After a relatively disappointing 2020/21 season, Nottingham Forest will be looking up the table and this time next year they will be hoping to be at least in a play-off battle.
Chris Hughton’s arrival to replace Sabri Lamouchi couldn’t fully push Forest up the standings, and they can only finish as high as 15th providing they win against Preston North End on the final day of the season and Blackburn Rovers lose.
One of the rare shining lights for the Tricky Trees this season has been mid-season acquisition James Garner, who has made a real impact since his loan move from Manchester United.
The 20-year-old has scored three times since his move and his general performances have attracted attention from elsewhere to the point that it seems unlikely he will be back at the City Ground next season.
Garner’s agent has cited interest from Premier League sides Brighton & Hove Albion and Norwich City, along with Scottish champions Rangers and with those revelations it doesn’t seem realistic to hope that the the centre midfielder will return to Forest.
With that in mind, let’s look at three potential alternatives to Garner who could head Trent-side for the 2021/22 campaign.
Forest fans wanted the club to make a play for then-Doncaster Rovers captain Ben Whiteman in the January transfer window when it was revealed that they, along with rivals Derby County, had been watching the midfielder.
He went to Preston North End in the end but a midfielder in a similar mould to Whiteman could be available this summer and that’s Cameron Brannagan of Oxford United.
From his outlying stats, Brannagan doesn’t seem to be the most creative – he has just one goal and one assist in 30 League One games this season – but he has a pass success rate of 86.2% (Whoscored) and that suggests he’s a midfielder who will dictate things from the middle of the park.
Brannagan could be the kind of midfielder needed to let an attacking midfielder free – perhaps a returning Brennan Johnson – but PNE and Millwall would be competition for his signature according to Football Insider.
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If Forest want to go down the loanee route again which has seen Garner blossom, then they could look across Manchester to the blue half and make a play for 19-year-old Tommy Doyle.
Doyle doesn’t have the EFL experience that Garner had with his 20 appearances for Watford earlier this season, but he’s clearly highly thought of at the Etihad Stadium as he’s made appearances in the FA Cup and the Champions League this season.
Having scored four times and assisted 10 goals in 17 Premier League 2 matches for City’s under-23’s, the time may be now for Doyle to go out on loan in the EFL and he could definitely fill the void that Garner is probably going to leave.
This is a highly ambitious one and it would depend on Barnsley not making it through the play-offs.
Barnsley’s captain is still yet to extend his contract beyond the end of the season but talks are due to happen once the season is fully over for the Tykes.
Should Barnsley not make it into the Premier League, then half of the Championship will be after 26-year-old Mowatt – who has eight goals and seven assists to his name this season – if he decides to consider his options.
Forest though are a bigger club than Barnsley which may tempt Mowatt and they’re likely to be able to offer a more lucrative financial package – it’s definitely one to consider for the club with a massive hole in midfield about to appear.