One year after signing the dotted lines in a deal worth €20.5m, which proved crucial for both parties, Nigerian striker, Taiwo Awoniyi and his club, Nottingham Forest, are relishing the union that saved the club from returning to the Championship, PUNCH Sports Extra reports.
Despite spending some parts of the season on the treatment table, Awoniyi proved decisive with 10 Premier League goals and one assist as Forest escaped relegation with 38 points from as many games.
When Nottingham Forest secured promotion to the English Premier League with a 1-0 win over Huddersfield in May 2022, Awoniyi, had just finished an incredible season with Union Berlin in the German Bundesliga, helping the Iron Ones secure a UEFA Europa League spot with his 14th and 15th goals of the season as they won 3-2 against Bochum at the Alte Foersterei in the season finale.
Forests were returning to the Premier League for the first time in 23 years and it was natural for a newly promoted side to recruit.
In Awoniyi’s case, it was his first season with Union Berlin and after a successful campaign in Germany, it was hard to imagine the Nigerian striker would make a quick return to England, where he was on the books of Liverpool for six years without making any appearance due to work permit issues.
As fate would have it, Forest came calling and the 25-year-old heeded, becoming the club’s first Premier League signing in 23 years on June 25, 2022.
Looking back, the club posted on Sunday, “One year of Taiwo Awoniyi” and the player, in his usual churchy cryptic manner also acknowledged, “A year today. God is the greatest.”
Indeed, it’s been a season to remember for Awoniyi and the Tricky Trees as most of Awoniyi’s involvement turned out historic.
He only played for 27 minutes during their first game against Newcastle August 6, 2022 but he announced his arrival in their second game against West Ham United by scoring his first EPL goal as well as Forest’s first EPL goal in 23 years as they won 1-0.
It took him five more games to get a second goal against Fulham on September 16, 2022 and the third came against his former club, Liverpool, on October 22, 2022. After scoring his fourth against Southampton three months later, he was sidelined by a groin injury, which cast doubts over his dreams, as Forest struggled to survive the drop.
After three months on the treatment table, Awoniyi returned to action in April. He continued to keep his place in the team until May, when he became the most important man for Forest with six goals in their last four games of the season.
The Nigerian scored back-to-back braces against Southampton and Chelsea, before further denting Arsenal’s title hopes with another goal and scored the last against Crystal Palace in a 1-1 draw on final day. His goals against the Saints propelled the Tricky Trees out of the relegation zone in a thrilling 4-3 win, before another pulsating 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.
With 10 goals, he became the first Forest player since Stan Collymore in 1995 to score double-digit Premier League goals.
While on international duty for Nigeria at the end of the season, Awoniyi recounted the circumstances and confidence he gained from the run-in to the end of the season.
“It was a great season, one that I’m very proud of being my first in the EPL. It shows how hard I’ve worked in the past years. I also appreciate my family for the support,” Awoniyi told PUNCH Sport Extra.
“Football is a game of 11 players, and I think all the other players contributed as much as I did. What we are happy about is going through those difficult moments and coming out victorious.”
In a church testimony that went viral, Awoniyi also revealed how his encounter with God eased the run-in to the end of the season for him.
“I moved to England with my family. The beginning was really tough. I had no idea what was going on. My wife said to me, ‘you don’t play the way you used to do anymore.’ And that was true.
“So, on May 7, I think, Daddy (the pastor) was preaching about the ways of God. The first statement that I heard was that ‘everyone should return to the pattern that they used to praise God.’ That Monday, we had a game at night, I was on my knees from 6am till 12 noon. That night, that was the easiest game that I have played in my life. And I scored twice.
“My club, which was really struggling for relegation, moved from that zone and stayed in the league. I just want to give all the glory to God.”