Aitor Karanka believes that 18 year old striker Ben Brereton is “a strong character” who will cope with added responsibility as teammates Daryl Murphy and Apostolos Vellios struggle with illness and fitness to provide viable options upfront for Forest.
Brereton’s situation contrasts to that of many other positions in the Forest squad, where after a wave of new signings, competition has intensified in many areas of the pitch. Selection headaches are especially prevalent now in the full-back and goalkeeping positions, but Karanka maintains that players who work hard will get their chance.
Whether through illness, injury, lack of fitness or tactical reasons, Forest’s two other first-team strikers have been absent from training and the match day squad recently. Vellios and Murphy have struggled to be in contention, leaving academy graduate Brereton as the only option up front in Karanka’s eighth game in charge against Reading on Tuesday night.
Brereton burst onto the scene just over a year ago when he began his professional scoring career with a late City Ground goal against Aston Villa. In his press conference ahead of the QPR game, Brereton spoke of the difficulty in trying to live up to such an emphatic start to his career. A relatively low frequency of goals for a first-choice striker in the Championship would usually be concerning, with missed chances keeping even Brereton himself up at night. Talk of a ‘goal drought’, however, would be a very simple way of looking at his season so far.
Brereton said himself that he is “unselfish” – he contributes to games and plays well despite no continuous flow of goals. In the second half against Reading, the relatively experienced youngster showed great consistency in taking the ball with his back to goal and turning to kick start attacks. The player himself knows that more goals will come with age.
With Murphy and Vellios failing to provide different options at the ready for Karanka, Brereton does face the challenge of having to shoulder most of the burden for Forest’s firepower. An intelligent looking Lee Tomlin should continue to open up defences, with new pairing Ben Watson and Jack Colback sitting behind Tomlin to allow him to create – whilst a return to form for top-scorer Kieran Dowell might be on the cards as Forest slowly start to gel their transformed squad and new management with games running out.
Karanka also spoke of selection issues elsewhere on the pitch. At right-back, the Eric Lichaj red card away at Burton has made way for Tendayi Darikwa to step up once again this season. Karanka has been impressed and pleased with how he has performed on the pitch, but pointed more to his attitude and displays in training:
“Ten is a good example that if you train in the right direction and you are ready, then the chances will arrive.”
“He always trains really well and tries his best, even when he wasn’t playing.”
Karanka does not envisage a situation where Lichaj and Darikwa will occupy both full-back spots, however. Lichaj has played steadily at left-back many times for Forest, but Karanka stresses that “now we have other alternatives. We have Ben Osborn on the left, we have Fuentes. If Mancienne, Worrall or Tobias [Figueiredo] are fit maybe Fox can play again as left-back. Unless the physio says I don’t have players, I don’t think Eric will play there.”
Karanka stresses that Darikwa demonstrates to other players that they can find their way into the team. Goalkeeper Jordan Smith “is not happy now” since being pushed from a regular starter to out of the squad by new incoming Costel Pantilimon and Stefanos Kapino. Karanka says “look at Tendayi” – one day he is out of the squad, but with continued hard work one day he finds himself back in.
After what Karanka called ‘the best half of football’ since he arrived – noting the much improved display in the second half against Reading – he said (tongue in cheek) that if the players need his half-time message again “they are not intelligent”.
With the new signings seemingly starting to play well together in that second half, there is more positivity that the Reds will put in a similar performance for a full ninety minutes.
When he arrived at the City Ground, Karanka continually stressed three buzzwords in his pressers. “Pride”; “winning”; and “intensity”. After a spate of rather depressing score lines and performances, the Spaniard dropped them from his pre-match briefings. The ‘intensity’ finally arrived on Tuesday night, and if it continues at Loftus Road, Forest will be on course to bring back a ‘winning’ mind-set and re-establish ‘pride’ amongst a squad saturated with the potential to achieve.
Images: Impact Images