Nigerian international striker Taiwo Awoniyi is poised to lead Nottingham Forest’s charge to secure Premier League safety in the upcoming 2023/24 season. The former Union Berlin sensation showcased his prowess by netting ten goals during his debut Premier League campaign in 2022/23, including a striking opener on the first matchday against Arsenal, despite Forest’s eventual 2-1 loss.
The City Ground appears to be the ideal setting for the 26-year-old to establish himself as a focal point in the team’s attack. Awoniyi’s professional journey has been marked by nomadic spells, originating when Liverpool spotted his talent at the Imperial Soccer Academy. However, the Reds promptly sent him on loan for six successive seasons, encompassing stints in various European leagues, including Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium.
Union Berlin took a calculated gamble on Awoniyi, securing his services permanently for £6.5m from Liverpool. Flourishing in the German Bundesliga with an impressive goal rate, Awoniyi’s prowess caught the attention of newly promoted Forest. The club’s record-breaking £17m bid convinced Union Berlin to cash in, effectively tripling their initial investment.
Awoniyi’s impactful performance, yielding ten goals across 27 EPL appearances in the 2022/23 season, provided both him and Forest the platform to firmly establish themselves in the top flight. Nevertheless, Forest remains vigilant about their Premier League status this season, particularly given the prevailing relegation odds. According to Betano, a leading online betting operator in Nigeria, Nottingham Forest and Awoniyi stand as the fourth-favorite (3.50) contenders for relegation. This places them behind newly promoted Luton and Sheffield United, as well as financially strained Wolves.
Forest’s optimism is tempered by Awoniyi’s ongoing fitness concerns. The Nigerian striker did not commence the season opener at Emirates Stadium. Forest’s manager, Steve Cooper, disclosed that Awoniyi was only capable of contributing 20 minutes, as he continues to play catch-up following his partial absence during pre-season. Nevertheless, Awoniyi made a substantial impact off the substitutes’ bench, forging a dynamic partnership with summer acquisition Antony Elanga. This collaboration led to a crucial goal that reduced the deficit and posed a challenge for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal during the tense final moments.
Nottingham Forest’s manager, Steve Cooper, can find encouragement in the impactful performances of players like Awoniyi and Elanga, who are gradually approaching full fitness. Presently, Forest entrusts the role of leading the attack to Welsh international Brennan Johnson. With a commendable record of eight goals in 38 EPL appearances last season, the 22-year-old displayed a solid performance. However, Awoniyi appears to possess the physical presence that aligns better with Forest’s long-term strategic focal point.
The possible exit of Brennan Johnson could give Awoniyi more opportunities
The potential departure of Brennan Johnson may open up more opportunities for Awoniyi. Johnson’s impressive form has attracted significant interest from clubs such as Tottenham, Brentford, and West Ham. Following Harry Kane’s departure to Bayern Munich, Tottenham is in search of a new forward for the long term.
In the scenario where Johnson is transferred to balance some of Forest’s summer transactions, thereby complying with Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, Cooper would likely designate Awoniyi as his primary choice for the number nine position. This would be complemented by the addition of New Zealand powerhouse Chris Wood, who made a permanent move from Newcastle United during the summer. Additionally, Awoniyi shares the Forest forward line with his Nigerian compatriot, Emmanuel Dennis. However, Dennis’ recent lack of playing time raises the possibility of him being included in player trading activities before the summer transfer window closes.
Awoniyi and Wood are poised to benefit from exceptional service, courtesy of creative playmakers like Morgan Gibbs-White and Brazilian midfielder Danilo, both integral parts of the Forest squad. Gibbs-White, secured in a record-breaking deal worth potentially £42m, has demonstrated his value through five Premier League goals and seven assists. This prospect of ample chances being crafted should excite Awoniyi.
The assurance of Awoniyi’s ability to perform under pressure is underscored by his composed finish at Arsenal. Forest can rely on the Nigerian to deliver even in high-stakes situations. Following his emergence on the scene for the Super Eagles in 2013, Awoniyi has needed time to find his stride, and Forest has provided him with a platform to truly shine.
Nonetheless, a prevailing concern for Forest supporters might be an excessive dependence on Awoniyi’s contributions. Sustaining his fitness and goal-scoring prowess throughout the season could determine the critical distinction between evading relegation and succumbing to the drop.