In Focus: Awoniyi is Forest's man for the big occasion
For clubs fighting against relegation, having a striker who can reliably find the net is a valuable weapon indeed.
Nottingham Forest put their faith in Taiwo Awoniyi being that man when forking out £17million to land the 25-year-old Nigerian from Union Berlin last summer.
So far, the former Liverpool prospect has not proven to be the reliable scorer that Forest crave — but the goals he has managed have earned his team a precious haul of points.
As his side prepare to host Wolves in an intriguing Carabao Cup quarter-final this evening, we turn the spotlight on the imposing No9.
Awoniyi’s record of four goals in 16 Premier League appearances does not look like a particularly impressive return at first glance.
Yet three of those four goals have been the solitary strike in 1-0 victories, including when he netted on his home debut against West Ham.
Then, after a run of nine league games without a win, the Super Eagles international netted a memorable winner at the City Ground against Liverpool — the club where he was registered between 2015 and 2021.
In their most recent top-flight outing, Awoniyi again scored the crucial goal in a 1-0 win at Southampton, which earned Forest their first away victory of the season.
While it would obviously be preferable for the striker to have returned more goals, his habit of popping up at the crucial moment is one not to be underestimated.
The loan years
Awoniyi’s lengthy period on Liverpool's books saw him embark on a variety of loans.
Signed from the Imperial Soccer Academy in Nigeria for a fee of around £400,000 in 2015, the then teenager was immediately sent out to FSV Frankfurt in Germany’s second flight.
He scored just one goal in his debut season in Europe, prompting another loan to Eredivisie outfit NEC Nijmegen in 2016-17 where he managed three strikes in 22 outings.
A more successful two years were to follow in Belgium, where he played for Mouscron in two goal-laden loans interrupted by half a season at Gent.
Moves to Mainz in 2019-20 and Union Berlin in 2020-21 meant that the 6ft forward had completed seven different loans in the space of six seasons, with his nomadic period finally concluding when Union bought Awoniyi for £6.5million.
Stability certainly aided his cause. After only finding the net six times in the Bundesliga over his previous two campaigns, Awoniyi scored 15 goals in 31 appearances for Union last season, helping towards an impressive 20 goals across all competitions.
Awoniyi’s form at Union Berlin saw him linked with German giants Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig, while he was also on the radar of several English clubs including Brentford and Manchester United.
However, it was Forest who acted decisively and it is not difficult to see why a promoted club would have been convinced to take a gamble.
Aside from the sheer weight of goals scored, his qualities seemed perfect for a team that were likely to be on the back foot in the Premier League.
Union Berlin did not enjoy much possession in the Bundesliga either, so the Nigerian filled the role of a fast, skilful and strong forward in an attack that mainly saw action through swift transitions.
Awoniyi also possessed good movement in the box and was a precise finisher. Throw in his willingness to press when the opposition had the ball and you have a perfect strker for a counter-attacking team.
The question of whether the move to Forest suited Awoniyi is still up for debate, though.
Now 25, the forward was playing the football of his life in Germany and the disruption caused by a switch to English shores arguably set him back once again.
Forest transformed their squad over the summer with a huge number of new signings.
Manager Steve Cooper has many options at his disposal and was always likely to tinker with things in the season's early months to try and find a winning formula.
Awoniyi has only started nine games in the Premier League this season and has been substituted on every occasion. Taking that into account, his contribution of four goals suddenly looks a lot more impressive.
Cooper has started with the No9 in each of Forest’s last three Premier League games and was rewarded with the recent winner against Southampton, though an injury in that match has made him a doubt for tonight's Carabao Cup quarter-final against Wolves.
Awoniyi summed things up perfectly during his time in Germany: "I just need a place to feel welcome, a place to have opportunities."
If Cooper keeps faith in Awoniyi when fit, everything points to the coach being further rewarded.