HARRY TOFFOLO had an incredible three-year rise from League Two to the Premier League and is in no mood for that to be undone by relegation.
The left-back is in the best shape of his life and desperate to help keep Nottingham Forest in the top flight.
They go into today’s relegation six-pointer against Wolves at the City Ground two points above the drop zone with just four separating the bottom nine.
Toffolo, 27, has been on a rollercoaster the past year.
He first had the high of being a key player as Huddersfield stormed into the Championship play-off final but came hurtling back to earth when Forest ended their Premier League dream at Wembley last May.
Then he was speeding skywards when Steve Cooper signed him in the summer but gravity pulled him back as he picked up a hamstring injury after five games.
Toffolo returned for three matches but suffered the same injury and has since fallen behind Brazilian ace Renan Lodi in the pecking order.
But the left-back told SunSport: “I’m now in the best shape of my life and, after what I’ve gone through, I’m better equipped to take the next opportunity. I know that chance will come.
“At Huddersfield, Josh Ruffels and I were in competition for the shirt.
“Last season I was involved in 14 goals from full-back (scoring six with eight assists) so Josh will have felt hard done by as he trained well and was ready to step up. When he got into the team, he was great too.
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“The boot is on the other foot now because Renan has the shirt. I don’t see him as a rival but a team-mate.
“I want him to do well but must be ready when called upon — we’re getting the best out of each other.
“And I want to make an impact during these last nine games and help this club up.”
Toffolo won promotion with Lincoln from League Two in 2019 and within six months was in the Championship after following his boss Danny Cowley to Huddersfield, where he spent two-and-a-half seasons before stepping into the top flight.
It was surreal he and Terriers team-mate Lewis O’Brien were down in the dumps about losing the play-off final only to both get headhunted by their conquerors weeks later.
Their departures were a huge blow to Huddersfield on the back of boss Carlos Corberan quitting — and they go into their league game against Middlesbrough on Saturday third bottom.
Toffolo said: “I remember sitting in that Wembley dressing room feeling hard done by but, looking back, realise it was a great achievement.
“It’s bittersweet for me being in the Premier League because my mates are back in Huddersfield scraping to stay in the Championship.
“My eldest son Luca is a massive fan of both the Terriers and Lincoln. I took him to watch Huddersfield at Stoke six weeks ago. I was fond of my time there so hope we both can stay up.
“It was hard to program what was going on when I had the opportunity to come here after all the emotions following that final.
“Although I knew Forest’s history and what Steve Cooper has been doing here, it was only after arriving I appreciated what a huge club this is.
“It was an opportunity I had to take to continue my upward trajectory.”
The left-back was blown away by the quality of the Premier League.
He said: “You make one mistake and it’s punished.
“But in the Championship you can make two, League One maybe three and League Two maybe four. Everything is so much faster and the quality is what you’d expect from the best league in the world.”
Yet he believes Forest have proved they are more than good enough — having beaten Liverpool and drawn with Manchester City at the City Ground.
Toffolo was on the pitch when Chris Wood stunned Pep Guardiola’s men with his 84th-minute leveller and ranks that and Forest’s first win back in the Premier League against West Ham as his favourite moments this season.
He also enjoyed the club’s only away win this term at Southampton.
He said: “When we played Newcastle on the opening day, the quality of the Premier League took us by surprise.
“They’re top-class and press very hard. We learned a lot that day.
“When we returned to the City Ground against West Ham, it was one of the best atmospheres I’d experienced.
“Taiwo Awoniyi scored the winner and our first goal back in the top league, which I played a part in. The memories and photos of that moment will stay with me forever.
“I came on at Southampton. We were blocking everything in the final 10 minutes and as a defender you love doing that.
“After the City game, the manager showed us a five-minute clip of the fans singing.
“It was a ‘wow moment’ as when you’re on the pitch, you don’t hear or appreciate it because you’re in the zone. I was so proud to come on and help the team draw 1-1 against a world-class team.”
With Forest rock bottom after eight games — and following a run of five straight defeats which saw the team concede 18 goals — the club made a huge statement by handing Cooper a new three-year deal.
The Trees are only one of three clubs in the bottom half who have not changed their manager — West Ham’s David Moyes and Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers are the others.
Toffolo said: “The respect I have — let alone the city and club — for Steve is incredible. He’s a man’s man and a loyal person who I’ve so much time for.
“I know we live in a results-led business but sometimes you look at the person and think that’s someone you want to work for.
“He ticks all the boxes as do all the coaching staff. Alan Tate, Jamie Robinson, Andy Reid, goalkeeping coach Danny Alcock the goalkeeping coach. They’re all fantastic people.
“You look forward to seeing them every day.
“We’ve seen new managers have come into teams around us and how many points some of them have picked up.
