It was towards the end of a slightly jittery Zoom call where Sammy Ameobi had a little chuckle to himself. “I was probably a bit of an underwhelming signing looking back,” were the words the 28-year-old used as he began to reflect on what have been two very contrasting years at Nottingham Forest.
In truth, a majority of Forest fans also shared this feeling following the winger’s arrival in the summer of 2019.
The 2018/19 campaign culminated in frustration for Forest, with Martin O’Neill’s side ending the season strongly, but not before seeing their bid for a top-six finish derail. Nevertheless, the Irishman began to plan ahead of the following season, making Ameobi his first summer signing after the expiration of his contract at League One-bound Bolton Wanderers.
But only four days into unpacking his bags at the City Ground, Ameobi was to learn that O’Neill had been relieved of his duties. Forest were on the lookout for their 12th permanent manager since 2012, and within 18 minutes of the sacking, they announced the appointment of Sabri Lamouchi.
Despite a change in management, though, Ameobi was to remain right at the forefront of the manager’s plans right until the very last kick of the season. The winger featured 45 times in the Championship last season, clocking up over 3,000 minutes of league football as well as scoring five goals and chipping in with nine assists.
This season has been a contrasting one for both Ameobi and Forest, however. Those who follow the famous Garibaldi will need no reminder of how the end of last season panned out, and the hangover of agonisingly missing out on a top-six finish carried into this season. Even in his own words, Ameobi conceded: “We were a bit all over the place towards the end of last season. At the start of this season, we were bleeding over a little bit.”
But this season has been one of steady progress under the tutelage of Chris Hughton. The performances still aren’t perfect and they aren’t the finished article just yet, but the progression his side have made since his arrival in October has been noticeable, even if a significant change in league position and goalscoring threat hasn’t.
At 6-foot-4, Ameobi offers something that most Championship wingers don’t. Physical presence, height and prowess which in turn allows him to drift past most full-backs without really having to break a sweat.
Unpredictability would also be a word to describe the former Newcastle United youngster particularly well. Similarly to most players at this level, he will drift in and out of form as games come around thick and fast.
Speaking to FLW, his honesty shone through again. “The one thing I’m trying to work on is to remain consistent. I know I’m a very talented player, but I know I drift in and out, which is something I don’t want to be doing. I want to be on it 24/7 and that’s probably the one thing I’m trying to really work on a daily basis.”
So what does Ameobi bring to a Forest side managed by Chris Hughton?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to gather that goals have been a clear issue for Forest this season. One quick glance at the league table shows that they have netted 29 times in 36 outings this season. An even ghastlier statistic shows that ‘own goals’ is their second-highest goalscorer with four to their name this term.
Whilst the onus may not be directly on Ameobi to find the net on a regular basis, the winger has found the net three times this season, including a brace in a 3-1 win over Millwall back in January. Ameobi, usually a regular on the left wing, started on the opposite flank that day, and this was also the case in Forest’s most recent result – a 1-1 draw with high-flying Reading on Saturday.
In 28 Championship appearances this season – 23 of those being starts – less than a quarter of Ameobi’s 56 shots have been on target, so straight away, there is scope for him to work the opposition goalkeeper a lot more when getting into threatening areas. But two of his goals this season have both come from outside the area, including a sumptuous curling effort which nestled into the top corner against the Lions.
As alluded to before, Ameobi’s physical prowess makes him a nuisance to knock off the ball. 57.1% of his 133 dribbles have been completely successfully this season, which is up there in comparison to the rest of the first-team squad. Anthony Knockaert with 47%, Alex Mighten with 56.9% and Luke Freeman with 59%.
On Saturday, he showed his strength and determination to leave Omar Richards in his wake, before pulling the ball across the byline for a helpless Tom Holmes to divert into his own net amid pressure from Glenn Murray. The winger was to then come close with almost a carbon copy of the Millwall strike, driving in from the right and firing a ferocious effort at goal which Rafael Cabral had to be equal to.
Ameobi goes about his game in a calm, composed manner. He is particularly clever on the ball and is never really found too guilty of wasting possession, accruing a success rate of 72.5% from 757 passes this season.
Those passes have to be effective, though, and with Glenn Murray, Lewis Grabban and Lyle Taylor all at the club and all renowned for pouncing on opportunities inside the penalty area, the pressure is on Ameobi and other wide players to hit the right areas. Whilst his pass into the final third accuracy is high (56.3%), his deliveries into the penalty area are wasteful more often than not.
Ameobi’s only assist this season came in a 2-1 away victory over Coventry City in February. A long ball from Joe Worrall found Ameobi in space on the left, and once again, he used his size to full effect, bursting down the line and into the area before cutting back for Lewis Grabban to tap in from close-range.
14 shot assists have been created, too, and the fact that Forest have the worst conversion rate in the Championship at present hasn’t helped his cause when it comes to adding to his assist tally for the season.
If Ameobi’s performance against the Royals at the weekend was a sign of what is to come from between now and the end of the season, then a tricky decision will have to be made by the club this summer as the winger’s contract continues to run down.
Chris Hughton will have a number of big decisions to make on some of his players’ futures this summer, with five loanees currently on the books and seven – including Ameobi – set to be out of contract.
No discussions have been had between Ameobi and the club as of yet, but this is something the winger is more than happy with.
“I’ve really enjoyed myself. I’ve loved every minute of it here and hopefully that will continue. I guess people didn’t really expect too much of me when I signed, but I feel like I have come on leaps and bounds. I’ve really found some rhythm and found some form.”
With Joe Lolley now out for the remainder of the season due to a hamstring tear, there is an opportunity for Ameobi to cement his place in the side, amid competition from Luke Freeman and Alex Mighten.
“He’s a player that can play on both sides,” Hughton said of Ameobi.
“If I think of before I came to the club, I remember seeing him playing more on the left, and I think he’s played there during most of his time here predominantly because of Joe Lolley playing on the right.
“He’s somebody who can bring a goal threat on that right-hand side and driving in, and he had a big part in the goal that we scored against Reading.”
Bringing a goal threat is one thing Hughton will be looking to address between now and the end of the season, as Forest gear up for tough tests against Norwich and Cardiff with their Championship status not quite secured just yet.
If Ameobi can provide that, then the self-confessed underwhelming signing may extend his stay to three years at the City Ground.
Who would have thought that when he first arrived on Trentside?