Sabri Lamouchi, the Nottingham Forest manager, called for the Championship to embrace VAR as his team capped off a turbulent week by holding the leaders to a draw. After a physical, contentious game, the result was decided in the dying minutes by a searing strike from Matty Cash after almost endless pressure from the home side.
Callum Robinson had scored the opening goal with a smooth finish after a moment of magic by Matheus Pereira before Kyle Bartley and Tobias Figueiredo traded own goals.
In the end, Cash denied the league leaders a fourth straight win that would have put them six points clear at the top and there was still time for drama even deeper into injury time, with Robinson’s effort ruled out for offside despite the ball hitting his teammate Bartley when over the line.
“To come back two times and to come back in the game with this kind of scenario, with some wrong decisions, proud about the performance, proud about the mentality, personality and never giving up,” said Lamouchi.
“This league is just a crazy league and we need to be consistent until the end. Never give up. Believe in your chances like the players have done this afternoon.”
Lamouchi was criticised in the lead-up to the game for his decision to rotate his squad in their midweek loss to Charlton, meaning even more was resting on this meeting.
The game’s importance was reflected in a contentious opening 20 minutes as tackles flew in from every direction. Pereira, Cash and Yuri Ribeiro all hit the floor under heavy challenges. Words were exchanged and points made, and the staccato start did not benefit the home team as their early pressure became sterile.
Throughout the season, Pereira has demonstrated that he can create anything from anywhere and it took a typically transformative moment from nothing to invigorate his impotent team. Samba Sow was unhurriedly carrying the ball forward when suddenly it was snatched from him. By the time Sow looked down, Pereira had burst forward and slipped a lovely ball to Robinson, who was composed with his far-post finish.
Before the match, Lamouchi responded to anticipation of West Brom dominating possession with a simple phrase: “Possession is not the most important thing.” By the end of the first half West Brom’s possession had topped 64% but Forest took their time and generated chances themselves, rallying each time to peg back the league leaders.
The home side seemed to settle into the second half, generating wave after wave of pressure before finally converting their second goal after Jake Livermore’s wicked cross rolled through the legs of two players, hit the Forest defender Figueiredo and went into his own goal.
West Brom celebrated while the away team raged that a foul had not been called at the beginning of the move after Sammy Ameobi was taken down in the buildup.
Lamouchi said the blame did not rest on the shoulders of the referee, instead calling for VAR to be used in the Championship. “I’m so surprised because we play football but not with the same rules,” he said. “Premier League play with the VAR and without the VAR, you can finish some games with this tension.
“Some referees can make mistakes, like some managers. Probably I did some mistakes on Tuesday and probably more in the season. So, we should understand that and help them.”
The goal did not stop West Brom from chasing a third goal to kill the game, nor did it weaken Forest’s resolve. They were patient and when they found themselves in an advanced position with their last chance, Cash showed that possession is indeed not everything by hammering a right-foot strike into the top corner and forcing West Brom to accept a bittersweet draw.
“I’m happy,” said the West Brom manager, Slaven Bilic, torn between satisfaction at his team’s performance and disappointment at the final result. “I told them that, for me, this was a proper performance. The way I wanted my team to play. Front foot from the start, the crowd were there and the crowd enjoyed it. But again, very disappointed with the result. We deserved three points.”