The League Cup offered a nice escape from the increasingly frustrating league season for Nottingham Forest. With the pressure off, they were able to approach the game with freedom, looking for a momentum boost to carry them into the weekend’s clash against Crystal Palace.
Only Ryan Yates and Serge Aurier remained from the riveting draw against Brentford, as Joe Worrall returned to captain the side and a strike partnership was forged between Sam Surridge and Taiwo Awoniyi. Having already beaten the Reds earlier in the season, Spurs fielded a reasonably strong line-up including England skipper Harry Kane.
Having sold out on the day, the game would provide many with their first taste of Forest action for a while. Both sides looked pretty average early on as they tried to ease into the game with many players getting their first real run out for a while.
The first real chance came after five minutes as Jesse Lingard fed the ball inside from the left into Ryan Yates, whose effort was deflected over for a corner.
A huge chance came Forest’s way just before the 10-minute mark, as an attempted Tottenham clearance bounced straight off Awoyini and goalwards. After cannoning off the post, Lingard was there to dive and send a header back towards goal, with ‘keeper Fraser Forster reacting well and sprawling to palm the ball away from danger.
Tottenham were yet to trouble Forest’s goal in the early embers, with the hosts seemingly in control.
Their next real chance came after 23 minutes when Lingard pounced on a loose ball and broke forward, seeing his long-range shot deflected over. From the resulting corner, Worrall saw a header blocked and then with the rebound found Forster in the way as he looked to get on the scoresheet.
The visitors were sure to respond to Forest’s positive start, and created their first real opening just after half an hour. Ivan Perisic popped up down the left wing and his low cross missed everyone before arriving at the feet of full-back Matt Doherty. The Irishman blasted an effort on target but saw Wayne Hennessy deny him with a strong save.
Goalless was certainly the correct score at half-time, as neither side really grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck, despite Forest having the better chances. Hennessy was looking very assured in goal, looking alert while also being almost pin perfect with his distribution. A sign that there is real competition for places in this team all over the pitch.
A front-foot start to the second half saw the hosts oh so close to taking the lead just three minutes into it. Spurs cleared an Aurier cross from the right which fell kindly for Lingard, who was unfortunate to see Forster in the way once again.
However, Forest found their shooting boots two minutes later.
Renan Lodi was having a brilliant game going forward to this point, swinging in some excellent crosses that his teammates couldn’t convert. This time he decided to cut inside from his meander down the left, and as he approached the edge of the box there was one thing in his mind — shoot. The Brazilian curled an absolute peach with his weaker foot into the far corner, a diving Forster having no answer this time.
A lead? At home? This feeling was pretty familiar, but Forest had only gone on to win two of the six games they’d taken the lead in at home.
Lingard was having the perfect game, as he often found himself in space with runners ahead of him to play in quickly. This time he fed Awoniyi who in turn found Surridge free and heading goalwards. One-on-one, Forster made himself big and denied Surridge’s weaker foot effort, as he looked for his first goal since scoring in the last round at Grimsby.
Free-flowing and full of confidence, Forest deservedly extended their lead on 57 minutes.
Having bagged an assist for the first goal, Lingard decided it was his turn to get on the scoresheet for the first time in the Garibaldi. Aurier bombed down the right and flung in a high cross to the back post, picking out a stretching Surridge. He nodded back into the danger area where Lingard danced into space to head home from a matter of yards.
Finally, the Trent End could greet Lingard — the media’s scapegoat — with open arms as he and the whole ground celebrated ecstatically.
After Antonio Conte threw on four substitutes to try and save the game — including a warmly welcomed Djed Spence — a Forest sub of their own was denied by Forster. With 20 to play, Mangala won the ball high up the pitch and sent Brennan Johnson through on goal. Forster was there again to divert the Welshman’s left-footed drive wide.
Finally, Spurs created their second big attacking moment of the game with 15 minutes to play. A corner caused havoc, as Richarlison scuffed a shot towards goal. The ball was trundling agonisingly towards goal before Worrall was able to clear off the line.
Forest seemed to be coasting to victory, but their mission was made more difficult by referee Peter Banks minutes later. Having been booked a few minutes earlier, Orel Mangala — enjoying a controlled midfield performance to this point — made a late challenge from behind on Richarlison; Banks giving the Belgian his marching orders.
Trentside has been up for the cup recently, and that run continued as a largely dominant home display was rewarded in a place in today’s fifth round draw.
The nine players introduced to the starting line-up certainly gave Steve Cooper food for thought, with no real weak points aside from the red card. One thing’s for sure though — there will be no resumption of the East Midlands Derby, no fault of the mighty Reds.