Dale Taylor; The Litmus Test For A New Academy Direction?

It is uncertain times in the academy at Nottingham Forest, amidst the departure of a widely appreciated figure, Gary Brazil, after ten years with the club, in which an extensive amount of talent rose through.

This talent includes Brennan Johnson, Ryan Yates, and Joe Worrall, who all played a role in the retention of Forest’s Premier League status, but also the likes of Matty Cash, Ben Brereton, Arvin Appiah, and Oliver Burke, for whom the club received healthy transfer fees.

As the academy appears to be entering into a transitional stage, one crucial imperative is the maintenance of this pipeline of talent, as such, a focus upon the progress of the next generation of academy graduates will doubtless provide insight into the early impacts of the changes made.

Dale Taylor fits the profile of this next generation well, having made just one appearance for the first team, his loan to Burton Albion in January 2023 has revealed his ability to succeed within the football league.

Should Forest wish to kick on and cement their top-flight status, they would do well to avoid neglecting the progress of players in these tiers – you would need a short memory to forget where the crucial figures of Ryan Yates and Brennan Johnson were plying their trade just a few years ago!

When Taylor joined, Burton were mired in the relegation zone, having been there since the first day of the season. Their eventual 15th place finish was something that Taylor undoubtedly contributed towards – making twenty appearances and scoring five, as well as assisting one – outperforming his expected figures in both metrics.

His sharp-shooting was of specific importance, with four right-footed finishes, including a goal on his debut, where he played all ninety minutes, helping Albion to a 2-0 victory over relegation rivals Oxford United on the 28th of January.

After a dry spell in February, the run in the first team began to pay off in March, netting the opener in a vital home win against Wycombe on the 11th. This continued with a brace just one week later against another relegation battler, Port Vale, helping Albion to a 3-2 away victory, having gone a goal down after just two minutes.

This rich vein of form also found Taylor getting a call-up to the Northern Ireland national team, where he did not feature, yet on his return he began April as he left March.

Albion gained four more points from their next two, including a 2-1 home victory over high-flying Barnsley on the 7th, in which Taylor scored a late goal to provide some short-lived comfort, yet Albion clung on for a vital three points. The goals kept flowing for Burton at both ends, with a 3-2 loss to Charlton preceding a shock 3-2 victory over Sheffield Wednesday on the 15th of April.

Taylor led the line throughout his spell, operating in a 3-4-3 formation, not unlike the style employed by Steve Cooper, particularly during Forest’s momentous 2021-22 season. His diminutive figure saw him struggle to make a big impact on occasion, notably, in nine of his twenty appearances he amassed the fewest touches of any outfield player to play the full ninety.

Contributing to this was the style deployed by Nigel Clough’s side, as Taylor won just 22% of his aerial duels during these fixtures. His contribution becomes more obvious when one studies his passing and dribbling competencies, he accrued the most completed dribbles of any player in four games.

Come the end of the season, Taylor featured off the bench twice for Northern Ireland, his second and third caps for his country, a fitting end to a season in which the young forward gained vital first-team experience. Just last night, on the 19th of June, Taylor managed to get 19 minutes off the bench for Northern Ireland, during their 1-0 loss to Kazakhstan.

Despite the poor result, Taylor made 9 of 10 successful passes, creating one chance, completing one of one attempted dribble, and making a successful tackle. Consistent with his time at Burton, he only won one of four aerial duels, indicating that his next loan spell ought to be carefully selected in order to complement his characteristics well – avoiding the mistake which saw Alex Mighten’s loan to Sheffield Wednesday cut short, due to Darren Moore’s wing back formation.

Building upon the first team experience gained next year is crucial, and Taylor’s progress will represent some early signals of the direction of the academy’s new leaders.

While a long road to the first team lies ahead, and the club’s Premier League status profoundly alters this transition from academy to first team – perhaps the reasoning for the structural changes within the academy – developing the existing talent, such as Taylor, will be critical for building the foundations for future success.

*Article provided by James Scott (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).

*Main image @burtonalbionfc Dale Taylor celebrates scoring whilst on loan at Burton.

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