Football Features

Nottingham Forest 1-1 Chelsea: Graham Potter and company suffer more away-day blues

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 19:00, 1 January 2023

Chelsea rang in the new year with a 1-1 draw at Premier League strugglers Nottingham Forest.

Raheem Sterling’s bizarre effort — his 50th away goal in the competition — seemed to have ultimately decided today’s contest and consequently move Graham Potter’s men into seventh place: five points behind Manchester United who occupy the final Champions League spot. Instead, this was another meagre performance and firmly put into light their miserable recent form.

Of the last 21 points available they’ve secured just six with half of those coming in a 2-0 win at Bournemouth which happened to be their previous outing. This combined with their wretched start under Thomas Tuchel leaves them on 25 points from their opening 16 matches this season (seven wins, four draws and five losses), their fewest at this stage since the 2015/16 campaign, when they only had 15 after 16 games.

The result also meant Chelsea has failed to win their first league game in any of the last seven calendar years (five draws and two losses). They last had a longer winless run in their opening game of a year between 1929 and 1938 (10 – four draws and six losses). This streak looked on course to end when Sterling, who has blown hot and cold since joining the Stamford Bridge club last summer, registered his 13th goal involvement across his last 13 games against promoted sides (10 goals and three assists). In royal blue, the Londoner now has four Premier League goals to his name with this strike ending an eight-match drought.

He couldn’t have pictured the way it ended. Christian Pulisic’s cross from the left was flicked onto the crossbar by a looping Willy Boly deflection that left Dean Henderson stranded. Time seemingly stood still as Sterling smashed home the rebound to give Chelsea the lead, somewhat against the run of play. “It’s a freak goal in some ways,” Jamie Carragher said on Sky Sports commentary. Morgan Gibbs-White thought he levelled proceedings soon after the half-time interval, but his thumping effort smacked against Kepa’s crossbar before bouncing just in front of the line and away, Gibbs-White would be celebrating not long after when Serge Aurier — amid a sea of bodies — equalised for the hosts.

A goal that rewarded their efforts and one that should put a smile on head coach Steve Cooper’s face as it was the first time Forest scored a goal in a Premier League game in which they conceded first this season. On top of that, Forest avoided defeat after conceding first, something they hadn’t managed to do until now in this season. Before today, they’d lost their seven such games by an aggregate score of 23-0. “You can’t say they don’t deserve it! The control and finish is absolutely fantastic,” Carragher enthused.

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Incredibly half of Forest’s league goals this season (6/12) have been netted by African players – Taiwo Awoniyi (3), Cheikhou Kouyaté (1), Emmanuel Dennis (1) and Aurier (1). Aurier’s goal was created by compatriot Willy Boly meaning it was the first time players from the Côte d’Ivoire combined for a Premier League goal since August 2015, when Wilfried Bony assisted Yaya Toure for Manchester City against West Brom. The only other Ivorian goal combination was Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou (who assisted each other nine times).

Their turnaround was a sharp contrast to Chelsea’s decline. In the opening half, Chelsea outshot Forest 6-3 but it was 9-1 in Forest’s favour from the second-half whistle to full-time. Potter’s side’s expected goals went from 0.68 to 0.26 while the host’s xG rose from 0.32 to 0.89. When it came to touches in the opposition box. Chelsea led 11-4 heading into half-time. In the second 45 minutes, Forest ran out 17-7 winners in this statistical category. “Chelsea couldn’t cope with Forest’s aggression. They were powderpuff,” Graeme Souness opined after the game. Forest subsequently finds themselves sitting in 18th and within touching distance of escaping the danger zone.

No one said it would be easy. The honeymoon phase Potter enjoyed is well and truly over. After winning their first three Premier League games under him, Chelsea have only won one of their last seven (picking up three draws and three losses along the way) and none of the last four on the road (two draws and two losses).

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“It was [a scrappy point]. We didn’t get off to a good start. But we were lucky not to win the game after the second half,” Forest midfielder Ryan Yates told Sky Sports after the game.

“It’s a step in the right direction. It was an unlucky goal from our point of view. But we showed resilience to come back.

“The manager said believe in yourselves more. We showed them too much respect. We’re at the City Ground, we needed to get the fans off their seats. It’s something to build on.

“We’re not satisfied with drawing at home but it’s a start.”