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Nottingham Forest and the tumultuous position of Goalkeeper

Since the departure of Brice Samba in 2022, Nottingham Forest have failed to replace their cult hero, bringing in four ‘keepers who have only added to the issue. Who are they, why haven’t they worked out and who could be next?


“Brice Samba saves it, and Forest are going to Wembley!” The words spoken with joy never felt before from a generation of Nottingham Forest supporters. The playoff final beckoned, Forest favourites, thanks to three magnificent saves in their semi-final penalty shootout from goalkeeper Samba. It was his moment.



When the ‘keeper hobbled off in stoppage time of the resulting final, one the Reds won – gaining them promotion, little did we know it would be the last time he’d be seen in between the Forest sticks. With five loan players featuring in the final, Forest’s squad was in turmoil following promotion; perhaps the only position that looked set in stone was their number one. Samba had the best save percentage in the league and was a dominant and loved figure in both the dressing room and within the fanbase.



Inexplicably, Samba was allowed to go, rejecting the terms presented to him by the club at the end of the season and moving to Lens in Ligue 1, where he has subsequently gained caps for the French National Team and captained Lens in the Champions League.


His departure sent Forest’s goalkeeping department into turmoil, losing their esteemed number one. They went in desperate search of a replacement, opting for the double-signing of Dean Henderson (on loan from Manchester United) and Wayne Hennessey, then manager Steve Cooper not confident in Forest’s second choice ‘keeper Ethan Horvath.


Henderson quickly became a fans favourite, saving penalties from Declan Rice and Harry Kane in his first two home games, his outgoing personality somewhat matching that of his predecessor. The one thing missing was the distribution; Samba could pick a man out anywhere on the pitch, right on the money, Henderson not so much. But given the changes made to adapt to Premier League football, it wasn’t a huge issue to Forest’s style.



All was going swimmingly until disaster happened. A Brennan Johnson brace saw Forest beat fierce rivals Leicester City, but at a cost, with Henderson sustaining a thigh injury that would see him out for the season. Luckily, it was January, so Forest could react, succeeding in an ambitious loan bid for PSG and ex-Real Madrid number one Keylor Navas.


Navas showed his age, making some fine saves that were complimented with errors that cost Forest, his tendency to parry into dangerous areas a serious concern for the Reds defence. He did get Forest over the line as they secured survival, but neither party pushed for the loan move to become permanent for the Champions League winner.



Last summer, it was clear that Forest needed stability. It took a while for them to draft someone in, signing Matt Turner just three days before the opening game of the season, ironically against Arsenal, his former team. Forest then signed Greek international Odysseas Vlachodimos from Benfica on deadline day; the fight for number one was on.


Turner remained in goal until November, blunders in possession his downfall as Forest attempted to play with more of the ball. His days as first-choice looked limited and the final nail in the coffin was away at Anfield, where he called for a ball yet didn’t get to it, leaving Mo Salah to tap into an empty net.



Vlachodimos started his first game against Aston Villa – a win, a clean sheet and a faultless performance from the debutant. From then on, it was downhill for the ‘keeper, conceding 12 goals in four matches, making just seven saves in that run and not getting anywhere near anything. He was dropped for Turner following a 5-0 defeat away at Fulham and has only featured in the cup since, conceding four goals in two games against League One Blackpool.


Turner has played in all eight league games since and has looked slightly more assured, but he has made four errors leading to goals since, against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Brentford and most recently last night against Arsenal. The choice for head coach Nuno Espírito Santo is as follows: a goalie who can’t save or a goalie who can’t kick.



No surprise then that Forest are searching for a new ‘keeper as deadline day looms large. Ex-Leicester stopper Kasper Schmeichel has been touted alongside RB Leipzig's Hungarian Peter Gulasci, although neither signing looks likely at this stage. The glaringly obvious mistake here is letting Samba go, a figure who was always going to be hard to replace, Forest certainly showing that.

 



 

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