Nottingham Forest did not know whether to celebrate the comeback or rue the wastefulness. A point gained or two dropped? It was their seventh on the road this season and, given this game could have run away from them after Chelsea found a sudden burst of energy at the start of the second half, the optimists in the away end were entitled to feel positive when the host’s hopes of a second consecutive win were ended by Taiwo Awoniyi heading in his fourth goal of a productive week.
There was character from Forest, resilience when they trailed, and this draw could be vital in the final reckoning. Yet if there was a worry for Steve Cooper, it will be his side’s failure to secure their second away win of the campaign. Forest, who had led after Awoniyi punished an error from Édouard Mendy, could have moved five points clear of the bottom three with two games left; indeed they probably would have done if Moussa Niakhaté had put them 2-0 up shortly after half-time.
Only time will tell if Forest come to regret Niakhaté’s miss. Chelsea were there for the taking before a brief lively spell, Raheem Sterling producing quality finishes twice in the space of seven minutes, and Cooper knew a chance had slipped away.
A touch more composure in the final third, plus more knowhow when Chelsea stirred, and Forest would have been within touching distance of securing their survival.
As it is they remain too close for comfort to Leeds in the final relegation spot and the pressure could grow once Arsenal have visited the City Ground next Saturday. Forest, who visit Crystal Palace on the final day, are still putting a lot of strain on their impressive home form.
“We’ve been what we’ve been away from home,” Cooper said. “It’s a point that could be valuable but we’ve got to make the most of that.”
Forest did not make the most of visiting Chelsea. The hosts were missing key players and created little despite enjoying 74% of the possession. Frank Lampard, who has one win in his eight games as interim head coach, accused his side of not having enough killers in the final third. Forest, who have not kept a clean sheet since 11 February, were rarely pulled apart in their unconventional 5-2-2-1 formation. Serge Aurier and Renan Lodi were disciplined on the flanks. Ryan Yates and Orel Mangala screened in midfield, while Danilo and Morgan Gibbs-White pushed up to support Awoniyi.
Cooper’s decision to drop Brennan Johnson and bring Joe Worrall into a packed defence was effective. Forest’s threat came from high balls, Felipe heading wide in the fourth minute. They looked to outmuscle Chelsea and they led when Enzo Fernández lost out during a midfield scramble in the 13th minute, Danilo emerging with the ball and finding Lodi on the left.
The wing-back had space to cross and another Chelsea calamity unfolded. The rust showed when Mendy, making his first start since December, came off his line. The goalkeeper’s presence merely spread confusion, Benoît Badiashile and Thiago Silva offering little resistance as Awoniyi headed into the empty net.
Chelsea’s response was limited to Worrall denying Sterling and João Félix heading at Keylor Navas. Their problems grew when Mateo Kovacic limped off for Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Lampard had already ruled N’Golo Kanté, out of contract in the summer, out for the rest of the season.
The mood was low and Chelsea were booed off at half-time. Forest pushed. Felipe flicked on a corner and Niakhaté failed to make decisive contact at the far post. Chelsea capitalised. Out of nowhere Noni Madueke and Trevoh Chalobah cut Forest open on the right. Sterling clipped home from Chalobah’s cutback and Chelsea poured forward. Loftus-Cheek drove forward and found Sterling. Felipe slid in but the winger swerved inside and bent a fine shot into the far corner.
Now it was Forest’s turn to show resolve. Four minutes later they sent a long throw into the area. Silva’s clearance was weak and Mangala found Awoniyi, who headed in from six yards. Forest, who later saw Lodi twice go close to a winner, had their point. They were unsure what to make of it, though.