Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Taiwo Awoniyi’s Nottingham Forest form: How Nigeria international striker has become a force in the Premier League – Sky Sports


Only Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah have outscored Taiwo Awoniyi in the Premier League since May. With help from the managers of Nottingham Forest and Nigeria, Adam Bate examines how Awoniyi turned himself into a formidable Premier League striker…
Comment and Analysis
Thursday 23 November 2023 07:31, UK
Taiwo Awoniyi scored four goals in his first 23 Premier League appearances for Nottingham Forest. His equaliser at West Ham on Sunday, his first goal since returning from his latest injury, means that he has now scored 10 times in 14 games in the competition.
That run was broken up by injury against Brentford at the start of last month – and Forest suffered in his absence. Replacement Chris Wood did score two against Luton but they were pegged back. Forest are without a win in 14 games when Awoniyi does not start.
With him, it is six wins from 14. They only lost to West Ham after he went off. Awoniyi has blossomed. There were two goals at Chelsea, one against Arsenal, another at Manchester United. Only Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah have outscored him since May.
Forest boss Steve Cooper does “not want to sound like a smart arse” when he suggests that he saw this coming towards the end of last season and it does not come across that way because the clues were there. Something clicked for Awoniyi in the spring.
There were mitigating circumstances for much of that first season in Garibaldi red. Firstly, Awoniyi’s fitness was an issue. “That was the biggest thing, to be honest,” Cooper tells Sky Sports. Building any rhythm proved challenging and there were other options.
“He was in and out of the team. A couple of injuries. Score a goal, not play well. All that sort of stuff happened.” But he was not alone in that. It was the story of Forest’s season. “I am happy to say that this time last year I thought it took him a while,” reflects Cooper.
“I know he was at Liverpool and had the experience of training in England but he had never really played in England. Like so many of the players, even including the staff and myself, we were finding our way. And then, he just started to become himself.”
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Who is he? He is the devout Christian who would sew his own boots as a child. He is the nomad who had seven loan moves away from Liverpool to three different countries as he tried to make an impression on the European game after being spotted aged 17.
Given the context of these years of upheaval, perhaps the injury suffered at Southampton in January, a game in which he scored what turned out to be the winning goal, was a key moment. When he returned to the team in April, something had changed in him.
“It was a real pity because it kept him out for months,” says Cooper. “But then during those three months, maybe it was a good reflection time, it gave him a good understanding. Because, if I am honest, since he came back to where he is now has been really good.”
The physical prowess had never been a problem. The effort was there too. But couple that with confidence and Awoniyi can appear unstoppable at times. Running through defenders. Running over them. “We have all seen it in the games,” says Cooper.
“It is not just his goals. We have seen him play really well and be a real handful, dominating centre-backs. We are also seeing that every day on the training ground. His performances on the pitch are a product of what he is doing in training and I believe in that.”
The hope will be that Awoniyi can now go on another run. If his momentum is broken again then he will hope it is for the right reasons. His next extended break from the Premier League is likely to come in January with a call-up for the Africa Cup of Nations.
Competition within that Nigeria squad is fierce. National team coach Jose Peseiro can also count upon Napoli striker Victor Osimhen, while Victor Boniface has fired Bayer Leverkusen to the top of the Bundesliga. But Peseiro has taken time out to visit Nottingham.
“It was my first time there,” he tells Sky Sports. “I am old enough to remember them as European champions and I wanted to go there because I wanted to remember those days. It was fantastic, the river outside and the atmosphere inside. It was amazing.”
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What Peseiro discovered was a city willing their determined striker on. “I think the people are happy with him. I felt that in the atmosphere. He is happy and he needs to keep that happiness. Thank you very much to Steve Cooper because it is helping me.”
Awoniyi brings something a little different for club and country. “He can fight with two or three defenders and is always a danger for the opponent. He puts it in his mind all the time that he wants to win the ball. Always, he is doing fantastic work for the team.”
How far it can take player, club and country remains to be seen but there is no doubting his mentality. He will maximise his talent. “He is a brilliant boy. Happy, respectful and a very likeable lad, but with this real determination running alongside that,” adds Cooper.
“You see it in his game. He has the attitude that he wants to continue to improve. We are really enjoying him as a lad and we are really enjoying him as a player. The idea is to work even harder with him, to push him even more.” This could be just the start.
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