Could Forest Now Look To The Kids?

How Nottingham Forest are combatting availability issues, could this present academy opportunities?

With numerous players returning from injury, but some players often facing repeated injury issues, Forest are battling against an ongoing problem that has most recently struck Chris Wood – Forest’s top scorer this season – who is unlikely to return until late March.

With issues persisting, and the potential for more to arise, could Nottingham Forest look to their academy for depth?

How bad really are Forest’s injury problems?

While not necessarily in complete ‘doom’ with injury related problems, the issues still exist. Losing your top scorer is always a massive loss. Players, even though they have returned, are always a risk in the first couple of games back – any sort of relapse with an injury would be highly detrimental; Forest have players back, and while the situation could be worse, issues are present – this could lead to some of the lesser-featured players get their chance. Perhaps an opportunity for academy products to get minutes, albeit likely limited.

Gonzalo Montiel & Chris Wood are both out with hamstring issues, with the Argentinian undergoing scans to test the severity, while the striker, Wood, had been given his prognosis already – six to eight weeks in rehabilitation, before any sort of return to first-team football. Felipe & Morgan Gibbs-White have also had their own individual struggles, especially during the extra time against Bristol City recently.

So from this, it goes back to the point about relapse – Gibbs-White returned, Felipe returned, Elanga returned. All fantastic bits of news, but keeping them fit is now the most important part. New signings will help this with depth, particularly Ribeiro & Reyna, who offer positional depth/quality going forward in the absence/potential absence of other options.

The AFCON affect:

Well, in quite typical Forest fashion, three of the clubs players – more than any other club in the Premier League – featured in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament last night, as Ivory Coast beat Nigeria in the continents most important footballing event. Ola Aina (Nigeria) and Ibrahim Sangaré (Cote d’Ivoire) both featured as the hosts won 2-1 whilst Willy Boly was also in the squad for the 2024 champions, at a time when Nottingham Forest could have really done with them being back in the Midlands.

Ola Aina’s speed going forward, defensive capabilities and good passing makes him an asset down the left flank, and for me, I feel he offers more than Harry Toffolo & Nuno Tavares all round. What both the other fullbacks don’t have, Ola Aina does – and while not exactly perfect, he would be my first choice in the position. His versatility is also important, and he can also feature on the right-side of a defence, making him a valuable asset for Nuno.

Ibrahim Sangaré, while not having showed his best as of yet, will have a big role to play on his return from his homeland. Danilo, while a fine young midfielder with a high-ceiling, isn’t as sharp on the ball as a defensive midfielder needs to be in the Premier League – up, should step, Sangaré with his top-level European experience, and with a bit of confidence, I don’t see why he can’t get time in the midfield, in tern helping make it a more robust unit. The need for a midfielder who is more press-resistant, quick thinking, and on occasion looking to pass out to the wide areas for Forest’s advancing fullbacks is important – Forest’s wide distribution, even from defensive positions, created lots of opportunities in the pockets of space created by a switch in play through those diagonal balls.  The Ivorian midfielder, on his return to Forest, has to put the work in and prove just how good he really is, because we know there is a player there, it just needs bringing out of him. Confidence will help. Opportunities are there for him to succeed.

Finally, and it goes without saying really, Willy Boly is heavily missed on Trentside. A unit, capable of good distribution, calm with the ball at his feet, and more than familiar with Nuno’s style of football – having spent seasons with him during the Portuguese coach’s successful time at Molinuex. The assurance and leadership is always a plus, and his aerial ability is superb, but in fairness, Omobamidele, Murillo and now Niakhaté, after his return, have been excellent, and showed good quality in the absence of some of the clubs best, and most senior defenders.

AFCON is the biggest loss, for me. But with the tournament now over, the players are almost ready to return home, potentially available for that clash against West Ham next week – a crucial game against a side that, as we know, pack punches.

Could Forest ‘dip into’ the academy for depth?

There is always a possibility. Joe Gardner got his first competitive minutes in the Garibaldi Red against Bristol City in the replay, which was fantastic to see. Good on the ball, confident, and got stuck in – a solid cameo, and actually, I feel it won’t be his last appearance in the side.

Forest have however already dipped into the academy for the 25-man squad list, as George Shelvey & Ateef Konaté both are now eligible and registered with the squad, meaning they can get minutes in the Premier League this season. While unexpected, after Forest’s squad trim, the club still has to name 25 players, hence the addition of Shelvey, Konaté & Laryea – they may not see a single minute, but the club has to, by Premier League rules, register 25 men’s team players. Players who are under/at the age of 21 can also feature, and do not need to be registered – hence the reason for no Murillo, Omobamidele, etc, in the 25-man squad list. 

Forest’s academy prospects range in every position; Gardner, McDonnell, Abbot, Osong, Shelvey & Konaté are those likely to have the best chance of minutes. Players with maturity, despite their young age, and a clear desire to break into the first-team, which, for a side in the top division, is incredibly tough.

With that being said, Forest’s availability issues now, and maybe in the future, present an ideal opportunity for those in the academy to get some minutes, and even if limited, they are still valuable opportunities to breakthrough, and make foundations for a career at the football club. Opportunities come from times of adversity, I can definitely see more academy player appearances before season-end.

Gardner’s debut has set a precedent: Nuno wants academy players in the team, he even said in a recent press-conference that a successful club has “at least one” academy player in the ranks, and stressed the important of academy inclusion in the first-team. Great to see really. 

Availability issues persist, but with AFCON returns on the horizon, academy players fighting for chances, and players returning from injury, there is certainly reasons for optimism.

*Article provided by Jamie Martin (Head Nottingham Forest Correspondent).

*Main image @NFFC Joe Gardner made his Forest debut in the cup win over Bristol City.

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