Taiwo Awoniyi is integral to Nottingham Forest’s attack. In fact, often there is no attack without him. There was a spell last season where the Nigerian missed 13 games and the Reds were only able to win three of them, compared to three wins in seven once he returned to the starting XI. If Forest want to maintain their position in midtable, they must be able to get the goals without their prized number nine.
The obvious two candidates are Chris Wood and Divock Origi. The former went through his best run of form before his own injury earlier this season, with Forest playing to his strengths and getting the ball into the box. Despite the negativity that prevailed from the Luton game, Wood was a glowing positive, scoring two and that number could have been a lot more – as he looked like he belonged in Forest’s attack for the first time. Although no one could have seen Lewis Dunk’s red card coming, I’d argue that Forest’s increased possession late on against Brighton, alongside the introduction of Callum Hudson-Odoi, would have played into the hands of the New Zealand captain and that equalising goal may have come had he been on the pitch.
Origi has seemingly been Steve Cooper’s third-choice striker, with the Belgian yet to start for Forest. Despite his experience in the Premier League, Origi continues to be overlooked but has shown promise off the bench during cameo appearances against West Ham and Brentford. The striker seems to have a little more pace than Wood, and drops deeper, so it depends on what Forest want from the pair. Should they opt for more width with the aim of getting crosses in, then Wood would be the obvious candidate. However, if the Reds are trying to implement more possession-based or counter-attacking football then Origi is your man.
Goals must start coming from other areas though, something that has started to happen in recent games. Anthony Elanga has scored three goals this season, including two in his last two, as he seems to have cemented himself in the starting XI. All three of his goals have been very different, showing the winger’s capabilities as Forest seek a Brennan Johnson replacement. Should Elanga’s form and confidence in front of goal continue, Forest may just have found their man.
Forest’s other option on the wings, Callum Hudson-Odoi, has probably scored the goal of the season so far — that curling beauty against Burnley — yet the winger has rarely shown his threat apart from then. Cooper will be hoping his return to fitness can be complemented with goals, something Hudson-Odoi has lacked in his Premier League career with just five goals in 77 appearances.
There have been many cries for Morgan Gibbs-White to step up in front of goal, with the midfielder getting more chances of late due to his move out wide. He just seems to lack composure in the final third, because he does get the chances, with an xG of 2.53 this season but only one goal to his name. Maybe he just needed a goal to kickstart his season, Forest hopeful that his emphatic penalty at the weekend can be the start of the interim captain’s upturn in goal contributions.
Gibbs-White is the only real attacking midfielder Forest possess, with a more defensive-minded trio fielded in most Forest games. Nicolás Domínguez does have a goal to his name, yet neither he nor Orel Mangala or Ibrahim Sangaré look a serious threat going forwards. Either Forest must shift from a three to a two, allowing more creative players to come in, or one of them needs to step higher up the pitch. Danilo’s return does pave the way for more goals from midfield, the Brazilian is certainly more attacking-minded than his fellow midfield counterparts.
Finally, while Forest clearly must improve defending set-pieces, they must also start to look a threat from them attacking-wise. The delivery hasn’t always been on point, something Cooper has noticed given the fact we saw Harry Toffolo on set-piece duty on Saturday, with the onus now on the likes of Moussa Niakhaté, Murillo and Wood to threaten from these deliveries.
There aren’t many strikers in the league that offer what Taiwo Awoniyi brings, so Forest are never going to directly replace the goals and presence he brings. Instead, it’s a collective effort from all those in the Garibaldi to become a threat and get on the scoresheet.