Nottingham Forest midfielder Ryan Yates produced another man of the match performance in yesterday’s 2-2 draw against West Brom. 

The 21-year-old impressed in his first Championship start against Brentford at the weekend. Martin O’Neill rewarded him for that performance by naming him in his starting line-up again for yesterday’s match at the Hawthorns. Yates certainly didn’t let his manager down.

Although it was a memorable night for the academy graduate, the Reds ultimately came away from yesterday’s match feeling hard done by. Dwight Gayle won a controversial penalty in the final few minutes for the Baggies which Jay Rodriguez was able to convert. It denied O’Neill’s side what would have been a thoroughly deserved three points.

In truth, this has happened on too many occasions throughout the division this season. The margins are so small at this level and poor decisions from officials are costing sides vital points. Those two points could be the difference between the Reds securing a place in the play-offs come the end of the season.

It was also going to be a tough ask for Forest to secure the win. The Baggies aren’t competing at the top end of the division for no reason. They have an abundance of attacking talent and should be pushing more for automatic promotion to the Premier League.

O’Neill’s decision to play Yates alongside Ben Watson and Jack Colback was questioned prior to kick-off. However, it’s fair to say the Northern Irishman got his tactics spot on. The midfield trio controlled the game throughout and limited the hosts to very few opportunities. Costel Pantilimon didn’t have a notable save to make.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Yates is proving to be the real deal

Due to his lack of game time under Aitor Karanka, Yates had essentially become a forgotten man at the City Ground. He decided to remain at the club this season to try and force his way into the first team, despite a number of sides being interested in taking him on loan. However, he’d only made two appearances for the Reds this season before being given a rare start against Brentford.

To his credit, he hasn’t lacked match sharpness. If this is how he can perform after two starts, what would he be like after a considerable run of games? There’s no doubt that Yates is a very exciting prospect.

He certainly seemed to excel alongside the experienced pair of Watson and Colback. Both of them do a very good job of protecting the back four and tidying things up. However, as shown in yesterday’s game, Yates perhaps carries a threat going forward that neither of them really do.

Yates was involved in both goals at the Hawthorns. However, he can consider himself very lucky in regards to the first goal. Colback’s cross had given him a simple tap-in opportunity but he had to rely on Stefan Johansen’s touch to divert it into the back of the net.

He didn’t need such luck in the second half though. He volleyed home Lewis Grabban’s knock down to put the Reds back in front following Jacob Murphy’s equaliser. It was a finish that any top striker would’ve been proud of. It’s just a shame that it didn’t prove to be the winning goal.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Can he maintain this level of performance?

If O’Neill persists with a 4-3-3 system moving forward, then Yates seems to be perfectly suited. With the knowledge that he has two experienced professionals alongside him, it gives him the freedom to go forward when needed. Whether this approach works just as well against other opposition remains to be seen.

Yates may only be at the start of his career, but his recent performances have already done enough to suggest that he can go on to be a key player. O’Neill may be reluctant to keep him in for every game in the fear of burning him out. Yates just needs to keep working hard on the training ground to continue his development.

With a number of winnable fixtures on the horizon against Preston and Derby, Yates will be hoping he can keep his place in the team. The Reds will need to start seeing out games such as yesterday’s if they are to bridge the gap between themselves and the play-off places.

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