You would have struggled to find anyone who disagreed with the decision to name Joe Lolley as Nottingham Forest’s player of the season for last term.
The former Huddersfield Town man hit 11 goals and the same number of assists in the Championship and was the stand-out performer for much of the campaign under both Aitor Karanka and Martin O’Neill.
There were times where Lolley carried the Reds, producing moments of magic, and although Lewis Grabban ended the season as top scorer, Lolley’s all-round play saw him a worthy winner of the award.
Lolley has started this new season well, producing four goals in all competitions, but he has yet to reach the standards of last season, with manager Sabri Lamouchi recently claiming that the 27 year old “can do more, can score more and can help more.”
That should be a worrying prospect for Championship defenders, and the rest of the teams in the division, as Forest currently sit second in the table and are currently on a ten-game unbeaten run in the league.
Although Lolley is no longer grabbing the headlines as frequently, he has still more than played his part in Forest’s impressive start to the campaign. Normally operating on the wing in either a three behind the striker or in a flat midfield four, Lolley’s determination and tenacity make him a crucial part of Lamouchi’s hard-working side.
As much as he enjoys going forward, he is not shy when it comes to tracking back, and his industrious spirit was perfectly summed up in the 1-0 win at Swansea where, with his side facing strong pressure, Lolley sprinted and threw his body in the way of a fiercely struck shot from the edge of the area.
For Forest to be where they are in the table without Lolley at his best is testament to how well the rest of the side have stepped up. The Reds appear to be more of a collective unit than previously which were sentiments echoed by Lolley recently. Goalkeeper Brice Samba, defender Joe Worrall and midfielder Samba Sow are all regularly on the receiving end of plaudits from pundits and fans
alike, while those around them have also rarely put a foot wrong.
Forest are proving to be extremely hard to beat and they currently boast the joint-second best defensive record in the league, conceding just nine and keeping four clean sheets. Like Lolley himself, there is a feeling that there is still room for them to improve in an attacking sense but, thankfully for Forest, they are in the habit of producing crucial goals when needed.
Nothing epitomises the collective effort of the team more than the fact that Forest’s last two home games have both been decided by goals from 34-year-old Ben Watson, a player who last scored back in the 2015/2016 season. Watson’s acrobatic volley was enough to see off Brentford at the weekend, and the former Wigan man looks revitalised under Lamouchi’s stewardship.
Lolley played the full 90 minutes against the visiting Bees and played a part in the goal, delivering the corner which ultimately ended with Watson firing home. There was also a brilliant mazy run early in the game which ended in a saved shot.
For the rest of the game, the Birmingham-born winger never really tested opposing ‘keeper David Raya, but the fact is there is no longer the need for him to do so. When someone like Watson is popping up with matchwinners, the pressure on Lolley to produce goals on a regular basis is lessened.
The great Brazilian forward Pelé once claimed: “Football is not about one or two or three star players. The only way to win is as a team.” Despite the individual talent in the team, Lamouchi’s side is looking greater than the sum of its parts.
There may not be a player of the year trophy at the end of the season but, with a much bigger prize at stake, Joe Lolley and Nottingham Forest will be happy to see the season continue as it has begun.