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The Shining Lights in Nottingham Forest’s Underwhelming Season

Nottingham Forest have largely underperformed their pre-season ambitions, falling by a place and six points from last season. However, there have still been some standout performances from their players.

Summer 2023 provided yet another influx of signings. On the back of signing more than 30 players last season, many thought that the summer window would be more about recruiting quality rather than quantity.

Evangelos Marinakis had other ideas.

The Reds made 14 signings last summer, something not too uncommon for Forest but an obscene number for most other clubs. Three more followed in January, with some hits but plenty of misses. Both summer goalkeepers were woeful and the transfer fee paid for Ibrahim Sangaré (£30million) seems rather steep given his status as fourth-choice holding midfielder.

But there have been a few hits, hits that Forest have to thank for retaining their Premier League status:


Thirteen professional league games were all the Brazilian had under his belt before being signed by Forest for just shy of £11million. One for the future, right?

Wrong. Murillo had to wait until October to get his chance in the Garibaldi, but once he did, there was no dropping him. Instantly, it was clear he was special.

In just his second game, his gushing confidence and tremendous ability were perfectly illustrated by a mazy run through the Crystal Palace midfield as he nearly scored a truly stunning goal. He made it a trio of goal of the season near misses with two strikes from inside his own half against Luton and Spurs, the latter from all of 70 yards.

He hasn’t just stood out going forward though. Forest ended the season with the fifth-worst defensive record, so praising a defender so heavily may seem daft. But without Forest’s treasured number 40, they’d be in one hell of a rut.

He is always primed to make a last-ditch tackle, block or clearance, has constantly had to cover for his substandard defensive partners and has bullied the likes of Dominic Solanke and Luis Diaz this season. Rightly, he has started to gain the plaudits he deserves and staved off competition from Morgan Gibbs-White to win the fans’ player of the season award.

Murillo has been a revelation this season, and he’s a player Forest will be lucky to keep hold of come deadline day 2024.

Ola Aina

For a free transfer, they don’t come much better.

Aina was one of the first names through the door this summer, and it was one that largely went under the radar until he stepped onto the pitch. The Nigerian has pretty much been the first name on the team sheet when fit and has excelled in all areas.

Defensively, he’s been monumental. Very few wingers have gotten the best of him, and his pace allows him to be immense at ball recovery. Going forward he’s frequently been a one-man band down the wings with narrow formations often deployed, and he even left Kyle Walker for dead —no mean feat.

His ability to play on both sides and as part of a back three or four and still perform to such a high level has seen him play pretty much every minute he’s been available. These performances have seen him truly merit an extension to his contract, with the club announcing yesterday that he will be staying for another year at least.

Matz Sels

The saviour.

As mentioned, the signings of Matt Turner and Odysseas Vlachodimos were drastic failures. The pair filled nobody with confidence and seemed to make a mistake leading to a goal in every game. Forest had to rectify the situation and Sels seemed to be last choice, with the club said to have had interest in David de Gea, Caoimhin Kelleher and Aaron Ramsdale, amongst others, declined.

The statistics suggest Sels hasn’t been a huge improvement, something that shows football isn’t played on paper.

Belgium’s current number one has been a steady and safe pair of hands between the sticks. He has commanded his area, distributed competently and made a collection of clutch saves, including the one against Liverpool that saw him win save of the month for March.

Forest fans were all wary of Sels purely because of the failings of the duo before him. He hasn’t shone but hasn’t stuck out like a sore thumb, and for the level Forest are at, that does the job. Because were the mistakes from Turner and the flapping of Vlachodimos to continue, Forest may well have been down.

Chris Wood

After starting just three games on loan last season, Forest were obliged to buy Wood from Newcastle this summer, an outcome that frustrated many Reds fans at the time. The Kiwi failed to have much presence and didn’t seem to fit Forest’s style.

That all changed this term, particularly under new manager Nuno Espírito Santo, with his goals firing Forest to safety. Wood finished the season with 14 PL goals in just 20 starts, with a record of a goal every other game if you include all of his appearances.

A run of 10 goals in 12 games from December to April saw Wood climb up the golden boot table as Forest simultaneously remained above the relegation zone for the entire season.

His hattrick at St James’ Park on Boxing Day showed former club Newcastle exactly what they were missing; there has also been a stark improvement with his hold-up and link play as his confidence has risen.

The biggest praise is probably that Forest haven’t seemed to have missed their feared number nine Taiwo Awoniyi, who has missed more than half of their games, also meaning Wood has had very little rest when available.

Wood went through a torrid spell in April as he frustratingly failed to net in five, but his brace on the final day against Burnley reminded everyone of his importance to Forest’s survival story.

Morgan Gibbs-White

Signings have been the main study of this but Gibbs-White couldn’t not be included in a list of outstanding Forest players this term. Gibbs-White has relished being the main man in Forest’s attack and has always been there when his side needs him most.

Appearing in all but one Premier League game this season, Forest’s number ten finished the season in joint third place in the playmaker leaderboard with 10 assists, chipping in with five goals along the way too.

It’s not just about the direct contribution, though. Almost every Forest goal is likely to have come from a driving run and pass from the midfielder or one of his free kick deliveries; he just seems to have a hand in everything. He’s also been given the captain’s armband when skipper Ryan Yates hasn’t featured, a masterstroke that brings the best out of a man who loves the spotlight for all of the right reasons.

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