The mood around Nottingham Forest heading into this summer’s transfer window compared to last summer feels very different indeed.
11 months ago, the Reds were left looking to recover from a heartbreaking end to the season, culminating in them inexplicably missing out on a top-six finish under Sabri Lamouchi. The remedy to that play-off hangover was to make 14 new signings over the course of the summer, with a majority of those boasting a promotion on their CV to ensure history wouldn’t repeat itself.
Fast forward just under a year, and Forest are looking to recover for different reasons. Fans, albeit from afar, have witnessed a rather drab season on Trentside, with the Reds finishing 17th in the Championship under Chris Hughton. 37 goals were scored in a 46-game league campaign, and their season very much fizzled out, going winless in their final six games.
The task for Hughton is already underway. In preparation for next season, the seven out-of-contract players have been let go without being offered new deals, and James Garner is the only loan player likely to return to the City Ground next season, with four others returning to their parent clubs.
Whilst bolstering his squad and strengthening his attacking options in particular will be a major priority this summer, there is still be work to be done in terms of outgoings. Harry Arter, Fouad Bachirou, Gaetan Bong and Carl Jenkinson have all been told that they are free to find new clubs, whilst the club are also willing to listen to offers for Lyle Taylor.
Taylor was one of the earliest faces to arrive at the City Ground last summer. The striker had grabbed headlines for both the right and the wrong reasons in 2019/20, scoring 11 goals in only 22 games for Charlton Athletic, before refusing to play any part in their final nine games due to a risk of injury potentially ruining what Lee Bowyer described a “life-changing” move away.
It was Forest who won the race for his signature, beating the likes of Rangers and Galatasaray to his services, but the 31-year-old’s time at the City Ground has been far from “life-changing” thus far.
Taylor will have known when he arrived on Trentside that there was one major battle to overcome straight away – breaking into the side ahead of Lewis Grabban, who had just became the first player in 16 years to score 20 goals in a single league campaign. Despite a change in management, the 4-2-3-1 formation was a constant this term, with Taylor taking to a YouTube podcast to discuss his frustrations at that early on in the season.
In 2020/21, Taylor made 39 appearances in the Championship. He amassed only 1,919 minutes of football and made only 15 league starts, with Lewis Grabban the first-choice option under Chris Hughton, and January arrival Glenn Murray also pushing him down the pecking order.
It was between October and December where an injury to Grabban saw Taylor receive most of his game time and claim a regular starting berth, and in that period of time, he scored his four league goals of the season. He opened his account against Derby County, before firing in a last-gasp penalty against Coventry City and netting a brace against Wycombe Wanderers.
Taylor performed below his xG of 7.24, then, with Forest struggling to apply any real quality to their attacking phases of play in the final third throughout the campaign. Whilst Taylor didn’t deliver the goods, the devil’s advocate would say that the creative players around him also failed to step up to the plate. Forest, in fact, ended the season with the lowest xG per shot out of all the 24 teams in the division (0.106).
As the heat map below shows, Taylor would often have to drop deep to receive the ball, having often found himself isolated as the lone striker. This saw him end the season having only had 61 touches inside the penalty area – an average of 1.32 per game.
But in terms of what Taylor can actually affect himself, there is also major room for improvement. Only 40% of his 40 shots were on target, and he was adjudged to offside on 13 occasions, which is nearly one for every starting appearance.
With most of his game time coming as a substitute, too, the onus is on him to provide energy and tenacity in the final third, chasing lost causes and taking advantages of tiring defences. Instead, he failed to use his physical prowess to full effect, winning just over a quarter of his total offensive duels.
Comparing these statistics to Grabban, the 33-year-old comes out marginally on top. Grabban had an xG of 9.14 in 2020/21, putting just over 30% of his shots on target and winning 28.6% of his offensive duels.
Hughton is aware of how much of a big job he has in transforming Forest from mid-table languishers to play-off contenders. The work has already begun, but attacking reinforcements will be made this summer, potentially leading to an exit for Taylor.
“I don’t think we’re far away from the top teams as regards performance on any day,” Hughton told Nottinghamshire Live in April. “The difference has been at both ends.
“We’ve been decent defensively as a group. The biggest thing for us has been scoring the goals that can win us games. That is most definitely the priority area we need to improve on.”
The Mirror report that Stoke City, Forest’s Championship rivals, are ready to open talks over a move for the Montserrat international. Football League World also understand that Middlesbrough, Blackburn and Barnsley are keeping an eye on his situation, with Hughton’s sights clearly set on other targets.
With another two years left on his contract, it remains to be seen whether clubs are eager to pay a fee for Taylor, whose time at Charlton ended in controversy, and his spell at the City Ground has hardly set the world alight either.
It certainly feels that whilst it may be the end of the road for one player, it’s just the start of a long journey for Forest this summer.