for Villa, the second was even worse. Toffolo’s cross deflected Cash and the bounce deceived Ezri Konsa, allowing Awoniyi to work the ball back to Mangala.
Although Martinez tried to clear the midfielder’s effort from 25 yards, he could not prevent it from spinning off the crossbar back to the line. It was a clear mistake from the World Cup winner and with the half just 69 seconds old, Villa trailed by two.
It could have been three moments later that more good work from Awoniyi presented an opportunity for Dominguez, who could not beat his compatriot from close range.
Villa still struggled to create clear chances and when they did, Watkins headed McGinn’s glorious chip wide from eight yards.
Like Watkins, Diaby was kept quiet by Murillo and Moussa Niakhate until his clever footwork set up Leon Bailey, whose effort from the corner was well over.
Bailey had replaced Zaniolo at half-time and just before the hour mark Emery made his next changes, sending on Youri Tielemans for Cash and moving Kamara to right-back.
Moments later, Bailey and Diaby combined again and although Diaby’s effort was on target it was comfortably held.
Villa now began to spot gaps in Forest’s rearguard and McGinn produced another cross that was headed over by Bailey.
As Forest tired and dropped deeper, Villa looked more dangerous and the home side were lucky to have Tielemans’ radar skewed from an unmarked central position 20 yards out.
And when Vlachodimos failed to deal with McGinn’s corner, only Ibrahim Sangare’s desperate free-kick prevented Tielemans from halving the deficit from inside the six-yard box.