Ola Aina: Creating Tracks in the Forest

Playing both at the right and left back, Ola Aina has been one of the top performers for Nottingham Forest this season and consolidated his effort with a classy goal in Tricky Forest’s 2-0 defeat of high-flying Aston Villa penultimate weekend. It therefore came as no surprise when the Super Eagles defender was voted the club’s Most Valuable Player of the Month for September

Ola Aina joined Nottingham Forest in the summer on a one-year deal following the expiry of his contract at Italian side, Torino, having previously played in the Premier League during a loan spell with Fulham in the 2020-21 season; he said: “It’s exciting to be back playing in the Premier League. It’s the best league in the world and I always want to challenge myself.”

Indeed, it has been exciting time for the Chelsea Academy product since moving to the City Ground and has been one of the club’s top performers since the start of the season even consolidating his defensive solidity with a goal against Aston Villa two weeks ago.

The Nigeria international defender side-footed a fantastic finish to give the Tricky Trees the lead at the City Ground with a well worked move and has voiced his delight at grabbing his first goal for Nottingham Forest in their 2-0 win over Aston Villa.

It is Forest’s first win in their last seven league games and the perfect response to their 3-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield the previous week.

Speaking to Sky Sports (via BBC) after the encounter, Aina was pleased with the win, and he confessed he would cherish his goal for a long time.

“Massive win. We were disappointed last week, but today we are happy; we fought for each other and got the win,” Aina said.

“My goal was one to remember. I am happy to get off the mark and help the team. We can all be proud; we stuck to the game plan, we dug in and fought for each other.”

While it is Aina’s first goal for Forest, it is his third goal in the Premier League.

Aina was certainly not signed for his goalscoring prowess. In his only previous full season of Premier League football, he netted twice in 31 appearances for Fulham.

However, the 27-year-old clearly has an eye for goal when the opportunity presents itself.

His finish against Villa — a low, accurate shot into the bottom left corner from just outside the box, resembled that of a confident striker.

Such was the quality of his effort, Aina earned praise from former Liverpool and England centre forward Michael Owen.

He said: “You’d expect a ball like that to be hit with the laces from 25 yards out, but it’s actually a very controlled finish hit with the instep.

“It’s a side-foot finish and I’m a big advocate of that- I think people go for power far too much. It’s a really good finish.”

 Aina has played on both the right and left flank for Nottingham Forest

Forest will hope there are more goals to come from Aina but his primary job in the team is to defend and provide attacking support in wide areas.

He has done that impressively so far this season, playing on both the left and right side of Steve Cooper’s rearguard.

His versatility has already proven useful, with Aina equally capable of playing a defensive role in a back four or operating in more advanced areas as a wing-back in a five-man defence.

The Nigeria international has made plenty of  important pragmatic contributions too.

Only Willy Boly (34) has won more possessions in the defensive third than Aina (26) for Forest in 2023-24.

And with 16 tackles and 19 completed clearances to his name, Aina has played a big part in his team’s solidity.

Aina has contributed to two clean sheets for Nottingham Forest so far this season

Cooper’s side are growing in confidence after a tricky start to the campaign.

The 2-0 win over Villa was evidence of their progress as they kept a third clean sheet in 11 games and shut out one of the division’s top scorers in Ollie Watkins.

Having started eight league matches since his move from Serie A side, Torino, there is little doubt that Aina has been key to the improvement.

Back in September, he said: “The games have been tough but I feel like for myself and the team, it’s good to see where we’re at.

“I feel like we haven’t done too bad against the bigger teams, it’s been a challenge but it’s been a good one.

“It shows the leaps and bounds the club has taken within just one season. It’s good to see we are competing and we do feel strong, so it’s good to have that feeling.”

Interestingly, Aina has been voted as Nottingham Forest’s Player of The Month for September, the club announced on Tuesday.

According to the club, Aina received 40 per cent of the total votes cast by fans.

He succeeds compatriot, Taiwo Awoniyi, who won the award in August.

In the month under review, Aina featured three times for the Tricky Trees when they beat Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge followed by a 1-1 draw at the City Ground against Burnley and a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City.

The 26-year-old has made a positive impression since joining Forest on a free transfer following his departure from Torino, featuring five times in the current Premier League campaign.

In an interview with the club’s website, Aina said he was enjoying life at the City Ground.

“It’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it so far. The staff, the players, the city itself, it’s been really good to me so far and long may it continue.

“I was the first to arrive this summer and it was fun, I had Taiwo and Emmanuel Dennis here, who I know from Nigeria, I knew Morgan and Harry Toffolo too, so it was smooth sailing.”

Aina has been capped 30 times by Nigeria, having made his debut in 2017. He played for England at youth level.

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