James Garner gave Nottingham Forest fans a taste of what to expect on Tuesday night, as he made his debut in a 2-1 away win at Coventry City.
Garner became Chris Hughton’s second signing of the January transfer window on Saturday, arriving on loan from Manchester United until the end of the season.
The 19-year-old had been given a taste of Championship football on loan at Watford in the first half of the season, but found himself unlucky not to feature more regularly and get more starts under his belt for the Hornets.
But he now finds himself at Forest, hoping to add technical ability and quality in midfield which has been desperately lacking for large parts of this campaign.
Forest, since losing Ben Watson on a free transfer in the summer, have been missing that midfielder who can sit in front of the back four and dictate the tempo of the game. A player who can battle off the ball, but be just as effective on it.
Whilst the conditions were far from ideal on Tuesday night, and although Coventry may have had Forest with their backs against the wall for the final 15 minutes, Garner did showcase his ability.
As per Wyscout, the midfielder accrued a pass accuracy rate of 69%, playing 27 of his 39 passes successfully. Of course, when the onus is on you to play out from the back and find options in front of you, those passes have to be effective, with four out of eight passes into the final third finding a Forest man.
By far his most meaningful piece of action on Tuesday night was in the build-up to Forest’s second goal.
Filip Krovinovic did well to win the ball in midfield before the ball found Garner, who switched the play and found Anthony Knockaert out wide on the right. Knockaert’s flick saw Cyrus Christie clear on the overlap, and the full-back’s cross was diverted into his own net by City defender Michael Rose.
There is probably scope for him to find the likes of Lewis Grabban in the penalty area more often, having accurately found the final third four out of eight times on Tuesday night, but on the other hand, doing so from a deep-lying role can be challenging.
Defensively, Garner, and his midfield partner Cafu, were tasked with nullifying the lively Gustavo Hamer, Matty James and Callum O’Hare in the middle of the park.
Hamer and O’Hare in particular drove forward and caused problems, with Garner winning 30% of his 10 defensive duels, but four out of seven of his offensive duels. Garner’s positioning was impressive, too, making six interceptions and two clearances, breaking up play well.
A solid start to life in the Garibaldi then, and Garner will now be keen to build on a good night’s work in midweek.
One performance doesn’t make him a world-beater by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s very fair to say that if Tuesday night’s display is anything to go by, Forest and Chris Hughton have a player on their hands.