Bristol City well and truly ruined Martin O’Neill’s welcome home party this afternoon as a goal from Famara Diedhiou gave Lee Johnson’s side a narrow 1-0 victory at the City Ground.
All the build-up to the game had focused on O’Neill returning to Nogttingham Forest, the club where had won two successive European Cups under legendary manager Brian Clough, but there was to be no fairytale beginning as Forest put in a stuttering, below-par performance to slip to their second successive league defeat.
O’Neill almost enjoyed a perfect start as his side went close to taking the lead in their first venture forward. A cross from the left from Ben Osborn found Joe Lolley in the box and his first-time volley creeped just past the post.
It was then the turn of the visitors to chase the opener and they too went close. An Andres Weimann volley from a few yards out stung the palms of Forest ‘keeper Costel Pantilimon before physical forward Famara Diedhiou looked to have worked an opening, only to see his effort blocked.
Bristol City continued to look the most likely and a neat, counter-attacking move ended in Callum O’Dowda drilling a low shot towards the bottom corner which Pantilimon did well to palm away.
With his new charges under some early pressure, O’Neill was continuously prowling the edge of his technical area trying to orchestrate proceedings and it almost paid off. Terrific work by Lewis Grabban kept the ball on the edge of the Bristol area and he set the ball for Osborn who saw his cross headed over by Lolley.
The early excitement in the game seeped out as the first half wore on and both sides were limited to half chances. Matty Cash smashed over the bar from range for Forest, whilst for the visitors, Diedhiou saw a header comfortably saved by Pantilimon.
It remained goalless at the break but Jamie Paterson almost fired Bristol City ahead early in the second period and Pantilimon was at his best to stretch out a hand and save his superb volleyed effort.
Yohan Benalouane had only been at Forest a matter of days and he almost marked his debut with a goal in the 66th minute. Joe Lolley swung a corner into the box and the former Leicester man rose highest only to see Fielding do brilliantly to get behind it.
Forest then went close again minutes later as they enjoyed their best spell of the game so far. Daryl Murphy used his strength to wriggle free of a defender on the edge of the box and lashed a left-footed effort towards goal but could only find the side netting.
The opening goal finally arrived in the 70th minute and it went to Bristol City. A brilliant ball threaded through the Forest defence found Weimann clear on the right of the box and he pulled it back for Diedhiou, who slotted into the empty net.
Forest were now having to chase the game and they almost got an equaliser moments after going behind. Murphy found some room inside the box and his effort looked to have Fielding beaten, but a defender was on hand to hack the ball away.
In the dying embers of the game, Bristol almost doubled their advantage. Weimann found space on the right of the Forest area but he rushed his shot and fired straight at Pantilimon.
Forest threw everything at their opponents in the final few minutes but got no reward as Bristol City hung on to secure the three points.
FOREST XI (4-4-2): Pantilimon (GK); Janko, Benalouane, Robinson, Osborn; Lolley, Colback, Yacob © (Guedioura 69’), Cash (Dias 73’); Grabban
SUBS NOT USED: Steele (GK), Watson, Carvalho, Goncalves, Yates.
BRISTOL CITY XI: Fielding (GK), Pisano, Dasilva (Kelly 79’), Baker, Brownhill, Diedhiou (Wright 90’), O’Dowda, Weimann, Paterson (Palmer 64’), Pack ©, Kalas.
SUBS NOT USED: O’Leary (GK), Eliasson, Morrell, Eisa.
REFEREE: Jeremy Simpson.
ATTENDANCE: 28,922 (1,570 away).