There can be no doubt on anyone’s mind that when Brennan Johnson returns to Nottingham Forest in the summer, he will return a completely different player.
Johnson made his first-team debut under Sabri Lamouchi last season, showing flashes of his ability in central midfield in his eight appearances across all competitions.
This season has seen him go from strength to strength at Lincoln City, playing an integral role in helping the Imps fight for automatic promotion in League One.
Johnson has scored seven goals in 28 appearances for Lincoln this season, thriving in a wider role and one which places plenty of responsibility on him in the final third.
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Forest had a decision to make on Johnson’s future in January, but despite plenty of fans crying out for him to be recalled by Chris Hughton, the manager let him see out the remainder of the season at Lincoln and continue his development under Michael Appleton.
When he does return to Forest in the summer, then what obstacles does Johnson face?
First and foremost, he has to break into the side. Forest’s squad currently consists of just shy of 30 first-team players, a number that will undoubtedly shorten in the summer.
Sammy Ameobi is out of contract at the end of the season, but in terms of wide options, Forest currently have the likes of Joe Lolley and Alex Mighten under contract. Luke Freeman and Anthony Knockaert are both there on loan, but there are options to make them permanent arrivals in the summer.
It remains to be seen whether Hughton uses Johnson in a similar wide role next season, but there could be scope for him to be used as an attacking midfielder, with Filip Krovinovic – on loan from Benfica – and Cafu able to play there.
There is also a level of expectation on Johnson’s shoulders, too. A majority of fans were desperate to see him return to Forest in January, and with a full season under his belt, he’s only going to get better.
Johnson should make the step back up to the Championship with relative ease, given his exploits in League One this season.
But the onus shouldn’t be placed solely on him to hit double figures in goals and assists next term, and others need to be contributing too.