Leeds in deep relegation trouble after Brennan Johnson goal hands Nottingham Forest victory

Keylor Navas celebrates after his key first-half saves helped Nottingham Forest to the three points over Leeds - AP/Rui Viera
Keylor Navas celebrates after his key first-half saves helped Nottingham Forest to the three points over Leeds - AP/Rui Viera

By John Percy at the City Ground

Nottingham Forest have waited for over two decades to stage Premier League football and the City Ground is becoming their fortress.

Forest have not lost here in the league since September 16 after securing a nervy yet crucial victory over Leeds which increases the scrutiny on Jesse Marsch.

There were isolated chants for Marsch’s dismissal from some travelling supporters towards the end and these are worrying times for the American, with the club’s form continuing to nosedive.

It was at the start of November when Leeds last won in the league and they are only outside the relegation zone on goal difference.

Marsch’s players were left to rue the presence of Forest debutant Keylor Navas, the three-time Champions League winner who has signed on loan from Paris St-Germain.

The Costa Rican goalkeeper was outstanding in the first-half to keep Leeds at bay, and his introduction to English football helped boost Forest’s chances of survival.

Kaylor Navas had an impressive outing for Nottingham Forest making a series of good saves in the first half - AP/Rui Vieira
Kaylor Navas had an impressive outing for Nottingham Forest making a series of good saves in the first half - AP/Rui Vieira

What Marsch would do for a run like Forest, who climbed into 13th place after Brennan Johnson’s well-taken volley.

Leeds now face Manchester United twice in the league next week, starting at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

He said: “I take full responsibility and I have to find a way to turn performances into winning.

“I understand the frustration and doubts and I accept it. I have to turn the good things into results or we find ourselves in a stressful situation.

“Internally, we have belief here and the players are all in. We’re trying to put it all together but we have to make sure that by Wednesday we are ready for a big result.”

Jesse Marsch is under huge pressure with Leeds without a league win since November - Reuters/Carl Recine
Jesse Marsch is under huge pressure with Leeds without a league win since November - Reuters/Carl Recine

While Leeds did deserve at least a point, Steve Cooper’s excellent work at Forest continues.

It is always said that newly promoted teams must build the foundations of their survival hopes on home form, and they have not lost here in seven matches.

This was not one of their best performances in front of their own supporters, but fortunately Navas was in excellent form.

Cooper said: “He’s a winner and has great experience but he will still have wanted to do well in his first game at a new club.

“He was brilliant in the first-half, and he deserves all the credit for the saves. I loved his composure and his decision-making, all he’s shown since coming here is a desire to jump on board.

“We’ve played a lot better and lost games this year so in a way maybe the lads deserved that.

"We’re building an identity, we’re building a team, we’ve been doing that from the summer so step-by-step.”

This is one of football’s oldest rivalries, and chants about Don Revie and Brian Clough - plus others that are unprintable - underlined how the enmity from the 1970s still runs deep.

The stakes were equally high here and results on Saturday only served to crank up the tension at a noisy City Ground.

Forest had appeared nervy from the start, with Navas called into early action after two minutes to save from Luis Sinisterra, but they took the lead with their first attack.

It was a fine finish from Johnson, with the Wales international hooking in a volley after Morgan Gibbs-White’s free kick was half-cleared.

It was against the run of play, and Leeds then took control of their first-half.

They should have equalised in the 31st minute, but Sinisterra sliced a shot high and wide after Willy Gnonto found space in the Forest area.

Marsch was getting increasingly frustrated in the technical area. He continually pointed to his watch, appearing to suggest Forest were time-wasting, and was also unhappy with a number of decisions by referee Robert Jones.

Leeds continued to create chances but Navas was proving outstanding for the home team, saving from Luke Ayling and Gnonto before the end of the half.

Marsch made changes early in the second half, with Weston McKennie and Georginio Rutter introduced for their debuts.

Junior Firpo, the left-back, was also brought on as Marsch took emergency action to prevent Pascal Struijk from being dismissed, after he was fortunate to escape a second caution for a foul on Johnson.

