Nottingham Forest needed some help, but with a 1-0 victory over Huddersfield Town in the EFL Championship promotion playoffs final, the Tricky Trees will return to the Premier League, ending a 23-year absence. It was a day to forget for Huddersfield as a Levi Colwill own goal in the 43rd minute was the only thing to separate the sides, but the match wouldn’t end without controversy from referee Jon Moss in his final game before retiring.
There was a penalty shout on Jack Colback late on, but Harry Toffolo was instead booked for simulation. It was a curious decision by Moss as there was contact between the two, but even after a VAR review, he didn’t overturn the decision despite what felt like plenty of evidence.
With game separated by such narrow margins, Huddersfield can feel hard done, but they also should’ve taken their chances better and opened up to attack Forest more in a match where they took too long to get going.
In the most important game of the season, Huddersfield only took four shots, putting none on target. Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Brice Samba had to leave with an injury near the end of regulation, being replaced by American Ethan Horvath, but Huddersfield couldn’t push the pace, lacking precision late, as they did all game.
When Forest manager Steve Cooper took over on September 21, Forest were bottom of the league after eight games. From then, they picked up 23 wins to go on a run of a lifetime to the Premier League. In 134 years, this is the first time that the team at the bottom of the league after eight games has gone on to be promoted to the Premier League.
Looking forward to next season, here is what can we expect from Forest:
Figure out loan army
For the playoff final, four players in Nottingham Forest’s starting XI are on loan at the club. Djed Spence (Middlesbrough), Keinan Davis (Aston Villa), Philip Zinckernagel (Watford), and James Garner (Manchester United) each are at the club on loan and have made an impact this season. Manchester United has a decision to make on Garner because he showed that he can compete. He may not be at a Premier League level yet but when United needs midfield help now, Erik ten Hag may want to get Garner in. It does make sense to loan him back for a season to see how he adjusts to the Premier League, but it will be heavily dependent on Manchester United’s summer dealings.
Spence and Zinckernagel would seem to be easier to tie down as they’re on the books of Championship teams, but a season that has seen Spence score three goals and assist five more in all competitions has surely earned him admirers. He’s on Middlesbrough’s books so it will be between them and Spence on where he sees his future. Cooper will hope that the magical run with the team is enough to stave off the reported interest from Spurs in Spence. Tottenham have long kept an eye on him, according to The Athletic. Davis will likely be easy to strike a deal for as he is surplus to requirements at Aston Villa.
Add depth and experience to midfield
Assuming that Cooper expects to employ the 3-5-2 that made Forest tick, they’ll need improvement in the midfield. At the back, the team should be solid enough to survive and even if Spence leaves, there will be options to add right backs. But question one is about Garner’s future, as if he leaves, there is a large hole that needs to be filled. The second question is on Ryan Yates making the transition to the Premier League. A member of the Forest academy, it took loans to lower league clubs for him to ply his trade before getting his chance with the first team. Their promotion campaign has been his best scoring eight goals in the Championship, but the jump to the Premier League is a big one.
Yates has earned being the starter on day one in the Premier League but Cooper would do well to bring in a midfielder or two with Premier League experience to compete and push.
Continue to develop Johnson
Possibly. The core is strong but while loans will leave questions heading into the summer, Forest will also need quite a few players to make a big jump. Steve Cook and Jack Colback are the only members of the team with substantial Premier League experience. They’ll be able to give everyone pointers on what to expect making the jump, but staying on may be dependent on if Brennan Johnson’s goal scoring makes the jump.
Johnson scored 18 and assisted 10 more goals in the Championship. You don’t want to pile too much pressure on a 21-year-old who is coming into his own, but he does have the advantage that his dad David Johnson has plenty of experience in the game making over 400 appearances in his career, scoring 130 goals. He’ll be as prepared as he can be but his transition along with that of the other members of Forest will show if they can avoid the drop next season. With Fulham, Southampton, Bournemouth, Leeds United, and Everton expected to be in the mix for relegation, a hot start can go a long way, similar to how Brentford pulled off a 13th-place finish after coming up before last season.