OPINION: Forest young guns give food for thought for the future

Forest academy product - Forest star Ben Brereton - Pic By James Williamson
Forest academy product - Forest star Ben Brereton - Pic By James Williamson

The international break provided a great opportunity to keep tabs on Nottingham Forest U23s, and their patchy 1-1 draw with Leeds United provided plenty of food for thought.

I’ve kept a close eye on the various academy sides since I began my column three years ago, and during that short period I’ve witnessed the meteoric rise of prospects like Joe Worrall and Ben Brereton, from U18s to the first XI.

That first academy game I covered was an 8-2 demolition of Coventry City U18s, in which Elvis Otim ran the midfield, Jordan Wright produced a stunning penalty save and a 15-year-old Ben Brereton scored four times.

Shamefully, last Friday’s clash with Leeds at the City Ground was my first academy game of the season.

So, it was a blessing that I was accompanied by lifelong friend and Forest fan Will Lillejord; a man who’s no stranger to the U23 matches.

Will was quick to note the various absentees due to international duty and injury but, nevertheless, there were a host of individuals to focus on.

The stand-out player for me over the last few seasons has been Elvis Otim, a cracking talent who could possibly fill the boots of David Vaughan one day.

Otim does the simple things brilliantly but is too lightweight for Championship football at present, so I was keen to see if he’d both progressed and, just as importantly, filled out a little.

Lewis Walters is another youngster who I rate highly, so it was intriguing to see him in the starting XI.

However, the brightest aspect of the opening 45 minutes was the unexpected November sunshine.

The 200 or so supporters in the lower tier Brian Clough Stand witnessed little quality, as they caught glimpses of possession between the odd bit of blinding.

Forest were massively disjointed and lost possession time after time, which spurred on Leeds into grabbing an early goal.

The Yorkshire outfit were getting too much space down the right flank, and it was from that very area that they created the chance for Oriol Rey to smash home a wonderful half-volley from the edge of the 18-yard-box.

Forest would have been further behind but for the brilliance of Jordan Wright, who kept the deficit down to one goal at the half time whistle.

Gary Brazil would have had plenty to say at the break, and it certainly did the trick, as the home side finally clicked into gear. The Reds were so disjointed in that first half that it was difficult to see whether they were playing 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 at times.

But Brazil’s Championship experience permeated through his players as they scored a fabulous equaliser five minutes after the restart.

Virgil Gomis finished off a superlative one touch passing move down the left - exactly the kind of play that Mark Warburton is desperate to impress upon his first teamers.

Jordan Gabriel sprang into life towards the latter stages of the game.

He seems to have lost a little bit of fire in his defending, but certainly made up for it when going forward, it was like watching Tendayi Darikwa at times.

He, along with the likes of Walters and Otim, certainly improved over the course of the game, but I was disappointed with Toby Edser.

The highly rated 18-year-old certainly has ability, but lacks consistency in his midfield game.

Edser has a tendency to drift in and out of matches, but he has plenty of time to work on such flaws given his tender age.

The game itself finished all square but, as I mentioned earlier, there was lots to learn about the young hopefuls.

Notably, Forest’s two substitutes, Brennan Johnson and Jayden Richardson, were excellent having come on late into the game - their energy and decision making was top drawer.

Defensively, Adam Crooks was very solid at centre half but I give the man of the match accolade to goalkeeper Jordan Wright, not just for the numerous one on ones he managed to save, but for his commanding presence and domination of the 18-yard-box.

If he continues in this form, a spot on the first team bench could be a realistic possibility before the season’s end.