Steve Cooper on thin ice as Nottingham Forest owner storms out of 5-0 defeat

Steve Cooper holds up his hands
Cooper was embarrassed by supporters singing his praises after the game - PA/Zac Goodwin

Steve Cooper is clinging onto his job after a five-goal thrashing from Fulham handed Nottingham Forest a fourth successive Premier League defeat.

Ominously for  Cooper, Evangelos Marinakis, no stranger to dispensing with managers, is in axe-wielding form after Tuesday’s dismissal of Diego Martinez, head coach of the other club he owns, Olympiacos, despite them being third in the Greek Super League. After the fourth goal, Marinakis stormed out of Craven Cottage. According to reports on social media, he threw his accreditation lanyard into a nearby bush.

Marinakis accreditation
This photo was posted on social media by a supporter who claims he found Marinakis's accreditation "in a bush"

Afterwards, Cooper and his shame-faced players faced the fans. Cooper held up his hands to apologise for the debacle and listened, visibly moved, as the still-adoring away support chanted his name. After taking Forest from the depths of the Championship to Premier League safety in often swashbuckling style, the love remains deep.

“I’m grateful for that,” said a chastened Cooper, “but it was embarrassing because I don’t deserve it. We should have got a different reception. I don’t want anyone else to be talked about apart from me. I take responsibility for this. It’s all on me. I totally understand all the questions about my future, but it’s something I genuinely think about the least. That said, I believe I’m the man to turn it round. I don’t think about my future or my reputation: what’s good for the club is good for me. That’s all I care about.”

However, Cooper did not spare his players, lamentable almost to a man.

“This was a painful night and we deserved the scoreline. We completely came away from the required tactical and technical levels. If you don’t have enough desire to defend, if you don’t have the will, if you lose races, if you pull out of tackles and end up on the floor when it’s 50-50, you’ll get a night like tonight. I just hope it was an outlier.”

Already under pressure, Cooper went for broke in his team selection. Having won just two away games in 2023, he made five changes from those who started Saturday’s defeat to Everton. He returned to a 4-1-4-1 formation and gave Divock Origi a first Premier League start since January 2021. None of it worked. Origi was rusty, while the change in personnel and formation meant Forest lacked cohesion. As the goals poured in, they lacked resolve too.

The outstanding Andrea Pereira would be Fulham’s heartbeat and inspiration, but Forest would ask no questions of him, let alone find any answers. The deluge was galvanised when Pereira’s free kick rattled the post just before the half-hour mark.

The warning was clear enough, but Forest neglected to read the runes. Disjointed and distracted, they were soon two down. First when Ibrahim Sangare was robbed by Raul Jimenez. The ball fell to Bassey, who charged forwards unchallenged and found Tom Cairney. Unlike the Forest defence, Cairney spotted Willian on the left. The Brazilian crossed beyond Murillo’s comical attempt at a diving header clearance. Harry Toffolo failed to notice the onrushing Alex Iwobi, who nipped in ahead of him to tuck away his second of the season at the back post.

Then Iwobi sped down the right, cut in to find Pereira whose lovely through ball was met by the galloping Jimenez. The Mexican expertly dinked his own second of the season over Odysseus Vlachodimos.

Inevitably,  Cooper made further changes at the break. Morgan Gibbs-White briefly offered Origi the striking support the Belgian craved, but Fulham’s response was a third goal. Pereira launched a precision long ball forwards. Apropos of nothing, Ola Aina foolishly flung himself to the ground. Jimenez collected and cheekily backheeled in.

Cooper chanced another pair of substitutions but by now, Forest were struggling to get out of their own half. As the away section stood in stony silence interspersed with occasional pro-Cooper chants, the home support speculated on the Forest head coach’s immediate employment prospects.

With the game already lost, Forest momentarily rallied, Danilo brought steel to a hitherto cotton wool midfield, while Chris Wood steered Aina’s cross just wide. Alas for them, Forest’s best moment was followed by a Fulham fourth when Harry Wilson met Pereira’s pass with a cross to the back post. Slumbering soundly, Aina again failed to read the danger. Iwobi swept in.

Forest’s misery was still not complete. In defensive disarray, they conceded a wretched fifth when Ryan Yates and Orel Mangala combined to lose possession. Brilliant and ruthless yet again, Pereria unleashed the onrushing Cairney, who rifled his first of the season past the bewildered Vlachodimos.

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