Marsch ‘in disbelief’ at Leeds defeat at Nottingham Forest after Johnson volley

<span>Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Leeds’s performances are on an upward trajectory, as Jesse Marsch likes to remind everyone, but unfortunately they have not won in their past seven matches and have put the head coach under pressure. 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 that 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, with chants for him to leave coming from the away end, a viewpoint Marsch “understands”.

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“I take full responsibility, I have to find a way of turning good performances more into winning because that’s exactly where we are and have been for a little while. That is the last step for the potential of where we need to be at,” Marsch said. “When I sit on the touchline at the end of the match I am almost in disbelief that we find a way to lose this match because for me we were better in almost every phase and moment.”

The visitors started brighter, playing slick short passing in the Forest half, while the home side struggled to get hold of the ball. This is the way Marsch wants Leeds to play but it is not providing the results required. Luis Sinisterra could have opened the scoring within three minutes but Navas showed why he has been signed on loan 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.

Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson beats the Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier to score
Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson beats the Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier to score the only goal of the game at the City Ground. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA

The goal did not change the flow of the game, with Leeds impressing when in possession between the halfway and edge of the box but struggling to make an impact where it matters most. Willy Gnonto got in behind the Forest defence and calmly laid the ball into the path of Sinisterra, only for the 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, 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 teammate Willy Boly, although he was fine to continue. “He [Navas] was brilliant in the first half,” Steve Cooper said. “I loved his composure and game management and decision making. I really enjoyed that part of his performance.”

Cooper made vital changes at half-time, bringing on Serge Aurier and Jack Colback for Orel Mangala and Danilo. 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 which generally ran out of steam before reaching the Leeds area.

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After a busy first half, Navas was allowed time to take in his surroundings because Leeds lost discipline and lacked their early rhythm. Forest worked extremely hard to limit the opportunities after the break, looking more solid after the changes by Cooper, to move six points clear of the relegation zone.

“I am learning to enjoy wins when you don’t play well,” Cooper said. “Even though that is the first time we’ve won a game and not played great this year – and maybe we deserve that – at the same time, we need to play better than that in the first half in the Premier League to try and pick up wins.”

Marsch called for Leeds’ record signing, Georginio Rutter, from the bench to make his league debut in the hope he could be the striker to take a chance but he looked exactly 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 as Forest 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.