Forest were fortunate at times but also defensively resilient, threatening to add a second goal through the direct running and pace of Johnson and Gibbs-White.

Leeds just could not find a way past them, and Marsch has now picked up only two wins in the last 17 league matches.

“Jesse, Jesse, time to go” chanted some fans and he must deliver an upturn in results soon.

As it happened

04:19 PM

Neco WIlliams speaks to BBC Sport - 'Kaylor Navas made massive, massive saves'

On Keylor Navas' performance...

"What a debut [for Keylor Navas], massive, massive saves. He kept us in it and we're thankful for him. What a career he has had and what a career he is having. It's not easy making your Premier League debut against Leeds."

On Nottingham Forest's good form...

"The start of the season was tough, no one knew each other it was hard to get the chemistry on and off the pitch. Now we're gelling together and the results are coming."

04:14 PM

Time's up for Jesse?

04:12 PM

Homesick Marsch

04:11 PM

Some post-match stats from our chums at Opta

  • Nottingham Forest are currently unbeaten in five Premier League (W3 D2), their longest unbeaten run in the competition since a run of 25 games between February and November in 1995.

  • Leeds United have lost three consecutive away league matches against Nottingham Forest for the first time since May 1991.

  • Nottingham Forest have scored the opening goal in nine of their 11 home matches in the Premier League this season, the most of any side (W5 D2 L2).

  • Leeds United have lost each of their last five Premier League away games against teams starting the day in the bottom half of the table, their longest ever such run in the competition.

  • Brennan Johnson has been directly in each of Nottingham Forest’s last five goals in the Premier League, scoring three of them and assisting the other two.

  • Among players currently aged 21 or younger, only Arsenal pair Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli (seven each) have scored more Premier League goals this season than Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson (five).

03:58 PM

Brennan Johnson speaks...

"We got ready for Leeds, they are an intense team and made it hard for us, getting that first goal is vital. You can see even in games when we don't have much of the ball we did not look like conceding today. Everyone was unbelievable to a man today."

03:56 PM

FULL TIME: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Leeds had their chances in the first half and have paid the price for not putting them away. Forest were comfortable in the second 45 minutes as the visitors ran out of ideas.

The hosts are now unbeaten in five matches and, importantly, six points clear of the relegation zone. Leeds sit one spot about the bottom three thanks only to goal difference.

03:52 PM

91 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Free kick for Leeds on the right in the final third. Meslier is up for this - desperation times and all that - but the big French goalkeeper's presence doesn't have the intended outcome as Forest, as they have done most of the afternoon, clear the danger without much fuss.

03:50 PM

89 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

There will be four minutes added time - the way this half has gone you suspect Leeds could have 4,000 minutes and still struggle to score.

03:47 PM

87 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Leeds have run out of ideas and are regularly running into cul-de-sacs. Forest have been solid at the back since the break and Navas hardly called into action, unlike the first half.

03:46 PM

84 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Forest are looking the more likely to score at the moment. Gibbs-White does brilliantly down the left to earn a throw on, one which they are, understandably, not keen to take quickly.

03:42 PM

81 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Defensively Forest have been solid since the break and it's hard to see Leeds finding the back of the net. The Yorkshire frustrations are growing and it's not hard to see why. Marsch makes his final change as Sam Greenwood comes on for Jack Harrison.

03:38 PM

78 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Free kick for Forest inside the Leeds half - Renan Lodi delivers from the left, Meslier comes and punches as far as a player in red, the ball eventually finds its way to Surridge on the left of the box and his shot his high and wide. He should have at least hit the target.

03:36 PM

76 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Time is running out for Leeds, they are without win since before the World Cup and looked to blunt in attack to suggest that run won't continue today - famous last words...

03:34 PM

73 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Neco Williams plays a great through ball for Surridge with the outside of his right boot. That forces Meslier off his line, the Frenchman beating the Forest sub to the ball, just.

03:31 PM

70 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

The visitors have 20 minutes to find this goal - they've certainly had enough possession but few chances. Gnonto has the ball on the left but before he can get his head up Colback is onto him in a flash and snuffs about the potential danger.

