Football Features

Are you watching Ten Hag? James Garner stars as Nottingham Forest win Championship play-off final

By Ben Green

Published: 18:42, 29 May 2022

Nottingham Forest have ended their 23-year Premier League exile after beating Huddersfield Town 1-0 in the Championship play-off final.

In what proved a delicately-poised meeting under the arch, Steve Cooper’s men got the job done to win football’s most lucrative fixture.

The decisive moment came in the opening 45 minutes after a whipped James Garner cross was directed into his own net by Levi Colwill.

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That goal on the stroke of half time provoked bedlam in one half of Wembley as Forest fans celebrated what would ultimately prove to be the match-winner.

Cooper’s men were the dominant force in the first half as Manchester United loanee Garner threaded passes with supreme passing accuracy.

The pendulum naturally swung after the restart as Carlos Corberan’s Terriers threw the kitchen sink at Forest, who would ultimately stand firm to claim their spot at the Premier League table.

It’s an incredible achievement from Cooper, who famously took over from Chris Hughton in September with Forest at the bottom of the Championship table.

From winless in the opening seven matches, to play-off conquerers, it has been nothing short of miraculous from one of English football’s major sleeping giants.

And Garner has epitomised the rise. An elegant midfield metronome, the 21-year-old has been in stellar form for Forest across the campaign.

Where Manchester United have largely struggled to find an identity in the middle of the park this season, Garner has been quietly consolidating his status as one of England’s brightest midfield sparks.

Under the tutelage of a man who famously guided the likes of Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho to U-17 World Cup glory in 2017, Garner is the latest fledgling Three Lion to thrive in the presence of Cooper.

He finished the match at Wembley have created more chances than any other Forest player (three), completed more final third passes (nine) and the most penalty area entries (four). His progressive passing and forward-thinking approach gave Forest an edge going forward.

It’s the kind of instinctive, front-footed approach that is exactly what Man Utd’s midfield has been crying out for. Erik ten Hag would have been wise to catch a glimpse of events in the capital as one of his new players stole the show.

A huge rebuild is expected at Old Trafford this summer, not least because midfielders Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba are set to leave, but Garner’s imperious showing here is proof that there’s talent available within, rather than coveting another big-money buy elsewhere.