Nottingham Forest slump to disappointing 3-0 home defeat against Millwall thanks to Matt Smith hat-trick

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A 13-minute first-half hat-trick from Matt Smith saw Nottingham Forest slump to a disappointing home defeat at the hands of Millwall.

Smith scored two headers either side of deflecting home a low shot from team-mate Jayson Molumby to send Forest crashing to a fifth home defeat and dent their hopes of automatic promotion – perhaps permanently.

The defeat left the Reds eight points adrift of second-place Leeds, having played a game more, and with only nine games left.

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After four points from two long away trips, Nottingham Forest returned to the City Ground, once again under the lights, once again in front of the TV cameras for the first of 10 ‘cup finals’ to the end of the season as the Reds looked to keep up the pressure on the top two as they chased a play-off spot – or better.

Joe Lolley, of Nottingham Forest, is put under pressure Mason Bennett, of Millwall.Joe Lolley, of Nottingham Forest, is put under pressure Mason Bennett, of Millwall.
Joe Lolley, of Nottingham Forest, is put under pressure Mason Bennett, of Millwall. | Getty Images

That the visitors were Millwall, managed by Gary Rowett, dodgy trainers and all, meant most Reds fans were cautious, if not downright downbeat before the game – not helped by the matchday programme proudly declaring how the Reds hadn’t beaten the visitors since August 2017 and had just one win in nine games against them.

Records are there to be broken, but not on this occasion.

Manager Sabri Lamouchi made one change from the side which drew 2-2 at Middlesbrough, Joao Carvalho earning a starting spot on the back is his impressive late cameo at the Riverside, with Alfa Semedo dropping back to a more withdrawn role alongside captain Ben Watson and Ryan Yates dropping to the bench.

And it was Carvalho who drew the first save of the match after four minutes, but his powerful low shot was straight at Bartosz Bialkowski in the Millwall goal.

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Indeed, Forest’s record signing was impressing in the opening spell in his first Championship start of the year, finding pockets of space and incisive passes as he looked to answer Lamouchi’s demand to see more from the player.

Millwall on the other hand, having seen Middlesbrough’s success with 6ft 4in Rudy Gestede a few days earlier, were content to send high balls forward in the direction of 6ft 6in striker Smith, a player who, like Gestede, has enjoyed success against Forest in the past.

And it was Smith who broke the deadlock, against the run of play, in the 20th minute, stooping between Joe Worrall and Tobias Figueiredo to head home Murray Wallace’s left-wing cross after he beat Ben Watson too easily by the corner flag.

It was 2-0 just five minutes later as Millwall enjoyed more success down the left-hand side. This time Jed Wallace robbed Alfa Semedo before supplying Mason Bennett – on loan from Forest’s rivals Derby County. His low cross found Molumby arriving late on the edge of the box to sidefoot home, via thedeflection off Smith, into the bottom left-hand corner of Brice Samba’s goal.

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And the Lions were 3-0 up against shellshocked Forest in the 33rd minute as Smith claimed a 13-minute first-half hat-trick, towering above Worrall to head in Shane Ferguson’s superb inswinging corner at the far post.

Forest looked to pull one back before the break, but, despite some sustained pressure, could not find a way past a organised Millwall team and were greeted by a chorus of boos at the half-time whistle as the home fans were reminded of Sheffield Wednesday’s visit in mid December, when they reached the break 4-0 down thanks to a Jordan Rhodes hat-trick.

Lamouchi made one change at half-time in a bid to get something from the game, with John Bostock who, like Carvalho, had impressed as a substitute at Boro, on for the disappointing Semedo.

Forest dominated the second half, but ineffective cross after cross were easily dealt with by the excellent Millwall defence, Bialkowski only seeing his first action 20 minutes into the half to parry away a powerful 30-yard drive from Bostock.

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Forest did have a great chance when Walker broke free down the right-hand side, but the substitute wasted the opportunity when his early cross found the only defender in the box instead of the unmarked Lewis Grabban.

Bialkowski was called into action again after 77 minutes, this time diving to his right to spectacularly turn away Bostock’s 25-yard drive, but Forest couldn’t find the breakthrough their possession called for, but didn’t merit against the excellent visiting defence and Millwall held on for a deserved clean sheet and all three points.

Forest: Samba; Cash, Ribeiro, Figueiredo, Worrall; Watson, Semedo (Bostock, 45); Lolley (Diakhaby, 80), Carvalho (Walker, 71), Ameobi ; Grabban, Subs not used: Muric, Jenkinson, Dawson, Yates.