Struggling Leeds ambushed by Forest as Brennan Johnson hits winner

Nottingham Forest were outplayed but still overcame Leeds in a high-stakes match towards the bottom of the Premier League

Nottingham Forest 1 Leeds United 0

Leeds’ performances are on an upward trajectory, as Jesse Marsch likes to remind everyone, but unfortunately they have not won in their past seven matches. They dominated at Nottingham Forest but succumbed to Brennan Johnson’s first-half strike and an inspired Keylor Navas debut.

For all the positive words from the Leeds head coach in recent weeks, they lack the ruthlessness that is required in the Premier League and explains why they are outside the relegation zone only on goal difference. Everton and Wolves have seen the positive impact of managerial change and Marsch will be left wondering how sustainable his position is.

The visitors started the brighter, playing slick short passing in the Forest half, while the home side struggled to get hold of the ball and maintain possession. Luis Sinisterra could have opened the scoring within three minutes but Navas showed why he has been signed on loan from Paris Saint-Germain by coming out quickly to block a shot from close range.


Despite their slow start, Forest showed what Leeds have missed for most of the season: an ability to take chances. Morgan Gibbs-White whipped in a free-kick from the right that deflected its way to a waiting Johnson who thrashed the looping ball into the bottom corner to instigate bedlam in the stands.

The goal did not change the flow of the game with Leeds impressing when in possession between the halfway and edge of the Forest box but struggling to make an impact in the areas where it matters most. Eventually, Willy Gnonto got in behind the Forest defence and calmly laid the ball into the path of Sinisterra, only for the Leeds winger to fire over from six yards. It is the story of Leeds’ season that other than the injured Rodrigo, they have struggled to convert chances.

Forest were holding on to their lead, struggling to cope with Gnonto on the left, a winger fearless when dribbling at Neco Williams, who gifted a chance to the Italian through a poor header but Navas positioned himself to block a fiercely struck volley. Navas was integral to Forest maintaining the lead but there was concern when he required treatment after being caught on the head by the studs of team-mate Willy Boly, although he was fine to continue after treatment to a cut.

Steve Cooper made changes at half-time, bringing on Serge Aurier and Jack Colback for Orel Mangala and Danilo. The Brazilian struggled on his first Premier League start, getting an early booking and looking unable to cope with Leeds’ midfielders and forwards. It was a learning exercise for someone who showed some neat touches.

Holding on to the lead was the main concern for Forest, allowing Leeds to continue their possession-based play in front of 10 or 11 red shirts. There were infrequent counterattacks but they generally ran out of steam before reaching the Leeds area. After a busy first half, Navas was allowed more time to take in his surroundings because Leeds were kept at arms’ length, lacking the rhythm they found early on. Forest worked extremely hard to limit the opportunities after the break, looking more solid in defence after the personnel changes by Cooper, to move six points clear of the relegation zone.

Marsch called for Leeds’ record signing, Georginio Rutter, from the bench to make his league debut for the club in the hope he could be the man to take a chance but he looked like a man who had scored twice in 18 appearances this season. Leeds ended the game with 70% possession and twice as many shots on target but, crucially, no points. Where Leeds find their cutting edge is unknown but they need to find one soon or face a long second half of the season.