This was a frustrating, sapping 90 minutes of football and Steve Cooper is unlikely to care. Nottingham Forest need points and earned one here with a robust defensive performance that rendered irrelevant the fact they barely mounted an attack of note. They are off the bottom for now after riding their luck for spells of the first half and expertly managing most of the second. For Brighton the concerns are obvious: their old impotence has returned and, having failed to oversee a goal in their past three games, Roberto De Zerbi still awaits his first win.
Cooper emerged from the tunnel three minutes before his players, saluting the boisterous away support before taking his seat. Whatever the reason for being so early, it could not have been in order to sit comfortably. Forest are rarely able to do that and were on the back foot in the opening exchanges, conceding two quick corners and struggling to make anything stick from their morsels of possession.
All the same 12 minutes passed before they were seriously stretched, Leandro Trossard checking inside before forcing Dean Henderson to palm a well-struck curler over his bar. When Solly March sped down the right shortly afterwards but failed to look up and feed an onrushing Pascal Gross, the iffy final-third decisions that dogged Brighton’s defeats by Spurs and Brentford loomed large.
Adam Lallana, starting for the first time under De Zerbi, intelligently found a pocket of space in the box but was quickly shut down. His head coach, an agitated touchline presence, swivelled in frustration and reached for a water bottle. The home defenders were not always calming him, twice dwelling on the ball long enough for the buzzy Brennan Johnson to briefly threaten punishment.
An increasingly scratchy first half was livened when, just before the half-hour, Forest made a hash of clearing a left-sided free-kick and Joël Veltman could only smash the loose ball high. It prompted a marked increase in tempo and, finally, Brighton contrived a move of speed and precision. Moisés Caicedo’s shot was blocked after a slick exchange of passes through the middle and spun into the path of Trossard, whose half-volley was sumptuously struck but smacked the top of the bar.
Now the chances began to mount. March was next to have a go, demanding a smart low save from Henderson at the near post. Then Trossard stole in behind Serge Aurier and centred for Gross, beautifully placed in the centre, to shoot straight at the keeper when a finish to either side would have borne fruit.
Forest were utterly insipid but, when Johnson charged down a Robert Sánchez clearance, their fans cheered as if hailing a goal. They were determined to enjoy their night, roaring encouragement at the faintest moments of intent from their players all half. It was exceptionally thin gruel but, after Adam Webster flashed a Gross cutback over, they could celebrate parity at the break.
Within three minutes of the restart Henderson beat away Danny Welbeck’s volley from a corner. Brighton were yet to work him hard enough and the tale continued to look familiar. Welbeck proved the point again when rising to meet a Veltman cross but heading wide.
Forest had not made too many aberrations at the back but, when Steve Cook fluffed a clearance, Trossard had a chance to release Welbeck. The striker could not control and the home support, audibly uneasy, groaned in unison.
They might have pinched themselves when Forest finally managed an attempt, Johnson outsprinting Webster before screwing his effort out for a throw-in. Ryan Yates fizzed a cross-shot beyond everyone at the three-quarter mark and it was some sort of reminder that Brighton’s profligacy could yet be rudely punished.
The hosts, increasingly frustrated by Forest’s efforts to run down the clock, were running out of ideas but forced Henderson into his best stop nine minutes from the end. It came from an effort by Gross, teed up by Welbeck and the substitute Tariq Lamptey, that bounced up off the ground. Henderson saved acrobatically to his right but, once again, the strike had not been clean enough.
Five minutes of added time were not enough to bring another chance; Forest looked comfortable now and the travelling faithful could hail their draw.