Nottingham Forest supporters were paying close attention to Mansfield Town’s League Two play-off semi-final first leg last night.
The Stags are favourites to progress through to the final at Wembley after picking up a 1-1 draw against Newport County at Rodney Parade. But their possible promotion to League One wasn’t the reason why Reds supporters were tuning in.
The Reds currently have three of their youth academy graduates on loan at Field Mill, in the form of Tyler Walker, Jorge Grant and Jordan Smith.
However, it’s fair to say that the move has only really worked out for one of them. 22-year-old Walker has been named in the League Two Team of the Year after an impressive season with the Stags. He has scored 26 goals for David Flitcroft’s side.
It would be a surprise if he wasn’t given a chance to impress in pre-season. Martin O’Neill has already voiced that he is looking to lower the average age of the squad next season. His willingness to give Arvin Appiah game time towards the end of the season shows he is keen to give youth a chance.
In comparison to Walker, both Grant and Smith have struggled. Despite making 17 appearances since joining in January, Grant was left out of Flitcroft’s starting line-up last night. 24-year-old goalkeeper Smith was also left out and has only made 12 appearances over the last five months.
Understandably, the fact the duo have struggled to get into a League Two side has raised questions about whether they have any future at the City Ground. There’s only so many times a player can go on loan before the club consider selling permanently.
Some Reds supporters believe the club should offload them in the summer:
I see Jordan Smith’s finally found his level. Bench in League 2 is about right 😂 #NFFC
— Alex Papadopoulos (@APapadopoulos1) May 9, 2019
To the people that think we should keep Grant & Smith. They can’t even get into a league 2 side! They need selling #NFFC
— Aaron (@Allsebrook94) May 9, 2019
If #nffc players can’t get into a league 2 side they won’t command much of a fee.
— Sontaran (@TrojanFan1969) May 9, 2019
The Stags seemed destined to win after CJ Hamilton’s superb finish in the first half. But Padraig Amond equalised with just seven minutes of normal time remaining for the hosts to set up an intriguing second leg.
Walker was the only Forest loanee to be named in the starting line-up, but he endured a frustrating night. He was involved in one of the game’s controversial moments as he was hauled down by Mark O’Brien after just five minutes. This was before he missed a good chance in the second half to extend his side’s lead.
Some of the Reds faithful voiced their support for Walker on social media, but it was CJ Hamilton who caught the eye:
— Mark Ellis (@ethandaniels13) May 9, 2019
Sign big CJ Hamilton up #nffc
— Cal🔴⚪️ (@nffccal) May 9, 2019
— James Taylor (@jamesiantaylor) May 9, 2019
Whatever happens with the young trio over the next few months, O’Neill certainly has some big decisions to make. There’s no doubt that he has to cut down his squad size, and Grant and Smith may fall victim to this.