“But you must also look at how many points we picked up when the gaffer got his new contract. It was phenomenal.
“Loyalty isn’t often spoken about but this club has shown that to Steve and rightly so. He’s the spearhead of everything we do around here. He has a lot of respect on and off the pitch.
“On a personal level, he’s been good. As a person, you enjoy speaking to him. That’s an important step.
“If you enjoy speaking to someone, you’ve then got their attention and they’ve got yours. You find everything is more productive.”
Corberan is heading for the big time
NOTTINGHAM FOREST’S Harry Toffolo is tipping his “incredible” ex-Huddersfield boss Carlos Corberan to be gracing the Premier League soon.
The left-back played for two seasons under the Spaniard at the John Smith’s Stadium.
And after the Terriers heartbreakingly lost the Championship play-off final at Wembley last May to Forest, both left the club.
While Toffolo moved to Huddersfield’s conquerors, Corberan quit and after a brief spell in charge of Greek team Olympiacos is now in charge of West Brom.
He successfully moved the Baggies away from the relegation zone and they go into their game against Millwall this weekend five points behind the play-offs but with a game in hand.
And Toffolo said: “Carlos will 100 per cent be a Premier League manager.
“I’ll never say a bad word about Carlos. He’s an incredible coach and person. He adapted to the English game after his first season and took Huddersfield within 90 minutes of the Premier League.
“He is everything that you want from a manager and coach. I love his passion especially. Carlos is someone players love to work for.”
And he also had gushing praise for his former Lincoln and Huddersfield bosses Danny and Nicky Cowley — who are currently out of work after being sacked by League One club Portsmouth.
The brothers did a superb job with the Terriers, guiding the club to safety despite the fact they were bottom after eight games with just one point.
And they also led Lincoln from the National League to League One and even guided the Imps to the FA Cup quarter-finals against Arsenal as a non-league team in 2017.
Toffolo played for them at Lincoln when they won promotion from League Two.
He said: “They’re incredible people and 100 per cent they’ll be back in the game in no time.
“What they did for me in my career at Lincoln made me fall back in love with football again and gave me the opportunity to play in the EFL and took me to Huddersfield where I ended up playing there.
“They contributed all the way through to that play-off push because the year they were at the club they kept us in the division against all the odds. People look at that and take it for granted the job they did.
“Along with Steve Cooper, these are the managers who I’ve crossed paths with who have done incredible things. To be associated with them is fantastic.”
Toffolo says during the times he was injured he worked harder than he did when fit.
He said: “People sometimes think when injured you’re not doing anything but you’re working far harder.
“Not only are you doing your injury recovery work, because you cannot run, you spend a lot of time going through all your playing clips on the iPad.
“When you come into training during that time the days are long. You don’t just come in for a massage and go home. It’s extremely hard — more so than when you’re playing in fact.”
Toffolo almost moved to Belgian club Anderlecht in January but the move fell through when Cooper decided he needed to keep the left-back as cover.
He said: “Even though it was only going to be a short-term loan, it was a project I liked the look of.
“They were still in the Europa Conference League and when I visited the training ground it was incredible. I went to a game, which was fantastic.
“They showed me a lot of respect but Forest needed to fill their 25-man squad for the second half of the season.
“When they were compiling that list, my name was still on it so as their player I had to respect that. But I’m happy to still be here.”
Forest start the run-in with two huge games. After Wolves, they go to Leeds on Tuesday night desperate to improve the worst away record in the division, having picked up just four points.
With the table as tight as it is, there is no margin for error.
And Toffolo said: “We’ll be right at it. The lads are looking in good shape. We’re mentally in a good place and I think ultimately 90 per cent of this relegation fight will come down to the mental side. We need to keep our cool.
“What makes me believe we can get over the line is the togetherness of the group, not just the players but everyone from the kitchen staff all the way through.
“It’s a together squad and club. You’ve seen a lot of good press about the owner Evangelos Marinakis and what he’s doing off the field with the club.
“It’s good for us players as we know there’s fantastic backing from the club and fans and we’re all aligned. That’ll get us over the line. We all want that.
“We’re realistic about the situation we’re in but all enjoy being Premier League footballers and want to continue that.”
And while Toffolo is enjoying his status as a top-flight player, he says life is far from lavish and he still loves lower-league football.
Not only has he been to watch Huddersfield, he took his son to watch Lincoln take on MK Dons in League One four weeks ago.
He said: “You should never forget where you come from because it’s easy to be caught in the Premier League bubble and the so-called lavish lifestyle but it’s far from that.
“The reality is you go to training, work hard, do the school run, do dinner for the kids and make sure they all go to bed on time, brush their teeth, sleep, repeat! And make sure you’re ready for matchday.”