The FA Cup is a great way to build momentum and bring attention to teams that are struggling. That phrase could be used to describe both Nottingham Forest and Blackpool, as they met for the first time in the competition.
Eleven changes were made by Steve Cooper following his side’s statement victory against Southampton, bringing back the Cook and McKenna partnership, young midfielder Billy Fewster and a first competitive start for Gustavo Scarpa. Winless in 10 games, Blackpool named a strong side with only two different names from their last league game, a 1-1 draw to Sunderland.
The hosts were eager to get on the front foot from early on and their threat came largely down their left-hand side with left-back James Husband and ex-Mansfield winger CJ Hamilton. Husband had the game’s first opportunity, as he fired a close range shot wide from a tight angle on the left wing after six minutes. A decent chance missed but a sign of things to come from the hosts.
Forest’s first opening came when Neco Williams sprung onto a loose ball and drove forward, resulting in him letting fly from the edge of the box with his left foot, as the ball just missed the bottom corner.
Blackpool were sitting pretty deep early on, inviting their Premier League opposition to try and break through the lines. This was proving a tough task as creative players like Scarpa and Emmanuel Dennis found it tough to get into space and make things happen.
The Tangerines converted their early control of the game into a lead with 17 minutes on the clock, with another attack down their left wing. Hamilton nicked the ball off a slipping Jack Colback, sprinted down the line and swung a ball to the back post. Instead of heading clear, Lewis O’Brien could only clear into a more dangerous position, as the ball dropped and deflected to the feet of centre-back Marvin Ekpiteta. The Englishman got the ball out of his feet and slotted home from 10 yards out to give the hosts the advantage.
In their changed third strip, Forest carved out the game’s next big chance through Dennis after 24 minutes. He was sent through by Colback and after holding up his man, cut inside onto his right foot and curled a shot towards the far post, with his effort striking the crossbar and running away to safety.
Forest’s best spell would come in the next few minutes, as they had two more chances in two minutes. Firstly, Sam Surridge was able to find Scarpa in space on the edge of the box. The Brazilian turned but saw a right-footed shot taken easily by Blackpool skipper Chris Maxwell. Surridge then won the ball deep as Blackpool tried to play out, exchanging a one-two with Scarpa on the left wing. Inside the box, Surridge dragged his effort into the side netting as he tried to pick out the near post.
After a flurry of chances, you’d think the visitors would see Blackpool were on the ropes and push for the equaliser, but instead they failed to keep the momentum they’d built and slowed the game down. This was despite having large periods of possession inside Blackpool’s territory, with the hosts continuing to sit back.
Williams had Forest’s only opening in the latter stage of the first half, doing well to get on the end of a deflected Scarpa shot but seeing his low drive kept out by Maxwell with 10 minutes until half-time.
It was clear that 11 changes had been made before the game, as there was no real flow or understanding in Forest’s creative play. This was countered by the fact that Blackpool were desperate for any sort of win they could get to end the rot they found themselves in.
The second half wasn’t much better from a Forest viewpoint. Sam Surridge missed a sitter six minutes into the half after a nice bit of trickery from Dennis. Surridge got on the end of Dennis’ cross but missed from close range as his attempt rose over the crossbar. O’Brien was the next to miss a howler five minutes later, as Toffolo was sent in down the left by the midfielder. Toffolo returned the cross to his teammate, who skied his shot at the near post.
From the resulting goal kick, Forest pressed well and won the ball high up through Scarpa. In a three-on-two situation, Scarpa slipped Dennis in and the Nigerian had a clear sight of goal in the area. However, he took too long to get his shot away, allowing the advancing Maxwell to parry away.
Forest were sure to rue these missed chances and on 64 minutes they were made to pay. A poor back pass from Williams allowed substitute Jerry Yates to meander towards goal and into the box. He waited for support in the shape of Ian Poveda, who found space in between two Forest defenders and had time to take a touch before slotting home.
Brennan Johnson and Ryan Yates were rapidly thrown on in desperation as Cooper tried to save the game. Johnson would have an immediate impact down the right wing, skipping past his marker and putting the ball on a plate for Surridge. From the centre of the box, Surridge rushed his shot and saw it soar over the crossbar.
Once again, a big miss for Forest was followed by a clinical third goal by Blackpool. They attacked down the right wing with Poveda, but his neat cross was missed by a sliding Yates. But the hosts persisted and recycled their attack, with the ball eventually dropping kindly for Hamilton to assertively lash home on the left inside the box, with a well-taken and deserved goal.
Momentum engulfed the Tangerines as their confidence grew while Forest were going further back into their shell. Glimpses of flair were on show with Johnson being a handful but frustration would be the overriding emotion felt by the travelling support when Blackpool bagged a fourth with three minutes to play.
After a short corner, static marking from a Poveda cross allowed Jerry Yates to get free and power a close range shot high into the top-right corner and round off a fabulous day for the sparse home crowd. This would be their first home win since October last year, and boy were they going to celebrate it.
When the teams met last April it was Forest who scored four, with Blackpool getting a late consolation goal. As the roles were reversed, Ryan Yates bagged Forest’s goal, when Dennis found Toffolo who delivered a peach of a cross from the left, two minutes into stoppage time. Ryan stooped low to head in and ensure both Yates’ would be credited on the scoresheet.
An entertaining game with 33 shots in total would end in a deserved defeat for Forest, who despite having numerous golden chances, failed to look assured at any stage of the game. In years gone by, Forest have beaten the likes of Arsenal (twice) and Leicester in the cup by playing a strong side against their weakened one. Today they were on the receiving end of cupset, as Blackpool secured their place in the fourth round with their first win over Forest since 2013.
Cooper said: “It was really disappointing, I’ve just said to the players that the individual mistakes for the goals conceded are unacceptable and so was missing the target with some of our chances.
“Even at 2-0 down, I felt we looked the most likely to score and we were still very much in the game but we seemed to accept the situation we were in and we didn’t fight enough to get back into the game.
“We have to accept that we fell short in every area. Recently, we’ve shown some good examples of what it takes to play well and win but we showed the complete opposite today. We need to make sure that never happens again.
“We can’t forget this too quickly and I’ve been clear with the players on that. We can’t turn performances on and off, I felt there was too much entitlement in our game today and we need to sort that out.”