After wins for Chelsea and Manchester City, all eyes were on Nottingham Forest to provide the FA Cup quarter-final with an upset. Former Liverpool academy manager Steve Cooper made a single change from his side’s 3-1 win against QPR, as Joe Lolley made his first start since injury in place of Scott McKenna; with the Reds switching to four at the back. Jürgen Klopp made seven changes from his team’s win at the Emirates on Wednesday, with Alisson, Virgil van Dijk and Roberto Firmino among the visitors starting XI.
For the first meeting of the sides this century, the Forest faithful were at their scintillating best, as they made Klopp aware of our magnificent city and football club — adding to his ‘Robin Hood’ knowledge. Forest fans out sung the away end for the entirety of the game, with an electric atmosphere that could be heard across the city.
The opening exchanges lacked any real goalmouth activity, with both teams defending valiantly and not giving each other much space on the ball. Cooper’s team elected not to press the visitors as much as they would in a normal game, with the ability of Liverpool’s world-class players to beat that press with ease feared.
Konstantinos Tsimikas had Liverpool’s first sight of goal after 14 minutes, but his volley from the edge of the penalty area on the left wing narrowly flew over the crossbar. A minute later, it was James Garner’s turn to see a speculative effort fly over the bar from the edge of the penalty area, as Forest showed Liverpool they wouldn’t have it all their own way under the City Ground lights.
Fabinho was the next player in Liverpool’s cream away strip to miss the target, as he got on the end of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s corner, but could only steer his right-footed shot past the far post on 18 minutes.
Forest seemingly gifted the visitors a goal after 27 minutes, as Colback gave the ball straight to them and Firmino was played one-on-one with Ethan Horvath. The ground fell silent as the outcome seemed inevitable. However, the six-foot-five American stood strong to Firmino’s lazy chipped effort on goal as the Brazilian scuppered the best chance of the game, with Joe Worrall eventually clearing. That moment was celebrated like a goal by many around the City Ground.
The game continued in a tight manner, with Forest centre-back pair Worrall and Tobias Figueiredo starring, winning their aerial duels as they kept the best attack in the Premier League out in the first 45 minutes.
Cooper’s side began the second half with high amounts of energy and pressure, but it was Liverpool who had the first chance of the half on 52 minutes. Forest again gave the ball away and it was worked to Diogo Jota inside the penalty area on the left-hand side. His shot towards the far corner was kept out by Horvath.
Klopp painted a frustrated figure on the touchline, as he made four changes on 64 minutes to try and give his team the ability to break down a resilient Forest defence. However, it was Forest who had the next big moment in the game with 15 minutes to play. Brennan Johnson was able to break away down the right-hand side and play a teasing ball across the edge of the penalty area towards the back post. Philip Zinckernagel met the Welshman’s cross, but his left-footed effort trickled just wide of the bottom right corner.
In games like this, those are the types of chances that you must take.
This fact was shown merely minutes later as Liverpool took the lead. Tsimikas advanced down the left wing and cut inside onto his right foot. The Greek’s cross was met by a faint touch from Jota — Liverpool’s most threatening player — who, despite definite whispers of offside, poked past Horvath.
The Forest response came. With four minutes to play, Garner threaded a delicious pass beyond Liverpool’s backline towards an advancing Ryan Yates. He got to the ball first and was clattered into by Alisson, but both referee Craig Pawson and VAR deemed Yates to have initiated the contact.
With 89 minutes on the clock, Johnson got away from Tsimikas on the right wing again. His cross floated towards Yates, who could only guide a header into the hands of Alisson.
Five minutes of stoppage time followed, but Forest could not break down Liverpool‘s defence, despite the late attacking introduction of Xande Silva.
The full-time whistle was greeted by applause from the City Ground crowd. In a season that started with clear separation from the players, manager and supporters, the unity shown by a sold-out crowd emphasises the changes that have been made at the club.
Disappointment was a clear emotion around the ground as Forest lost their unbeaten home run in 2022, but an incredible cup run was greeted by admiration as the world was shown who the original and true Reds are in a classic FA Cup tie.
This cup run has given the squad a taste of what they could achieve this season, and belief — stated by both Cooper and Garner in post-match interviews. Liverpool will go on to face Manchester City in their first FA Cup semi-final since 2015 while Forest will look to secure a play-off place in the Championship run-in after the international break.