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In Focus: Johnson spearheading Forest's charge to safety
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Cian Cheesbrough
Brennan Johnson scored Nottingham Forest's winner against Leeds last Sunday
Brennan Johnson scored Nottingham Forest's winner against Leeds last Sunday

Local boy Brennan Johnson has inspired Nottingham Forest’s charge away from the relegation zone in 2023.

After a slow start to Premier League life, the 21-year-old has scored three goals and assisted twice since the turn of the year as the Reds have picked up a precious 11 points in their last five games.

With Steve Cooper’s men now six points clear of the drop zone ahead of Saturday’s trip to high-flying Fulham, we turn the spotlight on their in-form academy star.

Slow start

Johnson was the talisman of Forest’s long-awaited return to the Premier League, scoring 18 times as the East Midlands side were promoted via the Championship play-offs last season.

The talented forward attracted plenty of Premier League interest in January 2022 and after reaching the top flight with Forest, he was expected to adjust to the step up with ease.

But that was not the case straight away, with the Wales international finding the net only twice in his first 18 Premier League matches.

The Tricky Trees signed an astonishing 23 new players last summer following their promotion and Cooper’s outfit won only one of their first 11 league games.

And with Johnson one of the few members of the starting XI that remained from last season, the youngster came in for a harsh proportion of the criticism.

Clicking into gear

Brennan Johnson has been in excellent form since the World Cup break
Brennan Johnson has been in excellent form since the World Cup break

But as is the case with many players starting out in the top flight for the first time, Johnson now looks to be finding his feet.

The 18-cap international has three goals and two assists in his last four games. Crucially, all of those contributions have been against rivals in their battle to beat the drop.

He set up the winner for Taiwo Awoniyi in a narrow 1-0 victory at Southampton last month before clinically scoring twice against East Midlands foes Leicester.

Johnson was at it again at Bournemouth as he brilliantly teed up Sam Surridge’s late equaliser and his exceptional first-time effort was the difference as Forest beat Leeds 1-0 in their most recent clash.

Overall, those five contributions have been worth a priceless 10 points for his side and they now sit above all four of those opponents.

The relegation that previously seemed probable is now looking less and less likely.

Positive partnerships

Brennan Johnson and Morgan Gibbs-White have forged an excellent on-field relationship
Brennan Johnson and Morgan Gibbs-White have forged an excellent on-field relationship

Johnson's blossoming telepathy with summer signing Morgan Gibbs-White has been another real positive for the Reds.

Much was made when they agreed a club-record £42million deal to sign the Wolves attacking midfielder despite his lack of experience at the top level, but the 23-year-old has been Forest’s most consistent performer this term.

The all-action former Sheffield United loanee has been continually picking his team-mate out on the right-hand side of late, allowing Johnson to go for goal himself or fashion chances for team-mates.

Gibbs-White set up both of Johnson’s strikes in the win over the Foxes, his lofted pass allowed the Forest No20 to set up Surridge in the Bournemouth draw, while it was his free-kick which led to the winner against Leeds.

On their thriving partnership, Johnson said: "I know a lot about him. Obviously, I knew a bit about him from last season when we played Sheffield United.

"I know that he’s a player that likes to play with his head up and I’m a player that likes to run in behind and I feel like he’s got the quality to find me. It’s happened a lot this season."

Clinical touch

While Johnson’s ability has never been in question, he is now finding the ruthlessness that is so crucial in the Premier League.

That is certainly the opinion of Forest boss Cooper, who highlighted the starlet's improved end product.

After Johnson’s excellent winner against the Whites, the 43-year-old Welsh coach said: "It was a brilliant goal. What I liked about it is, you don’t get many chances in this league. 

"He scored a load of goals last year. He was getting more chances than what he'll get this year, but at the moment, he's taking his opportunities. 

"That's what players who play in that position and end up doing well in this league do."

With seven more new signings arriving at the City Ground last month, the Reds potentially have another period of adjustment on the horizon.

But thanks to Johnson’s fine form, Forest can negotiate it with a healthy cushion between themselves and relegation trouble.


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