With the first team`s participation in next seasons Championship all but secure, Aitor Karanka now has the luxury of using the remaining games to further indoctrinate the squad into his method of working, and to appraise the players who have not been getting regular game time in advance of deciding who stays and who goes come the seasons end.
The same luxury cannot be afforded to Gareth Holmes and his Under 23 side, who currently sit third in the Northern section of Category Two of the Professional Development League with just 7 games remaining.
The Under 23s have made great strides this season under Gareth`s tutelage and will improve significantly on last season`s disappointing 8th place finish; this despite a poor run of 6 defeats in the last 10 games. Next up for the Under 23s is a home game on Friday against Charlton, who sit in second place in the Southern section; this game will be followed by home games against Crewe and Watford and away games against Huddersfield, QPR, Birmingham and Cardiff.
Bolton sit at the top of the table having played one more game than Forest but have an 8 point advantage; only 2 points separate the next 6 clubs, all of whom have played more games than Forest, so everything is still there to be played for.
With such narrow margins, it will be interesting to see if the chance of the Under 23s winning silverware influences Karanka`s decision making on blooding more of the youngsters over the first team`s final games OR whether a few experienced fringe players are deployed to assist?
The Professional Development League was introduced in 2012 by the Football Association via the Elite Player Performance Plan and is structured in line with Academy categorisation; clubs with category 1 Academies play in either Premier League 1 or 2, with promotion and relegation taking place between the two.
Forest play in the category two league which is split between a Northern and Southern section; the top two in each league then take part in play offs to decide the overall winners. The League originally accommodated teams from the Under 21 and Under 18 levels at each Academy, this changed in 2016 when the Under 21 level was replaced by an Under 23 level.
Despite being called upon to carry out first team duties on a number of occasions, Gary Brazil has managed to transform our Academy into a force to be reckoned with since taking over as Academy Manager in 2014. The Academy has a fantastic track-record in producing talented youngsters who have gone on to grace the Garibaldi; the likes of Osborn, Cash, Worrall and Brereton still feature in the first team squad, others, like Oliver Burke, have been sold on for huge amounts of money. Brazil was instrumental in bringing Holmes to the club, who joined prior to the commencement of the 2015/16 season working along side Jack Lester with the Under 18s; he has since progressed to take charge of the Under 23s.
The remaining games will prove a great test of character for a group of talented youngsters who have the twin aims of silverware and breaking through into the first team squad ahead of them; it also gives Gareth an opportunity to enhance his reputation, a reputation that is attracting a growing number of admirers within the game.
Let’s hope Gareth and his Under 23’s enjoy success this season and ultimately add to the selection headaches of First Team Manager Aitor Karanka!