The Nigerian started his first home game and gave the Reds something to look forward to in their first home game since the return to the Premier League
By Lolade Adewuyi (In Nottingham)
It had been a 23 year-long wait, but the Premier League made its return to the City Ground on Sunday as Nottingham Forest hosted West Ham. Taiwo Awoniyi made the starting XI of this historic game and he made it count with a goal, the club’s first in the biggest league for more than two decades.
30,000 fans packed inside the stadium by the River Trent on this sunny Sunday afternoon as temperatures reached 32 degrees Celsius. The proud Forest fans sang through the opening stages of the game as they clapped for every throw and free kick won by their boys in red. The atmosphere was deafening as the unrelenting fans chanted about the glory days that once saw Forest win the European Cup.
But those days are long gone now. They spent 23 years away from the Premier League. It was a time that tested their resolve. But as they welcomed the Hammers on Sunday, it was a moment to celebrate the return to the good days. Rowers across the Trent River screamed out to fans going to the stadium ground. Everyone was jolly.
How was Taiwo Awoniyi’s first Nottingham Forest home game?
The Nigerian was bought for a record 20 million euros from Union Berlin in the summer. He had a lot of pressure on him to fulfill the desires of the club and his new fans. Awoniyi’s first contribution to the game came in the eighth minute when he won a free kick from thirty yards out but Neco Williams sent his shot wide of goal.
His second contribution came minutes after as he tipped a pass to Jesse Lingard who was then fouled outside the box. The free kick this time was better, with Moussa Niakhite getting on the end of a cross and heading towards goal. But goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski was able to stretch and put it away for a corner kick.
The home fans loved the energy shown by their team and its star striker.
Awoniyi’s next chance came in the 13th minute when he called for a cross from Williams. The Englishman delivered a pinpoint cross into the box and Awoniyi glanced the header just wide. The entire stadium held its breath. A few more inches and the ball would have nestled inside the West Ham goal. The Nigerian smiled. He knew it would be just a matter of time for his opening Premier League goal.
Nottingham Forest had watched him trouble defenders with his back to goal when he was at Union Berlin. And they knew he was going to repay their investments.
A day before, the Reds had unveiled another Nigerian star Emmanuel Dennis, who moved from Watford. They were creating a top strike partnership that would help them stay in the Premier League.
Awoniyi would eventually change the game’s complexion in the second minute of first half added-on time when Lingard scoffed a shot which hit the Nigerian’s knee before gently finding it way into the West Ham goal. It was the unlikeliest of goals but it was a moment for celebration as the Forest fans sang and chanted in celebration. The Nigerian had delivered for this proud team and they rejoiced.
— Nottingham Forest FC (@NFFC) August 14, 2022
Striker Brennan Johnson thought he had made it 2-0 for Forest early in the second half but it was chalked off for offside after a VAR check. It was the second major VAR decision of the game as the Hammers had seen a goal also disallowed in the first half following a Michail Antonio foul on Orel Mangala.
Taiwo Awoniyi is the first Premier League goalscorer for Nottingham Forest in 23 years. What a way to announce his arrival and take the pressure of his shoulders. Upwards from here. Good lad. #NFFC
— Lolade Adewuyi (@Jololade) August 14, 2022
West Ham were unrelenting in attack as they saw two unlucky shots that left goalkeeper Dean Henderson stranded hit the framework. They were handed a lifeline later as Scott McKenna got a yellow card for ball handling and a penalty was awarded. But Henderson dove to his right and saved Declan Rice’s tame kick to keep the Forest fans happy.
After a tireless performance on his first home start and the club’s first Premier League goal, Awoniyi was replaced by Sam Sturridge on 72 minutes. He received a standing applause from the Reds. They had found a new hero, the Nigerian boy who never gave up. For them, it is the beginning of the Taiwo Awoniyi era along the River Trent.