Nottingham Forest were beaten 1-0 in this evening’s season-opener at Brighton’s Amex Stadium.Kazenga Lua Lua’s individual effort early in the second half was enough to separate the sides.
Forest hit the post early on through captain Henri Lansbury and had several opportunities to equalise, but they were unable to find the net.
Dougie Freedman handed debuts to summer signings Matt Mills and Jamie Ward. Jack Hobbs partnered Mills in central defence, while Eric Lichaj and Danny Fox occupied the full back positions.
Michael Mancienne and Robert Tesche joined Lansbury in central midfield, with Michail Antonio and Ward providing width. Dexter Blackstock started the match as a lone striker and Dorus de Vries took his place between the sticks.
On the bench were Dimitar Evtimov, Jamie Paterson, David Vaughan, Chris Burke and youngsters Tyler Walker, Roger Riera and Jorge Grant.
Brighton started the match on the front foot and tested de Vries for the first time on five minutes. Lua Lua received the ball from Solly March in the area, took it down the outside of Lichaj and drilled it low towards goal. De Vries did well to hold on.
Forest came within inches of taking the lead in spectacular style three minutes later. Lansbury was hauled over by Dale Stephens 25 yards out and took charge of the subsequent free-kick. Ward knocked the ball to the midfielder, who curled it off the outside of David Stockdale’s far post.
The two sides were battling for dominance in the early exchanges and both had opportunities to take the lead around the 20-minute mark.
De Vries made a strong save from another low, close-range Lua Lua effort before claiming Tomer Hemed’s header moments later.
Forest offered an immediate response when the ball dropped for Antonio in the middle. He rolled it to his right for Ward to race into space. The new signing directed a floated cross into the middle which Blackstock did well to reach, but the striker could only direct his header wide.
It was proving to be an end-to-end affair. A minute after Blackstock’s attempt, Beram Kayal crashed the ball against the post with a low shot from 25 yards.
Seagulls stopper Stockdale was having a fairly quiet evening until Antonio picked the ball up just inside the Brighton half on 28 minutes. With little support from his team-mates, the winger beat a number of men and rode a trip from Stephens on his way to the edge of the area. Antonio struck the ball towards the corner but Stockdale did well to tip it wide. Stephens was retrospectively booked.
The pattern of the game suggested the home side would offer a swift retort, and they nearly had the opening goal when Stephens’ floated header appeared to be dipping under the crossbar. De Vries got there in time to tip it to safety.
There was nothing the keeper could do a minute later, however, as Sam Baldock bent the ball inches wide of the far post after excellent work by Lua Lua.
Forest were showing plenty of signs of promise themselves, and Ward had a debut goal in his sights when he received the ball with his back to goal on 36 minutes. He shifted it on to his left foot 30 yards out before striking it sweetly straight at Stockdale.
Freedman was forced into making his first change on 40 minutes when Tesche limped off with an injury. David Vaughan was his replacement.
It looked like the half was going to pass without further incident until, in the second of two added minutes, de Vries produced a superb save to deny Hemed. The Dutchman somehow got a hand to Hemed’s header to push the ball away and preserve parity for his side going into the interval.
But the 0-0 scoreline wasn’t to last long as, within five minutes of the restart, the home side took the lead.
Lua Lua was the scorer, using his searing pace to scamper away from Lichaj in the area before striking the ball left-footed across goal and into the far corner.
Forest were straight on the offensive in search of an equaliser. Fox crossed the ball from deep towards Blackstock at the far post. The striker did well to rise above his marker but, with the odds stacked against him, he could only nod it wide.
Antonio was next to have a go, controlling the ball well from Mills’ diagonal pass. The winger did well to knock it out of his feet with a Brighton defender hot on his heels, but he could only blaze his shot high and wide from just outside the area.
The Reds were now in the ascendancy and won a 58th-minute free-kick when Bruno was penalised for felling Antonio near the byline. Despite the tight angle, Lansbury opted for a powerful shot at goal. Stockdale punched the ball away strongly at he near post.
Another Bruno foul gifted Forest another free-kick two minutes later, this time in an excellent shooting position. Fox took charge this time but could only send the ball soaring over the bar.
Fox was replaced shortly afterwards, making way for Walker who joined Blackstock up front.
Mancienne switched to left back and was immediately put under pressure by March, who burst away from him and into the area. March got his shot all wrong, however, striking the ball wide of the near post.
A minute later Walker had a good chance to equalise after excellent work by Antonio, who cut the ball back for the young striker. Walker took a touch eight yards out but could only drag it wide with his left foot.
Another chance presented itself on 73 minutes when Seagulls skipper Gordon Greer bundled into the back of Antonio as the winger tried to bring down Mills’ long ball. The referee awarded Forest a free-kick just outside the ‘D’ and, in a retake of the move which saw him earlier hit the post, Lansbury received a lay-off from Ward. This time, however, he could only curl the ball over.
Still Forest pressed, forcing Brighton into a 77th-minute mistake and breaking into Brighton territory through Walker. His pace took him past Lewis Dunk and into the area but the defender appeared to get the faintest of touches on Walker’s shot. For a moment it looked like the ball may squirm under Stockdale’s body, but the keeper did enough and Brighton bundled the ball to safety.
The home side’s lead was hanging by a thread and Forest had a golden opportunity to equalise on 80 minutes. Antonio’s long throw was flicked on by Walker at the near post but, with the goal gaping and under close attention from a Brighton defender, Blackstock couldn’t turn the ball over the line.
Freedman’s final substitution saw Paterson replace Ward, but it was Walker once more who caused Brighton’s defence problems on 83 minutes when he turned his defender on the edge of the area to present a shooting opportunity on his left foot. He couldn’t strike the ball cleanly, however, and Stockdale claimed it easily.
The game was now severely stretched as Forest desperately sought an equaliser with minutes of normal time remaining. The hosts benefited, releasing March over the top and through one-on-one with de Vries. The angle and bouncing ball wasn’t ideal but the Brighton man will have been disappointed to blast it over the bar.
Four minutes of added time were allocated at the end of the match but Freedman’s men were unable to claim a deserved equaliser.
Forest: De Vries, Lichaj, Mancienne, Hobbs, Mills, Fox (Walker, 66'), Lansbury(C), Antonio, Tesche (Vaughan 40'), Ward (Paterson, 80'), Blackstock,
Subs not used: Evtimov, C. Burke, Riera, Grant
Bookings: Lichaj 12', Vaughan 87'
: BrightonStockdale; Bruno, Greer, Dunk, Bong; March, Stephens, Kayal, LuaLua (Rosenior 88'); Hemed (Ince, 78'), Baldock (O'Grady, 81').
Subs not used: Maenpaa (GK), Calderon, Rea, Forster-Caskey,
Bookings: Stephens 31', Kayal 42', Baldock 60', LuaLua 85'
Goal: LuaLua 49',
Referee: Keith Stroud
Att: 24,623 (1,550 away)