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Awoniyi fires Forest to win over West Ham

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Taiwo Awoniyi scored his first Premier League goal as a Nottingham Forest player

Nottingham Forest secured a famous win as Taiwo Awoniyi scored the only goal to beat West Ham as Premier League football returned to the City Ground after a 23-year absence.

Awoniyi, Forest’s £17m record signing this summer, applied the first-time finish after Jesse Lingard’s effort had been deflected into his path off Hammers defender Ben Johnson.

Goalkeeper Dean Henderson was Forest’s other hero, denying Declan Rice with a second-half penalty save.

The Hammers could also reflect on two strikes from distance that hit the crossbar and another excellent Henderson save from Tomas Soucek as they started the season with successive defeats.

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However, for Forest and their boss Steve Cooper, it was another unforgettable day for a club who were bottom of the Championship less than 12 months ago.

Spurred on by a frenzied home crowd, Forest started on the front foot and had enough to keep West Ham at bay even after their energetic early efforts started to slow.

A famous Forest win

If there was an element of Forest not quite being ready for their top-flight return, given negotiations around a new kit sponsor are still to reach a conclusion and the most recent of their 14 summer signings – £20m forward Emmanuel Dennis and free-transfer arrival Cheikhou Kouyate – were not available, the same was not true of their fans.

For hours before kick-off, they thronged the streets around the City Ground and the noise they made when the home players emerged for their warm-up was only a foretaste of the spine-tingling reception when they emerged from the tunnel for real.

Forest responded by tearing into their opponents at a furious pace. Moussa Niakhate and Awoniyi both threatened with headers, while Neco Williams drew a decent save from Lukasz Fabianski, who also had to palm away a goal-bound header from team-mate Soucek.

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The backing kept Forest going on a blisteringly hot day – and the reward came in first-half stoppage time.

Awoniyi spent six years as a Liverpool player without making a single first-team appearance, before moving to Union Berlin in 2021 and then, a year later, to Forest.

As with a number of the club’s summer recruits, Awoniyi has a point to prove. His finish was reactive, but he needed to be in the right place at the right time – and his name will now go into Forest folklore along with all the other great names associated with the two-time European Cup winners.

Henderson is another who wants to show how good he is. The on-loan Manchester United man produced a superb save at the start of the second half when Soucek was first to the loose ball after Pablo Fornals’ strike bounced off the bar.

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Dean Henderson saves Declan Rice's penalty.

Declan Rice has now missed two of the three penalties he has taken in the Premier League

His best moment was still to come though. With England coach Gareth Southgate watching on from the directors’ box and coming 24 hours after United keeper David de Gea’s nightmare at Brentford, it could not have come on a better day as he went to his right to repel Rice’s spot-kick after Scott McKenna’s handball.

Forest thought they had a second through Brennan Johnson but it was ruled out for offside after a VAR intervention.

It didn’t matter in the end, although there was one negative in the injury centre-back Niakhate picked up before the end.

This would have been an awkward assignment for West Ham anyway given the atmosphere they were bound to encounter.

But they hardly helped themselves.

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With penalty expert Mark Noble retiring, Rice has taken that responsibility as well as the captain’s armband.

However, his spot-kick was poor and lacked the accuracy to take it beyond Henderson’s reach.

Rice had earlier set Said Benrahma up with a superb defence-splitting pass, only for the goal to be ruled out because Michail Antonio – given a standing ovation from the home fans when he was substituted in recognition of the season he spent as a Forest player – had barged over Orel Mangala in the build-up.

Benrahma also hit the bar with another superb effort, with Soucek denied a tap-in as Harry Toffolo made a dramatic clearance on the line.

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With £30.5m striker Gianluca Scamacca unable to make an impact after replacing Antonio, West Ham find themselves without a point after two games and plenty of work ahead of them if they are to match the last two seasons’ top-seven finishes.

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