Steve Cooper changed his entire side from the 1-1 draw at Goodison Park at the weekend, handing competitive debuts to five and giving Ryan Yates the armband from the start. Opposing manager Paul Hurst was full of praise for his opposite number pre-match as he named a strong side with four changes from their last league outing.
From the off, Grimsby were in Forest’s faces playing high up the pitch and the visitors, wearing their new yellow away kit for the first time, couldn’t get out of their own half in the opening minutes.
Despite starting on the back foot, Forest conjoured up the first opportunity as Alex Mighten (playing right wing-back) skipped away from his man on the right wing and sent a cross to the back post where Emmanuel Dennis could only fire into the side netting.
The quick start from the hosts soon ended as they began to sit deep and invite pressure. With the wing-back system Cooper employs, the Reds were able to exploit the wide areas effectively as Grimsby played a narrow 4-2-3-1.
Aaron Donnelley played a neat one-two with Cafú on the left-hand side and his cross was met by Loïc Mbe Soh, whose headed effort was blocked with 15 minutes played.
Although not at their best, the Premier League quality shone through after 18 minutes. Pressure from Sam Surridge won the ball high up the pitch and he found Dennis in the penalty area. The Nigerian squared it to Yates who, on the edge of the area, lashed home emphatically with his weaker foot to give Forest the lead.
It was becoming clear that Grimsby posed an aerial threat as Jordan Cropper showed off his monster of a throw-in, but Forest were able to defend all of his first-half throws. Cheikhou Kouyaté was shining through at the heart of defence, reading the game well, looking strong and making some excellent tackles and interceptions.
Ten minutes before the break, Surridge doubled Forest’s lead. Again, they won the ball high up the pitch with Cafú and he sent the 24-year-old through on goal. When he is one-on-one with the ‘keeper there’s normally only one outcome and indeed he slotted home neatly, just inside the area.
At half time neither side had really taken control of proceedings but Forest were just about worthy of the lead.
That all changed in the second half. From the off, Grimsby were much better. They played some lovely football at times and pounced on lost balls by Forest’s inexperienced side. Grimsby just lacked that cutting-edge quality to put a chance away.
Just after half time, the hosts hit the post from another Cropper throw as half-time sub Ryan Taylor failed to get his header on target. Wayne Hennessey then had to be alert to keep out captain Luke Waterfall, as it was his turn to win a header from a long throw.
Forest were just trying to hit the visitors on the break and through Dennis nearly had success. He saw a lot of the ball on the left wing and was able to dance through the Grimsby defence just after the hour, sending a shot at the near post into the side netting.
Forest never really woke up in the second half but the defence had to be on the ball, Biancone making a vital clearance to stop a certain tap-in for the waiting Taylor, just behind him.
With Grimsby not taking their chances, you knew they could be one counter attack away from being three goals down — and exactly that happened with 15 minutes to play. Taiwo Awoniyi, replacing Dennis after a lively debut, broke away from the Mariners’ defence and played the ball square to Cafú on the edge of the area. He was quick to play in Surridge who, after a poor first touch, recovered to slam home and wrap the game up from close range.
Cooper was able to introduce teenagers Dale Taylor and Zach Abbott as Forest saw out the final few minutes with little trouble. Grimsby were very unfortunate not to score in a second half where they had 18 shots.
It was a night where a job had to be done and Forest did that, having survived the Grimsby gale.
Cooper said: “I really liked us in the first half and I thought we really controlled the game. We scored two particularly good goals, one from the turnover with a high press which was a nice finish from Sam and obviously a brilliant finish from Yatesy for the first.
“Second half we had to manage some pressure and although we got through it, we could’ve managed some situations better particularly at the start of the half. But then we scored an excellent third goal and it was then a case of managing the game out from there.
“Aside from the result and the performance, I’m delighted with a host of debuts tonight. From the vastly experienced Wayne Hennessey to Zach Abbott who’s coming on at 16 and making his first ever appearance. It was great for some of the new players to play and I also thought Aaron Donnelly was excellent tonight. It’s great for these players to experience playing in front of our away fans too, and they were brilliant as usual tonight.
“It was a good performance overall, we’re pleased to be through because it’s a cup tie and we want a winning mentality. There were a lot of positives tonight.”