Armed with a shiny new contract, Steve Cooper and Nottingham Forest needed a reaction. Although they failed to get the three points they craved, they halted their five-match losing run after taking a draw from a drab but heated contest at home against Aston Villa – a result that also lifts them off the bottom of the table.
For Steven Gerrard, it was another frustrating watch as his Villa team again laboured in the final third. Ashley Young’s sensational strike cancelled out Emmanuel Dennis’s opener on an autumnal evening by the River Trent but Villa’s miserly return of nine points from their opening nine games – a tally that means they are three points above the relegation zone – is hardly the start they envisaged.
The full-time whistle was greeted with some boos from the away end. While the few remaining glass‑half‑full Villa fans might point to this draw extending their unbeaten run to four matches, it was not a narrative Gerrard was willing to entertain. “I don’t want to sit here and talk about four games unbeaten because it’s not enough,” he said.
“The last two performances, we need to be taking maximum points rather than just the one, so there’s a lot of frustration. I’ve challenged the forward players to give us more because I think up until that point there’s not much wrong.”
After another eventful week, Forest fans made their love for Cooper plain. As the Forest manager headed for the dugout a few minutes before kick-off, as is his ritual, he applauded all four sides of the stadium and gave the fans who adore him, some of whom in the Bridgford Stand unfurled a flag and a banner with the words “leader of the garibaldi” a soothing thumbs-up. At the final whistle Cooper embarked on a lap of the pitch, tapping his chest as he went.
Asked what the fans’ show of support means to him, Cooper succinctly replied: “Everything. I’m not a massive lover of personal attention – on the personal stuff, nobody will ever know what that means.”
For Villa, it was another game that bypassed what Gerrard described as his “big-hitters”. Philippe Coutinho was withdrawn on 65 minutes after another anonymous display, Emi Buendía flattered to deceive and Ollie Watkins was isolated. In midfield John McGinn was too ponderous in possession and Douglas Luiz appeared disinterested.
Coutinho’s night was summed up when he tricked his way past Ryan Yates, who seemed to relish wearing the captain’s armband for Forest, and then proceeded to blast his shot high and wide. “The names are there, the talent’s there,” Gerrard said. “We’ve recruited big in that area of the pitch and it is only right that we demand and expect more.”
Forest hope Cooper’s new three‑year deal will bring calm to the chaos but Dennis’s 15th‑minute opener served to whip up an already vocal home crowd. Morgan Gibbs‑White sent a free-kick into the box and Dennis easily eluded Tyrone Mings to glance a free header past Emi Martínez.
Gerrard was soon deep in discussion with Austin MacPhee, the Villa set-piece coach, presumably asking how Dennis was afforded so much room to score on his full Forest league debut.
Just as it seemed Villa were running dry on ideas the 37-year-old Young, arguably Villa’s best performer in recent weeks, sourced a brilliant equaliser. Watkins rose above Serge Aurier to nod the ball down into the 18-yard box. Yates flung himself at the ball to head clear, but it dropped invitingly on the edge of the box and Young smacked a clean effort into the top corner. Cooper fumed at the fourth official, Tony Harrington, incensed that Villa were awarded a free-kick on halfway in the buildup, with Ezri Konsa fortunate to win a foul after tangling with Gibbs‑White.
“We need to focus in on the positives,” Cooper said. “We’re off the bottom of the league and that’s a psychological bit of progress.”
Five minutes into the second half Jacob Ramsey centred the ball in search of the lurking Watkins but Scott McKenna superbly intervened to prevent a near-certain tap-in and compound Gerrard’s pain. “I’m aware that we should have more points, we should have more goals,” he said.
“I’m not stupid. I haven’t got my head buried under the sand. I know there’s pressure, there has been since the opening day when we never got the result that we should have against Bournemouth. I’m very much aware of the external noise, pressures and what people are saying on the outside.”