It has been a frustrating start to the season both on and off the pitch for Nottingham Forest, as the Reds continue to search for their first three points of the campaign.
Forest have suffered two defeats in their first two games of the season, falling to successive 2-1 defeats to Coventry City and AFC Bournemouth. They will be looking to lift the monkey off their back as Blackburn Rovers visit the City Ground this evening.
Off the pitch, Forest have found it hard to add to their squad which completely differs in size compared to last season. A haphazard transfer policy saw the club bring in 14 new players last summer, adding to a congested squad of over 30 first-teamers.
This summer, only three new players have arrived having bid farewell to a number at the end of the previous campaign. Goalkeeper Ethan Horvath has arrived on a permanent deal, whilst Jordi Osei-Tutu has arrived on loan from Arsenal.
But the most impressive piece of business so far looks to be the loan signing of Philip Zinckernagel, who has already started to earn rave reviews amongst the Garibaldi faithful.
The Danish winger, who joined on loan from Watford, was chased for a while before the Hornets allowed him to temporarily depart Vicarage Road.
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Since moving to the East Midlands, Zinckernagel has registered three assists in only two starting appearances for the Reds, giving Forest fans a pleasant taste of potentially what they can expect this term.
Zinckernagel’s two assists against Bradford City in the first round of the Carabao Cup displayed two key aspects of his game. The first was all about the run to latch onto Fin Back’s perfectly-weighted ball down the channel, before casually sweeping it back across goal for Joao Carvalho to tap into an empty net.
The second was all about his patience and guile on the ball – receiving it out wide before drifting in-field and showing craft and delicacy to lift it over the defence towards Carvalho at the far post. The latter showed excellent composure to bring the ball down and find the bottom corner, and his finish matched what was a brilliant piece of vision by the Dane.
Furthermore, Zinckernagel’s first Championship assist of the season against AFC Bournemouth at the weekend displayed another side to his game – his ability from dead-ball situations. Forest had lacked quality on their set-pieces in the first half, but made the most of the first one they were awarded in the second half.
Zinckernagel delivered a dangerous in-swinging effort into the area, with Scott McKenna rising highest to head downwards and beyond Mark Travers to find an equaliser. Ultimately, Forest couldn’t hold onto their lead, but the loanee’s quality provided inspiration and had them finding the net again.
In 176 minutes of football, the winger has certainly made his mark already. His passes are often on the money, accruing a pass accuracy of 83% and a cross accuracy of 80%.
The winger has also drove forward with the ball effectively, making four progressive runs and completing 58.3% of his dribbles successfully.
But in a Chris Hughton side, defensive work is also just as appreciated. At the weekend in particular, Bournemouth overloaded the left-hand side with a wing-back and an attacking winger, meaning that Jordan Gabriel needed protection.
This is something which Zinckernagel could improve, winning just under half of his total duels, so there is perhaps scope to be stronger in that department.
But Zinckernagel is living up to expectations, providing exactly what Hughton brought him in for. Spark, imagination, flair and end product.
Last season, the likes of Anthony Knockaert and Luke Freeman brought expectation following their arrivals on loan from Fulham and Sheffield United respectively, but the pair returned to their parent clubs having completely failed to set the world alight.
But this time around, it looks as if the club have got this one right, with Zinckernagel looking to kick on and help Forest recover from a lacklustre start in the Championship.