Gnonto hasn't had the same space in the second half as he did in the first - Getty Images/Clive Mason
Gnonto hasn't had the same space in the second half as he did in the first - Getty Images/Clive Mason

03:27 PM

67 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Leeds have certainly missed Rodrigo today - he's their leading scorer this season and the visitors have lacked cutting edge in the final third.

03:26 PM

65 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Another change for Leeds as Firpo and Rutter are on for Struijk and Bamford.

03:22 PM

62 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Leeds continue to huff and puff but Forest haven't been troubled this half. Gnonto hasn't got the space he enjoyed in the first half and he's the most likely provider of the spark that his side currently lack.

03:19 PM

58 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Leeds still dominating possession but yet to really test Navas this half. The longer this goes on the more worried Marsch will get. Forest have, by and large, looked comfortable at the back since the break.

03:15 PM

55 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Changes for Leeds: Summerville and new man McKennie are on for Roca and Sinisterra.

03:13 PM

52 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Much like the first half, Leeds are seeing more of the ball but so far haven't created a chance since the break. As I type Forest break though Neco Williams, he is unable to break clear with his pace but does well to cut back and get a shot in that just goes wide.

03:09 PM

50 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Gnonto has started this half where he left off the first - terrorising the Forest backline down the left. Aurier, the new man, is the defender unable to cope with the Italian's pace and directness and concedes a free kick. From the set piece Sinisterra heads at goal but Navas is there to ensure the ball doesn't find its way into the back of the net.

03:07 PM

49 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

The first chance of the half goes the way of the hosts as Johnson gets in a cross from the right, Gibbs-White is their but his header, although on target, lacks the power to test Meslier.

03:06 PM

47 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Good news if your a Leeds fan - Forest have conceded as many as 21 goals in the second half this season. They had their chances in the first 45 but were unable to convert them.

03:04 PM

45 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Two changes for Forest - Colback and Aurier are on for Danilo and Mangala. Changes that probably reflect that Leeds had the better of the first 45 minutes.

03:01 PM

Forest have proved to be fast starters this season

02:52 PM

John Percy at the City Ground

Outstanding first-half from Keylor Navas for Forest. Three excellent saves to deny Leeds, who have been dangerous going forward.

Navas was one of the most eye-catching transfers of the January window and it has been a debut in English football to remember so far.

02:49 PM

HALF TIME: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

That last bit of play from Bamford sort of sums up the first half from Leeds. They've had their chances but have lacked the cutting edge with which to turn them into goals. Forest scored with their only real chance (it was a half chance at best) of the first 45.

02:48 PM

46 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

There will be three minutes added time as Bamford is played in by Sinisterra, but his first touch is poor and the chance to get a shot on goal goes begging. He's looked like a players without many match minutes so far this season.

02:46 PM

44 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Panic in the Leeds defence as Meslier comes out for the ball and doesn't get it. Wood has it but dithers way too much and the chance to play someone in with the Leeds keeper backpedalling disappears.

02:44 PM

42 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Leeds have enjoyed 63 per cent possession and Navas has certainly been the busier of the two goal keepers. But they've lacked incision in the final third and as I type they have another chance as two Forest defenders go for the same ball and only succeed in giving possession to Gnonto. The Italian is in the box and shoots with his right forcing Navas into another good save.

02:41 PM

40 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

There's a pause in the match as Navas is seen to by medical staff - the Forest keeper got studs on his head from his own player as he intercepted a Leeds cross. The Costa Rican is OK after a while. One thing's for sure is that he's had an eventful first 45 minutes.

02:40 PM

Here's that chance for Sinisterra

Not sure how he missed this...

Luis Sinisterra misses from close range - Reuters/Jason Cairnduff
Luis Sinisterra misses from close range - Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

02:38 PM

35 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Leeds haven't been sharp enough in attack while Navas has made a few key saves already. It's that man again, Gnonto, who creates havoc on the right before crossing for Bamford. The striker miskicks and is fortunate that the ball then falls at the left boot of Ayling. The right back hits hit first time and Forest's new keeper does well to prevent an equaliser.

