NOTTINGHAM — Tendayi Darikwa has set a “good example to everyone” in the changing room with his attitude at Nottingham Forest since his recent return from injury, says the Championship football side’s manager Aitor Karanka.
The Zimbabwe international full-back has had to fight hard for his place in the side for long spells this season, with Eric Lichaj having pinned down the right-back spot in the latter stages of Mark Warburton’s tenure and under Gary Brazil.
But the 26-year-old has started the last three Championship games as Karanka’s side notched up a three-match unbeaten run that the club hope will provide the foundations for a better run of form.
And he is likely to get another chance to stake his claim for a regular place in the side against Birmingham City this weekend, not just because Lichaj is to sit out the third and final match of his recent ban, but because of his own improved performances.
“I am really pleased with Tendayi, because he is the kind of player who is a very good example to everyone,” said Karanka. “If you train well and train in the right way; if you show you are ready, the chance will always arrive.
“It has been a shame for me (to leave him out previously) because he is the kind of player who always trains well. He always tries his best.
“But despite that, he could not get the chance to play. Sometimes one injury or one illness can give you the opportunity.
“He has done really well, I am really pleased for him, because even when he was not playing, when he was not involved, he always did his best in every training session.”
Lichaj — the current player of the season — was sent off against Burton recently when playing at left-back, with Darikwa featuring at right-back.
But Karanka says he does not envisage a situation where Lichaj will slot in at left-back again in the future, with the club having signed Juan Fuentes — and with Ben Osborn having flourished in the position since filling the void left by Lichaj following his red card at the Pirelli Stadium.
“I don’t think so,” said Karanka when asked if Lichaj could slot back into the side at left-back when he returns. “Now we have other alternatives.
“We have Ben Osborn to play left-back, we have Fuentes to play there and, if we have (Michael) Mancienne, (Joe) Worrall and (Tobias) Figueiredo fit, then (Danny) Fox can be free to play on the left as well.
“I do not think I will need to use Eric again there, but if the physio tells me we have a lot of injuries, maybe my mind could be changed.”
Darikwa, however, by his own admission, does not believe he has properly shown what he can do, since joining the club from Burnley in the summer, for a fee thought to be in the region of £2 million.
“I want to play every game. Eric has done well since he has been in the team,” said Darikwa. “But now I have an opportunity to show the manager what I can do and, hopefully, I can do that.
“I hope I can play again like I did in the second half against Reading. I think it was (one of his better performances in a Forest shirt). I was on the front foot, I was up and down.
“Since I have been at the club I don’t think I have performed to the level I am capable of, on a consistent basis.
“But hopefully I can continue to do what I did against Reading.”
And he hopes that the makeshift back four that has performed solidly in the last two games – and has featured him at right back, Ben Osborn at left back and Tobias Figueiredo and Danny Fox in the centre — can be consistent throughout the season.
“We are still learning about each other’s games. We have only played a few games together and obviously Tobias has come in to the centre of the defence for his first starts. He has adapted to the English game really well,” said Darikwa.
“Hopefully, he can continue to play like that. He is physical, which helps him in this league. It is 100mph sometimes and it is always very physical.
“Hopefully, he can continue to play like he has in the last few games.
“Ben Osborn can play well in a number of positions and he has done well, when called upon, at left back.
“Foxy has done well at left back and centre back. Hopefully if we get the chance again, we can produce another good performance as a back four on Saturday.”