The Carabao Cup beckoned for Nottingham Forest and Burnley, having both bowed out to Manchester United last season. With four losses between the sides already this season, the cup offered both sides a chance to get back into form for their Premier League seasons.
The Reds made seven changes from the side that lost to Manchester United with debuts for Gonzalo Montiel and Andrey Santos and a first start for Anthony Elanga. Burnley made 10 changes from their home defeat to Aston Villa, including a start in goal for ex-Forest loanee Aro Muric.
Following a minute’s applause to remember the heroic efforts of police officer Graham Saville, Burnley kicked off under the lights as the line-up became more clear. A back five with Serge Aurier playing right centre-back, Santos in the centre of the midfield trio and Elanga and Chris Wood up top.
The changes left Forest lacking in the wide areas going forward, shown by an early overlapping run from Ryan Yates whose eventual cross from the right came to nothing. Neither team settled into the game and there were no registered shots on target in the whole first half — showing both teams’ attacking struggles.
A significantly younger than normal crowd were growing frustrated with the lack of creativity, with Forest’s reliance on Morgan Gibbs-White to link play becoming more obvious in his absence.
On 38 minutes, Forest had the best chance of the game following loose play from the Clarets, allowing Wood to run onto it and break forward. His pull back deflected into the path of Cheikhou Kouyaté but the Senegalese’s effort flew into the Bridgford End, never troubling Muric.
Burnley had five corners in the first 45 but failed to make any of them count, their best opportunity coming in stoppage time when captain Josh Brownhill unleashed from the left edge of the box, his effort curling high and wide of the far post.
A 0-0 scoreline was certainly the right result at the break in a very forgettable first half. Forest’s attacking chances weren’t helped by the selection of five defenders and three holding midfielders, but with the scores level it left the door open for either side to take control of the cup tie.
Oh, and something exciting had to happen — with a penalty shootout scheduled should the game end level.
Forest showed more promise in the early stages of the second half, with Elanga making himself more of a threat. His first mazy run came after 53 minutes down the left as he hit the byline and crossed back in, with Yates having two attempts; the first blocked and the second crashing into the side netting.
Burnley were the next to come close on 64 minutes as experienced winger Nathan Redmond came in from the right and shot from distance, missing the goal to the left. A minute later Forest broke from a Clarets corner and Elanga was through, but Brownhill took one for the team and brought him down before he could stride away from him and get a real glimpse of goal.
With 20 minutes to go, on came the cavalry. Gonzalo Montiel’s solid debut was ended as Kouyaté and Neco Williams also departed, replaced excitingly by Harry Toffolo, Gibbs-White and Brennan Johnson. Attacking changes that would hopefully bring Forest more fluidity and creativity.
And two minutes later their difference was felt. Gibbs-White sent a lovely outside-of-the-right-foot pass through to Johnson, breaking away from his man and crossing from the right. No one was in the middle but the Reds had their balance and width back.
Forest’s increase in possession due to the subs did mean Burnley were likely to counter and their best chance came on the break on 76 minutes. A long ball from Johann Gudmundsson found Jacob Brunn Larsen who made a good run between Forest’s defence. Niakhaté forced him wide and his eventual shot from just outside the box missed the bottom left corner by a matter of inches.
Elanga created another chance for Yates this time with 11 minutes to play, as he won a race with Brownhill and received the ball in a crossing position from the left. His ball found Yates’ head and the City Ground was up in celebration, only to see the midfielder plant his header wide of the mark. In a game with few chances, those ones have to go in.
Forest’s frontman Taiwo Awoniyi was introduced with three minutes of normal time to play — meaning a front four of him, Elanga, Johnson and Gibbs-White. Tasty, eh?
However, just when Forest thought they might snatch it, the visitors seemed to do just that in the 90th minute. Substitute Sander Berge broke from midfield and rode the challenges of Yates and Aurier. He strided on to the edge of the box and found Gudmundsson, whose first time cross was blocked. The loose ball dropped for Brownhill who nodded forward, with the ball dropping between the Forest defence and straight into the path of substitute striker Zeki Amdouni. The Swiss had time to chest down and volley home, sending the travelling fans into delirium.
Burnley looked the more threatening in the second half and in a tight contest probably deserved the victory. Despite 11 minutes of stoppage time, Forest failed to get even close to an equaliser, ending the game without a shot on target. And Burnley came close to a second in injury time with Wilson Odobert having a clean run on goal but being denied by a smart Turner block, despite having options in the middle.
The defeat dumps Forest out of the cup, allowing them to focus on the challenge of Premier League football ahead of their trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday.