Former Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been proven right about James Garner – George Smith

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When Nottingham Forest found themselves rooted to the foot of the Championship table after eight matches, few would have predicted that the last roar their fans would make this season would be when club captain Joe Worrall held the Championship play-off final trophy aloft at Wembley.

The club had experienced a torrid start to the campaign under two-time promotion winner Chris Hughton and he was replaced by Steve Cooper towards the end of September. He picked up the baton at the City Ground with an immediate target of avoiding relegation.

Fast forward the clock a little over eight months and Cooper has guided one of English football’s most historic clubs back to the Premier League – 23 years after they kicked their last ball as a top-flight club. They beat Huddersfield Town 1-0 in their first Wembley visit in 30 years on Sunday and Manchester United loanee James Garner was central to it.

READ MORE: Jose Mourinho’s role and Darren Fletcher talks – the making of James Garner into a Manchester United midfielder

He provided the cross for the game’s only goal, seeing it turned home by Huddersfield defender Levi Colwill, who was doing his very best to stop Ryan Yates, Garner’s midfield partner, from making contact with the ball. It was the match-winning moment, but Garner’s performance in the Forest engine room was about much more than just providing the assist for the golden goal that will bring Premier League football back to the banks of the Trent next season.

Often the architect of Forest’s good work, especially in the first-half, the Birkenhead-born midfield ace was a constant threat, delivering crosses from deep and dictating the play. He also showed off the defensive side to his game, producing several excellent challenges, the best of which was when he stopped Terriers striker Danny Ward from breaking into the penalty area after getting in behind the Forest defense.

Although he was the star of the show at Wembley, it hasn’t just been on the big stage when Garner has stepped up this season. Reunited with Cooper, whom he worked with at England Under-17 level, he has thrived in a team that has played attractive, forward-thinking football. He’s been central to their achievements this season, helping them win promotion and reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, before eventual winners Liverpool stopped them in their tracks.

But even though Garner has spent this season playing in a league with lesser quality to that of the Premier League, he did not look out of place when Forest went toe-to-toe with Arsenal, Leicester City and Liverpool in the FA Cup. He oozed class and did not appear fazed by going up against some of the biggest names the Premier League has to shout about.

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While the FA Cup adventure added another string to the United academy graduate’s bow, it was his performances in the Championship that were always going to dominate his end-of-season report card. He was sent back Forest to benefit from another full season in the Championship, following spells at Watford and Forest last season, and former Reds boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was confident that was what he needed to aid his development.

“I would definitely think Jimmy will go on loan,” said Solskjaer, speaking last August, ahead of the deal being tied up. “That’s more or less done.

“He’s done really well in pre-season and he’s really impressed me, and I think for his career, another season, or another six months now to start with, playing regularly in the Championship will help him.”

Solskjaer was not wrong, was he? Another season in the Championship has massively benefited him, especially when you consider that he has ended it by adding a first promotion to his CV. And it is an achievement that should not go unrecognized, as the Championship is a ruthless division that requires players to be both physically and mentally strong every time they cross the white line.

Now, following the conclusion of his second Forest loan spell, all eyes will be on his future this summer. Will Erik ten Hag embed him within his plans, or will he head out on loan again, perhaps to Forest, to benefit from a full season of regularly playing top-flight football?

Whatever happens, Solskjaer knew what was best for Garner and he has been proven absolutely right.

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