02:36 PM

33 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Jesse Marsch is a whirlwind of energy urging Leeds to up the tempo. Gnonto is having a lot of joy in the left and once again he gets in a good ball, this time for Roca, and the Forest backline is forced into more decent defending.

02:32 PM

29 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Danilo shows a bit of skill before losing the ball and fouling Struijk. That gifts Leeds a free kick just inside the Forest half - can they work an opportunity?

'YES' is the answer. Roca's delivery is headed clear to Ayling, he then spots Gnoto on the left and the Italian squares the ball into the six-yard box and somehow Sinisterra puts the ball over the bar when it hitting the target was the easier option.

02:28 PM

He certainly in fine form

02:27 PM

25 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Forest look very solid at the back. They're organised and for all the possession Leeds have enjoyed, they've been restricted to just that chance for Sinisterra.

02:24 PM

21 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Another Roca free kick for Leeds and this one is much better than the previous one (see post at nine minutes...). Navas is forced to come and collect which he does well.

Jesse Marsch looks agitated on the touchline, when doesn't he look agitated?

02:21 PM

17 mins: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds

Since the goal the hosts have looked good and asked questions of the Leeds backline. Johnson drives down the right before laying it off to Gibbs-White whose shot is blocked.

02:18 PM

Brilliant Brennan

02:13 PM


Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds (Johnson)

They haven't had a sniff all game but the first chance they have they put the ball into the back of the net. They have a free kick on the right, Gibbs-White crosses into the box, there's a Leeds header from Struijk, I think, it's not the most decisive bit of defensive work and the ball falls to Johnson on the edge of the box. The talented youngster decides to hit it first time giving Meslier no chance.

02:12 PM

12 mins: Nottingham Forest 0-0 Leeds

The early stats reveal that Leeds have been in the final third of the pitch for 42 per cent of the match so far. That seems about right.

02:11 PM

11 mins: Nottingham Forest 0-0 Leeds

Still all Leeds who are having a fair bit of joy down the left. As I type, however, it's Forest who attack down the left and a good challenge by Wober prevents Wood, the former Leeds player, from getting away.

02:10 PM

9 mins: Nottingham Forest 0-0 Leeds

The hosts are yet to get into this match - the crowd don't seem to be too bothered, however, they seem to be in good voice.

There's another free kick for Leeds in Forest's half they cannot make anything out of it, though, as Roca's delivery curls out for a goal kick.

02:07 PM

8 mins: Nottingham Forest 0-0 Leeds

Forest are struggled to get a foot on the ball and a foothold in the match. Gnoto cuts in from the left before squaring the ball for Ayling whose shot from distance is well blocked.

02:05 PM

6 mins: Nottingham Forest 0-0 Leeds

Purposeful start from Leeds who have dominated territory - just that Sinisterra chance to show for it so far.

02:04 PM

4 mins: Nottingham Forest 0-0 Leeds

Leeds are in the Forest half and win a free kick near the centre circle. They play it short and to the left and after a few passes the hosts can clear the danger.

02:03 PM

2 mins: Nottingham Forest 0-0 Leeds

The hosts have seen more of the possession so far but it's Leeds with the first chance to opening the scoring. Sinisterra works the chance in the Forest penalty area and toe pokes the ball forcing Navas into a fine double save.

02:00 PM

1 min: Nottingham Forest 0-0 Leeds

They're under way at the City Ground - Forest are in their traditional red and Leeds in their garish yellow number which looks as though a child has been let loose with a blue crayon on it.

01:55 PM

The teams are in the tunnel

And kick off is moments away.

01:49 PM

Leeds are ready to go

01:48 PM

Leeds manager Jesse Marsch speaks - 'We feel good about the progress we've made'

On the atmosphere at the club...

"Yes we feel good about how we've been playing and and it's important to get a result today."

On Bamford coming in for the injured Rodrigo...

"Patrick is in his best form since I've known him. He looks close to 100 per cent so relatively easy to [pick him]. We know he can fill in ."

