Never fall in love with a loan player they say. Nicky Shorey, Jack Colback and James Garner are all players that came to the City Ground on a temporary basis and left with Forest fans wanting more.
Since arriving on loan from Middlesbrough on September 1st, Djed Spence has become a regular starter and a clear fan favourite at Nottingham Forest. Spence is a fast, versatile, skilful full-back/wing-back and has made a significant impact at the City Ground since arriving, after falling out of favour under Neil Warnock at Middlesbrough.
However, Spence has started 18 games for Forest this season, including all 15 games that Steve Cooper has overseen since taking charge. After looking consistently impressive, Spence has piqued the interest of his parent club and new Middlesbrough manager, Chris Wilder, is now looking to activate the recall clause that would see the defender head back to North Yorkshire.
Forest fans have been disappointed and anxious at the idea of Djed Spence leaving the club in January, so they became excited to see John Percy of the Daily Telegraph announce on social media, “Nottingham Forest will prioritise the signing of a striker in January, likely to be a Premier League loan. Targets include Aston Villa’s Keinan Davis and Arsenal’s Folarin Balogun. Norwich City’s Adam Idah also discussed but unlikely at this stage. Forest also hopeful Djed Spence will stay, player very keen to complete the season”.
In fact, fans were so happy with this news that responses were more related to Djed Spence completing the season than Forest signing a new Premier League striker on loan. One fan commented, “I’m more happy that Djed Spence wants to see the season out than us signing a striker”.
Prior to John Percy’s statement, Spence appeared positive about his time at Forest already. “I am enjoying myself; I am just really happy. When you play every game you start to build confidence,” says Spence. “It is flattering to hear that (fans would like to see him sign permanently) but I just want to focus on winning with the team. Hopefully, we can make the play-offs.
“It is always good to think about your future, but you have to think about the present as well, or it can become a distraction. I want to do well for Forest and see where that takes us.”
When Spence arrived at Forest, it was unclear to Reds fans how good a fringe player of a side that finished 10th in the Championship last season could be. A Middlesbrough fan even took to Nottingham Forest’s Twitter announcement of Spence’s arrival to say, “He is decent at times but sometimes does too much, his defending needs to improve though, he is very hit and miss. I’m expecting him to start great for you then probably end up on the bench”.
However, it didn’t take long to see that Spence was more hit than miss during two of his early games against Huddersfield and Birmingham.
During his second game for Forest against Huddersfield, Spence showed his defensive strengths with three interceptions, one blocked shot, one clearance and two ground duels won. The 21-year-old was also able to show his offensive capability in a new back five system, completing one successful dribble, one long pass, one shot on target as well as being fouled once.
It was against Birmingham, though, where Spence managed to flourish offensively whilst still operating on the right of a back five. Spence had 68 touches of the ball, completed 22 passes, registered two key passes, two shots on target, was fouled three times and scored his first goal in the Garibaldi red. Defensively, the wing-back managed to recover the ball three times, complete three interceptions and block one shot against Birmingham. This is when Forest fans started to sit up and realise that their new loanee has a bit of everything.
A few games down the line, Jack Colback commented on how well new wing-backs, Spence and Max Lowe fitted into the new Forest back five.
“It is massive, having that (versatility). The three at the back, with the two wing-backs we have, in Djed and Max — they are perfect for those roles and offer such a good attacking threat,” said Colback. “It is no coincidence that we have had the results we have had. People talk about new manager bounce but, for me, that lasts for one game. We have got the results we have had through playing a good system and having a good way of playing. The formation just suits us with the players we have.”
One thing that is abundantly clear, though, is that Spence can operate on the right-hand side of a back five but can also perform just as well in a back four. The 21-year-old is able to control his runs to the appropriate level without as much cover around him.
In a back four against Preston, Spence won five ground duels, two aerial duels, four interceptions and three tackles. Though the defensive duties appear more strenuous, Spence still had 78 touches of the ball, completing 36 passes, two long balls and one dribble.
Forest are now managing to fluctuate between formations now under Steve Cooper and Djed Spence is one of the main reasons why. Max Lowe has also managed to make a similar impact since arriving on loan from Sheffield United, but whilst he has been injured and covered by Gaeten Bong, Jack Colback and Jordi Osei-Tutu, Spence has been operating that right hand-side since his first game for Forest.
As highlighted already, Djed Spence has been highly impactful defensively and offensively for Forest. So far this season, Spence has completed the most successful dribbles per game (1.7) throughout the squad, completing 48% of his attempts. Spence and Lowe have also registered the most big chances created (2) for Forest out of the defenders, but no defender has had more shots on goal per game than Spence (0.7).
The 21-year-old has also won one of Forest’s three penalties this season, against Bristol City. This penalty was the epitome of Spence’s style of attacking play, receiving the ball, and directly running at the opposition, before diverting one way and being hacked down by the defender. The penalty scored by Lyle Taylor was also the goal that bought Forest back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 at the end of the game.
Defensively, only Joe Worrall (2.1) and Max Lowe (1.8) have more interceptions per game than Spence (1.6) this season. The defender also completes 1.5 tackles and 1.1 clearances per game. The defender also completes 25.8 (74%) accurate passes per game, with 13.3 being in his own half, progressing the ball through defence.
With the news that Djed Spence may be staying at the City Ground to see out his loan term, a poll was put out on social media to ask how Forest fans would feel about it.
A total of 193 Forest fans voted, with a humongous 96% of fans selected ‘Best news of the season’, showing just how important the defender has been to the fans. A mere 3% voted ‘Let him for and upgrade’, whilst 1% voted ‘Other (comment)’, with that fan commenting, “Buy him.”
#NFFC fans, you know the drill…
With news that Djed Spence could be staying in January, how would you feel about it?
— Callum Castel-Nuovo (@callumcasteln) December 13, 2021
With such a landslide of fans responding very positively to the news that Spence may see the season out in the garibaldi red, it is clear that fans are falling in love with a loan player, and it is even clearer why.
*Article provided by Callum Castel (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC Djed Spence has been a huge hit on loan at Forest this season.