Nottingham Forest’s League Cup run came to an end after a resilient display in the second leg of the semi-final, as two quick goals saw Manchester United ease into the final. George Edwards reports from Old Trafford
A night under the City Ground lights can often be something special, however it was Manchester United who had the joy following the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final last Wednesday. The sides were separated by a solo goal from Marcus Rashford, a rebound effort from Wout Weghorst and a late third from Bruno Fernandes.
Following that somewhat humiliating home leg, the Reds faced an uphill challenge if they were to reach Wembley for the second time in eight months. Manchester United entered the tie with one leg in the final and came into the game on the back of an 11-game winning streak at home. Forest have defied the odds over the last 18 months, could they do it again?
Four changes were made by Steve Cooper from the last tie with Willy Boly and Neco Williams entering the defence, while Emmanuel Dennis came in for Morgan Gibbs-White after Jesse Lingard was injured in the warm up. The hosts named a side with six changes from their FA cup victory over Reading, including starts for second ‘keeper Tom Heaton and £86m man Antony.
In the early stages, United controlled proceedings and posed threats down both wings but failed to create any clear chances, with the game’s first real opening coming just before the half-hour mark. Luke Shaw curled a free kick into the box from the left and Casemiro rose highest, seeing his header being diverted away by an outstretched Wayne Hennessey leg.
Forest’s first sniff of goal came through Brennan Johnson on 34 minutes who — after failing to impact the game up until this point — darted beyond Lisandro Martínez and into the box, but could only shoot straight into Heaton. This was during a five-minute spell of Forest pressure but they couldn’t create any other chances than Johnson’s miss.
Three minutes later United came the closest to scoring after Williams cleared a corner from Shaw. The ball sat up nicely for Antony, who hammered a first-time half-volley goalwards, with the vicious shot just nipping over the crossbar and into the East Stand.
After a reasonably even first 45, both sides had golden chances to take the lead just before the break. Firstly on 43 minutes Johnson was involved again, as he latched onto a Williams throw in and lifted the ball past the covering Casemiro. After hitting the byline, he cut back to pick out Dennis, with the winger seeing his effort unluckily deflect off Forest striker Sam Surridge and away from goal.
United’s chance then came two minutes later, after a scruffy bit of play saw Casemiro emerge with the ball on the right wing and curl a beautiful cross right onto the head of Weghorst. The one man you don’t want to leave open, the Dutchman saw his effort crash off the post, allowing Williams to scramble clear.
The first half was certainly the best Forest had coped with United in the third meeting of the sides this season, with the hosts remaining in firm control of the tie.
Much like the first half, it took both teams some time to warm up into the second, with the first chance coming on the hour. Some quick play saw Fernandes feed Garnacho on the left wing, who danced inside and out of Williams before seeing his near post shot parried away by Hennessey.
Erik ten Hag introduced Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jadon Sancho and these changes took them up a gear, as they passed with more authority and substance.
Casemiro was in the thick of United attacking play again, firstly missing a near post header from a corner on 66 minutes, before seeing a left-footed effort towards the far corner clawed away by Hennessey.
Inevitably, the hosts took the lead on 73 minutes. A Boly mistake saw United counter Forest three-on-two and punish them clinically. Martial was sent through on goal by Casemiro, who played in an overlapping Rashford off the left. Rashford’s deflected shot fell kindly back to Martial in the centre of the box, making no mistake in powering home from close range.
One became two just three minutes later, with Fernandes finding space to cross on the right wing. Rashford was on the end of it and nodded into the middle for Fred and the Brazilian made no mistake diverting into an empty net.
Thankfully Forest didn’t completely collapse and kept the score at two, with substitute Danilo spurning a golden chance on the counter attack, as he was played one-on-one with Heaton who was alert to save the attempt.
Manchester United were favourites from the very start in this tie, as the Red Devils got the job done professionally to meet Newcastle in the final. Forest’s focus is now entirely on maintaining their Premier League status as they look ahead to a clash against Leeds on Sunday.