During the second half of last season, James Garner was a shining light in a substandard Nottingham Forest team then managed by Chris Hughton. The players ability to look so assured on the ball whilst able to pick out a forward pass was something that excited the TV watching Forest fans during a COVID closed campaign where they didn’t have much else to get excited by.
Garner struggled to find consistency at Watford, where he spent the first half of last season on loan from Manchester United. The midfielder was used infrequently and found himself as a bench player more often towards the latter end of his loan spell at Vicarage Road.
Manchester United recalled James Garner and sent him on loan to Forest for more game time, which was granted. After 19 starts, one appearance off the bench and four goals, Forest fans were hooked.
The East Midlands side spent most of the season steadily floating above the relegation zone and many fans believe that the drop would have been more likely had Forest not acquired Garner.
The impact the 20-year-old had made during his first loan spell led fans to become ecstatic when his return was announced this season. However, things didn’t start as swimmingly for the England Under-21s midfielder on his return to the City Ground.
Prior to Steve Cooper’s arrival, Garner started every game under Chris Hughton since he arrived this season. Garner’s performances were nothing to shout about in a side that was playing just as poorly as last the last campaign.
Once Steve Cooper arrived, Garner started the new manager’s first two games in charge. However, a cameo performance from Jack Colback at Barnsley was enough for Cooper to try Colback and Ryan Yates against Birmingham.
From Birmingham onwards, Yates and Colback struck up a partnership that Garner found difficult to break apart.
“It is sort of like having two bulldogs behind me, working together. It gives you some space; it is good for offensive players to have that” said Philip Zinckernagel after Nottingham Forest’s draw with Reading.
It took Ryan Yates and Jack Colback to earn suspensions against Luton and West Brom respectively for Garner to string a couple of starts together again. That coupled with Colback covering at left-back through injuries meant that Garner had more time to get into a rhythm.
After putting in a fair display against Luton and an even better performance against West Brom, it was Peterborough at home that Forest fans started to see the old James Garner back.
Garner was instrumental during the reds’ 2-0 win over Peterborough with a goal and an assist, as well as completing three key passes, two tackles, two interceptions and one clearance.
However, Garner played in a more advanced role during the win over Peterborough, hinting that he may see some minutes in that position once Max Lowe returns and Colback potentially shifts into midfield again.
Since the Peterborough game, though, Garner has struck up his own relationship in midfield with Ryan Yates and the duo massively contributed to Nottingham Forest’s 1-0 win over Arsenal on Sunday.
There will be good competition for the midfield positions with Braian Ojeda on the lookout also, a particularly good problem for Steve Cooper to have.
As alluded to already, James Garner’s primary role in Steve Cooper’s side is to protect the back line whilst using his ability to site key forward passes to break down the oppositions defence.
So far this season, Garner has completed 1.7 tackles, 1.3 interceptions and 1 clearance per game – protecting the back line. Garner has completed 26.3 passes per game with an 81% pass accuracy, with only Philip Zinckernagel (3) and Brennan Johnson (9) creating more ‘big chances’ for Forest.
The 20-year-old has also completed 1.3 key passes per game, with only Max Lowe (1.4) achieving slightly more for the reds. Garner also boasts a 73% dribble success rate with only Joe Worrall (94%) exceeding that number for Forest, though you imagine Garner is more liable to attempt dribbles and in more dangerous areas of the field than Worrall too.
James Garner may not have returned after this summer exactly as Forest fans might have first hoped, but a good run of games and opportunities have brought recent glimpses back from his form of last season. Jack Colback may soon return to the Reds midfield from his own cameo at left back, but Garner won’t make Steve Cooper’s life too easy in that decision, giving the manager a good problem too have, with competition healthy in Forest’s engine room right now.
*Article provided by Callum Castel (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC James Garner has shown recent glimpses of last seasons brilliant form.