On loan signing Weston McKennie starting on the bench...

"With this group we know this would be the best for this match - we have three matches this week and there will be some rotation. [McKennie] from the bench will be ready."

On the message before kick off...

"I have tried to reinforce some positivity and feel good about the progress we've made - we need a result today to prove all that."

01:37 PM

With the Champions League-winning keeper starting today...

...here's the inside story of how Nottingham Forest captured the modern goalkeeping great.

"Forest drew up a shortlist of potential signings, and it was Evangelos Marinakis, the club’s owner, who threw the name of Navas into the mix. Many at the club feared it would be a total non-starter."

READ: The inside story of how Nottingham Forest signed Keylor Navas

Keylor Navas won the Champions League three times with Real Madrid - AFP/Bertrand Guay
Keylor Navas won the Champions League three times with Real Madrid - AFP/Bertrand Guay

01:20 PM

Here are those teams in black and white

NOTTINGHAM FOREST XI TO FACE LEEDS: Navas, Williams, Boly, McKenna, Renan Lodi, Freuler, Mangala, Danilo, Gibbs-White, Johnson, Wood. Subs: Felipe, Ayew, Worrall, Colback, Lingard, Hennessey, Surridge, Aurier, Gustavo Scarpa.

The big news is that Forest's millionth signing of the season Kaylor Navas starts in goal. Navas took the gloves following his deadline day move from Paris St Germain, with fellow new signings Felipe and Andre Ayew on the bench.

Morgan Gibbs-White is a surprise return from injury.

Keylor Navas - AFP/Franck Fife
Keylor Navas - AFP/Franck Fife

LEEDS XI TO FACE NOTTINGHAM FOREST: Meslier, Ayling, Cooper, Wober, Struijk, Adams, Roca, Sinisterra, Gnonto, Harrison, Bamford. Subs: Firpo, Aaronson, Summerville, Robles, Rutter, Kristensen, McKennie, Greenwood, Fernandez.

Jesse Marsch has made five changes to the side that beat Accrington Stanley in the FA Cup last weekend.

Patrick Bamford starts up front with Luke Ayling, Liam Cooper, Tyler Adams, Pascal Struijk and Wilfried Gnonto back among the starters. New loan signing Weston McKennie starts on the bench.

Patrick Bamford starts up front for Leeds today - Reuters/Molly Darlington
Patrick Bamford starts up front for Leeds today - Reuters/Molly Darlington

01:03 PM

Here be Leeds

01:02 PM

Here's the Nottingham Forest XI

12:57 PM

Jesse Marsch only seeing positives

On a weekend that saw Everton, Wolves and Leicester win and West Ham draw at Newcastle, today wouldn't be a bad time for Leeds to pick up their first Premier League victory since November. They will, however, have to try and get the valuable three points without Rodrigo. Their top scorer was this week ruled out for two months after surgery to repair a fractured tibia and ankle ligament damage.

When results aren't going your way and one of your main attacking threats has been ruled out for two months you could be forgiven for being a bit downcast. But Jesse Marsch is upbeat and feeling positive about today's match at Nottingham Forest, deciding to focus on the good news.

The American said fit-again Patrick Bamford had not felt so good in 18 months, while Tyler Adams, Crysencio Summerville, Pascal Struijk and skipper Liam Cooper will all return to contention after injury.

"What an incredible problem to have as a manager," said Marsch, who will also have Jack Harrison available after the winger's proposed move to Leicester fell through. "We have great options in every position.

"I've challenged the group to be committed to the group concept, whether they're starting or coming off the bench. With five subs we should feel like we can make a big impact and push every match to its limit with the quality that we have now.

"I've never been more excited to be the manager of this team and I'm really looking forward to Sunday."

Marsch's side could do with the win. They currently sit one spot above the relegation zone and need a run of good results to avoid another season mired in a relegation dogfight. They face a Nottingham Forest side unbeaten in the league since December fresh from another busy transfer window.

Stay here for all the pre-match build up, team news and action, with kick off set for 2pm.