Nottingham Forest made it back-to-back victories with a comfortable 3-0 win over Wigan Athletic at The City Ground this evening.
In Dougie Freedman’s first home match as Reds manager, Britt Assombalonga gave his side the lead with a neat first-half finish but later left the field on a stretcher with what looked like a serious injury.
Chris Burke and Henri Lansbury had both added goals before Assombalonga’s substitution on an evening where Wigan rarely troubled their hosts.
Freedman named an unchanged starting line-up to the one that won at Brighton on Saturday.
That meant Karl Darlow kept his place between the sticks ahead of Dorus de Vries, who this week signed a two-year extension to his contract at The City Ground.
There was one change to Forest’s bench as Robert Tesche made way for Todd Kane. Former Red James Perch captained the visitors.
Forest started the match as they meant to go on - in the ascendancy. They had their first chance on four minutes when Burke crossed the ball to the back post for Michail Antonio, who leapt brilliantly but could only head it wide of the far post.
Gary Gardner was playing the defensive midfield role for The Reds but found himself in shooting positions twice in quick succession early on, both times blazing the ball off target from around 25 yards out.
Wigan’s new signing Kim Bo-Kyung offered The Latics’ response, stinging the palms of Darlow with a sweet strike from just outside the area. The keeper’s hands were strong enough to push the ball to safety.
Despite that minor scare, Forest were well in control. And, four minutes after Wigan keeper Ali Al Absi struggled to get to grips with a low Antonio piledriver, Forest had the lead.
Burke dropped into space, received the ball, turned and ran towards the edge of Wigan’s area. He played a perfectly weighted through ball for Assombalonga who rolled it first time beyond Al Habsi.
The breakthrough appeared to give Forest a further lift as they looked to extend their lead.
Within a minute of the restart, Osborn’s ball into the left-hand channel set up a one-on-one battle between Antonio and Perch. Antonio was the winner, leaving the full back on the grass in the area and offloading the ball to Lansbury. The former Arsenal man opened his foot on the shot but could only guide the ball over the crossbar.
Forest kept up their pressure and presented Antonio with his own chance to score seconds later. Ben Osborn was a split second too late to meet Assombalonga’s cross from the right but the ball ran through to the unmarked Antonio at the back post. The winger had time to control it before dragging it wide of the near post.
There were no changes for either side at half-time but Forest continued their dominance after the restart, Lansbury forcing a good save from Al Habsi with a half-volleyed effort following Osborn’s corner.
And it was 2-0 on 50 minutes as Forest’s wingers combined to devastating effect. Antonio showed excellent persistence to shrug off two challenges, with referee Oliver Langford playing a good advantage, before dinking the ball to Burke who had drifted in from the right. The Scotsman had to stretch to control it and to ensure he could run straight through on Al Habsi. After doing so, he took his time before firing the ball off the far post and into the net from eight yards.
That forced Wigan manager Malky Mackay into a change as he replaced Kim with Liverpool loanee Sheyi Ojo.
Lansbury was a man in good scoring form going into the match, and he may have found the net again just before the hour mark had a Wigan defender not managed to divert his shot out for a corner after the midfielder had carried the ball forward from midfield.
But Lansbury had his name on the scoresheet two minutes later. Fox received the ball from Assombalonga and the full back looked like he was about to cross it into the middle. Instead, he played it to Lansbury who curled the ball expertly into the far corner from the edge of the area.
Assombalonga looked like he was about to add even more joy to proceedings minutes later, racing towards goal, showing a stepover and shooting. But he fell as he struck the ball, sending it over the bar and immediately calling for treatment. There was clear concern from both sets of players and the striker was stretchered off, Matty Fryatt his replacement.
The stoppage dramatically slowed the tempo of the match, but Latics striker Leon Clarke had a good chance to give his side a lifeline with a quarter of an hour to play. He could only head the ball wide after a good cross from the left.
Freedman made his second change of the evening shortly afterwards, replacing Burke with Jamie Paterson, and with five minutes to go Antonio made way for Dexter Blackstock.
Ojo had shown signs of promise for Wigan since coming on and, shortly after play resumed, he unlocked the door for James McClean to break beyond Forest’s defensive line with a nice through ball. Darlow did brilliantly to rush out, narrow the angle and block McClean’s shot, smothering the ball.
The six minutes added on at the end of normal time passed without incident, leaving Freedman to reflect on an evening with plenty of encouraging signs, punctured somewhat by Assombalonga’s injury.