How Nottingham Forest shut out the noise and cranked up the volume

A giant banner in the Trent End, depicting Morgan Gibbs-White in his trademark celebration pose — fingers plunged deep into his ears — sent out a clear message.

Beneath the looming image, it read: ‘Shut everything out and play your game’.

By the time Gibbs-White was replicating that celebration in first-half injury time against Fulham on Tuesday, Nottingham Forest were not shutting out the noise, but creating it, inspiring it — revelling in it.

Forget points deductions, controversial refereeing decisions and any lingering sense of injustice: a positive team selection inspired a positive performance, a result to match and a truly cacophonous atmosphere.

There were no fist-pumps from Nuno Espirito Santo but it still sparked memories of last season’s survival push, under Steve Cooper, especially during five interminable minutes of injury time when Forest were hauled to the finish line by deafening choruses of Mull of Kintyre and ‘Forest are magic’.

This was the kind of City Ground atmosphere that helped to keep Forest in the top flight last season. But it has always been a cyclical relationship; a two-way deal.

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The tifo of Morgan Gibbs-White is unveiled before kick-off (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Against Crystal Palace, fan group Forza Garibaldi had also worked tirelessly to produce a similarly impressive pre-match display. But at half-time, there were jeers as the players trudged off the pitch trailing 1-0. The team had not delivered their part of the bargain.

This time, they strode down the tunnel to a roar of approval. Forest’s 3-0 lead over Fulham was their joint-biggest half-time advantage in the Premier League (they had also led Ipswich 4-1 in December 1994 and Leeds United 3-0 in March 1995). It could easily have been more.

It was the first time they had scored three first-half goals since the dramatic 4-3 success over Southampton in May last year. Gibbs-White registered an assist and a goal that night and, as he so often has been, he was the conductor of the orchestra once more on Tuesday.

This was the kind of performance which makes Forest fans pine for Premier League survival, if only to see Gibbs-White stay in a red shirt a little longer. He possesses industry and intelligence in equal measure and doesn’t just make things happen, but does so with a level of panache that precious few Forest players have possessed in recent years.

His turn and pass, struck with the outside of his right boot, to set up Callum Hudson-Odoi for the first goal was a thing of beauty, even if the former Chelsea winger still had plenty to do, as he cut inside onto his right foot and shot into the bottom corner.

Since joining Forest from Wolves for an initial £25million in the summer of 2022, Gibbs-White has delivered 15 assists. That puts him in some serious company. During the same time frame, only Mo Salah (21), Kevin de Bruyne (21). Bukayo Saka (19), Pascal Gross (18), Kieran Trippier (17), James Maddison (16) and Ollie Watkins (16) have more.

With better fortune — and finishing — he could have taken his tally to 17 against Fulham, with Hudson-Odoi and Anthony Elanga both unable to take chances Gibbs-White had created.

It wasn’t just the Gibbs-White show – Chris Wood’s clever finish after spotting keeper Bernd Leno out of position was his 11th of the season, and further proof that Forest may be unwise to let him leave when  his contract expires this summer – but he was not off centre-stage for long.

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Chris Wood scored another fine goal (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Just before the interval, he went from provider to poacher, as he delivered a composed finish across goal and inside the far post, after a precise pass from the resurgent Danilo, who more than justified his recall to the starting XI. Nuno picked his best attacking quartet, in Wood, Elanga, Hudson-Odoi and Gibbs-White and they responded by producing the best 45 minutes of his tenure.

His side’s resolve was tested after the break, when Tosin Adarabioyo made it 3-1 and Forest’s defence had to stand up to some intense pressure, but this was a result and performance that might mean every bit as much as the memorable successes over Liverpool, Brighton, Southampton and Arsenal that edged them to safety a year ago.

Afterwards, Nuno spoke about the importance of consistency; of the need to build on this by performing to the same level for the rest of the campaign. That will feel particularly pertinent to the Portuguese as they head to Tottenham on Sunday, before hosting another of his former clubs, Wolverhampton Wanderers. A vital game at relegation rivals Everton follows beyond that, in what will be dubbed the PSR derby.

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Morgan Gibbs-White scores Forest’s third goal (David Rogers/Getty Images)

Forest have put a three-point gap between them and Luton Town, who currently occupy 18th place and play their game in hand at title-chasing Arsenal tonight. In two games since Forest were deducted four points for those profit and sustainability regulations breaches, they have already won back those points.

At the final whistle, Murillo dropped to his knees to offer a prayer, Nuno slowly walked around the pitch seeking to hug every one of his players, while the impressive Ryan Yates happily exchanged handshakes with anyone who strayed within five yards. Gibbs-White, after conducting a few interviews, was the last player to depart down the tunnel, as the volume finally subsided.

Forest’s ability to ignore the outside noise will remain important in the remaining seven games, as they wait to find out the result of their PSR appeal — and how Everton will be punished for their latest breaches of the regulations.

But so, too, will their ability to inspire more noisy nights like this one.

(Top photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images)

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