Nott Forest 1 West Ham 0: Henderson saves Rice’s penalty to seal historic win after Awoniyi strike on City floor
FOUR PAGES of Nottingham Forest’s matchday program were devoted to introducing TWELVE of their new arrivals.
And one of them ended Forest’s 23-year wait to rewrite history as club-record signing Taiwo Awoniyi scored his first goal in big time at a sunny City Ground.
Another new face in Dean Henderson is also set to be announced after saving Declan Rice’s penalty in the 64th minute.
The irony is that since these program pages were published, Forest have completed three more deals for Cheikhou Kouyate of Crystal Palace, Emmanuel Dennis of Watford and just this afternoon that of Remo Freuler of Atalanta for 7.6 million pound sterling.
And more ink is to be set aside for Brighton’s Neal Maupay in the coming days.
Sixteen in total with no sign of stopping in one of the most turbulent and chaotic transfer windows in Premier League history.
And if Kouyate, Dennis and Maupay have a similar impact to the 12 who already enjoy life in the top flight, Steve Cooper’s men could make this campaign even more cherished.
In the space that remained in the programme, boss Cooper spoke of doing more than just making up numbers after bringing them back to the Prem for the first time since 1999.
They certainly proved that against West Ham in a real thriller of a battle in the August heat that harked back to the difficult days when Forest were regulars at this level.
Awoniyi – a £17million buy from Union Berlin – bullied and tormented the visiting back four before his chance goal with seconds remaining in the first half.
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And it could have been fairer after the break if Brennan Johnson’s chip hadn’t been ruled out for offside.
The Hammers had their moments. Said Benrahma had a VAR-marked strike moments before Awoniyi’s effort, before he and Pablo Fornals both hit the bar.
But unlike Forest, David Moyes’ struggling side are in desperate need of a refresh with no new signings in their starting XI and two out of two defeats.
Sixteen arrivals? Just a few more would be enough for Moyes despite £30m striker Gianluca Scamacca and £17.5m winger Maxwel Cornet coming off the bench unsuccessfully in the second half.
Flashbacks to old faces dominated the build-up, looking back to the first televised game of the Prem era, also on a Sunday in August 1992, when Teddy Sheringham’s goal saw Forest beat Liverpool.
But it was new faces that dominated Forest’s starting line-up. Only three names from last season remained in Johnson, Joe Worrall and Scott McKenna.
Two new additions in Awoniyi and Orel Mangala also started after being benched for the opening day defeat at Newcastle.
The atmosphere was electric at kick-off as Forest’s ditty Mull of Kintyre popped a few eardrums, although you could still hear the disdain on the other side for Jesse Lingard who snubbed a return to East London this summer.
The plan to throw false notes on the pitch was executed early on, but oddly to Neco Williams when he went for a corner. Maybe they knew they would at least get some airtime on Sky, even if Lingard was off camera.
Rice seemed to get the message, picking up an early yellow for taking down Lingard on the counter, as any fear that Forest’s chemistry and cohesion could be undone with so many new names was quickly quashed.
They failed to fire a single shot on target at St James’ Park but made up for it here as Awoniyi came close on several occasions.
West Ham found their feet with Benrahma’s curling effort fended off by Henderson and Tomas Soucek was denied a rebound by Harry Toffolo.
And they were celebrating soon after a quick counter started and finished by Benrahma through careful selection by Rice.
VAR rightly intervened, however, spotting Michail Antonio barge over Mangala earlier in the phase and referee Robert Jones pressed him on the monitor.
Forest responded with a legitimate aim. Lewis O’Brien dug into the box, Lingard missed his attempt and Ben Johnson’s block bounced off Awoniyi’s knee. Cue the noise.
Much like the first, the second half was both hypnotic and frenetic as Fornals slammed the bar with a long-range effort and Henderson acrobatically stopped Soucek’s follow-up.
VAR were busy, fearing Johnson’s dink on Lukasz Fabianski for swerving offside, with the Polish keeper then doing well to get in the way of Moussa Niakhate’s header.
But after Benrahma hit the bar again with a free kick, Forest conceded an unnecessary kick as McKenna’s outstretched arm blocked Soucek’s shot despite Henderson being there.
The monitor was used once more and skipper Rice only stepped up to produce a tame footer.
A furious Moyes acted by bringing in Scamacca and then Cornet for a late rally.
It barely materialized, with Zouma coming the closest as his header was brilliantly cleared off the line by Williams as the hosts clung on. Cue more noise.
Forest are back, and the Premier League is all the richer for it.