Can Ryan Yates emerge as Chris Hughton’s dark horse amongst the overcrowded stables at Nottingham Forest?


Having made 13 signings in the last transfer window, the owners at Nottingham Forest have made drastic changes in an attempt to forget last season’s brutal ending.

Despite the number of new signings, one of the surviving members from that disappointment is providing a chink of light at The City Ground during Forest’s worst start to a season in decades. 

Academy graduate midfielder Ryan Yates is showing the type of willingness and determination which gets noticed in the Championship. Rumoured to have been approached by Millwall and Middlesbrough about his availability over the summer, Yates is starting to find his feet at Nottingham Forest.

A well-respected member of the Forest squad, 22-year-old Ryan Yates had been fancied by previous managers Martin O’Neill and Sabri Lamouchi, having enjoyed successful loan spells in League 1 and 2 (with Scunthorpe and Notts County) before emerging onto the first-team scene at Forest in February 2018. 

A tenacious midfielder that enjoys pressing the opposition into mistakes, Yates has not had an easy ride in Championship football. His overzealous approach in midfield was picking him up some needless bookings just under a year ago,  compounded in a sending off at Bristol City last November, leading to criticism from certain sections of the fanbase.

Despite this, Yates has shown good character and resilience to get his head down and begin to prove those doubters wrong. Whilst not overly blessed with technical brilliance, his game is improving as he becomes more accustomed to Championship level. Amidst the crashing finale of last, Yates had put in some notably better performances alongside Ben Watson and he has built upon those blocks coming into the new campaign.

Yates’ commitment to the cause handed him the armband during a shortened pre-season and his improved performances have been a rare positive for Forest so far this season with him arguably showing his best form for the club.

Far from a newbie to the scene, Yates has now made over 50 first-team appearances and will be hoping to make an impression on Chris Hughton.

He hasn’t started too badly on that front, playing a key role in notching up Forest’s first win of the campaign at Blackburn Rovers with a spirited second-half performance alongside Harry Arter in the Forest midfield. The combination complemented each other well with Yates’ enthusiasm and running matched by Arter’s guile and know-how. 

Image: Nottingham Forest Official Website

Despite Arter’s absence in the midweek draw at Luton Town, Yates showed that with encouragement to get forward, the alternative of him and Jack Colback as a midfield pair should not be written off just yet.

Whilst Forest had shot themselves in the foot with some sloppy defending and rash tackling in the first half, Yates typified the character that Hughton’s men showed to get them back into proceedings.

The Forest youngster showed the belief to push Luton back with forwards running, but importantly showed the discipline to make sure that Forest was not overrun by Luton’s man advantage. Maturity is a wonderful thing in football.

Yates had initially gone close to teeing up Lyle Taylor just after half time before his presence in the six-yard box forced an own goal from Glen Rea for Forest’s deserved equalizer. Post-match, Hatters boss Nathan Jones admitted disappointment that his players had not heeded the warning about tracking Yates from midfield.

Yates will be buoyed by his man of the match performance in front of the television cameras. With youth on his side and the ability to get up and down the pitch more frequently than his counterparts, he could be an important player if he can get his name on the scoresheet.

Yates has had the most attempts on target from any of the tried midfield combinations so far, but a lack of composure in front of goal has let him down to this point.  With extra work on the training pitch, Yates may well improve in this department. With added competition from Samba Sow and other new arrivals Fouad Bachirou and Cafu, Yates is not the type to accept a challenging lying down.

Relying on goals from Ryan Yates most probably typifies where Forest are struggling most at this point. With a plethora of attacking options in the final third, Forest are yet to score more than two goals in a game this season and will be hoping Anthony Knockaert can continue with his bright form going into this weekend’s fixture at Middlesbrough.

Further reinforcements were due to be on their way, but Forest are said to be ‘very disappointed’ with their unsuccessful appeal to the EFL to approve Kamil Grosicki’s deadline loan transfer from West Brom.

The final submitted document was rumoured to have been 21 seconds late and it will be a tough one to swallow for Chris Hughton and the club ownership.

With a demanding schedule ahead, Nottingham Forest manager Chris Hughton is mindful that squad rotation will be key in navigating the busy period.

“It has taken a lot out of the squad and it is all about the rest and recovery, with thoughts about the squad and whether we need to freshen up and rotate. These are the things that we need to think about for what is going to be a very difficult game.”

A familiar face for Nottingham Forest fans on Saturday will be that of Britt Assombalonga, a perhaps surprising choice of captain for Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough.

The former Forest striker finally opened his goals account for the season in midweek, pouncing in the 81st minute to set them on their way to picking up all three points against lowly Coventry City on Tuesday evening. That goal took Assombalonga to the top of Boro’s scoring charts of the new millennium with 43 goals in all competitions, and he will fancy adding to his former clubs early-season woes.

Going into the Forest fixture, Boro remain unbeaten in the league since their opening day defeat to Watford, and whilst not scoring freely, Warnock’s men have only conceded five goals in their first eight games. In October alone, they have held league leaders Reading and beaten another Championship flyer Bristol City at Ashton Gate.

A promising draw at Warnock’s former club Cardiff City last weekend was backed up with a 2-0 home win over Coventry City and leaves Boro feeling confident but mindful of nursing players through to the international break.

“We’re in good spirits as you can imagine but we’ll be fortunate to avoid injuries in key departments with the run of games coming up. They’ve (Forest) got one of the best squads in the whole league and I envy them. They’ve probably got two teams whilst we’re struggling to get a subs bench together. I could do with a couple of his players and I’ll have a word with him (Chris Hughton) tomorrow”

As the elder statesman in the Championship, Warnock continues to show the enthusiasm and appetite for another promotion push despite a brush with COVID 19 in recent weeks. Since joining the club, Warnock has created a more enjoyable atmosphere to lift the mood at The Riverside and improvements on the pitch are there for all to see.

Clearly enjoying his time on Teesside, Warnock believes that if they can navigate his side’s injuries, he’d even stick a bit of money on Boro going up this season himself. Watch this space. Who would ever write Neil Warnock off in Championship football?

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