FA Cup replays aren’t for the faint hearted. They aren’t even wanted any more by many foreign players and coaches. But League One Blackpool put on a show against Premier League Nottingham Forest, never giving in and fighting for 120 minutes But the visiting Reds’ quality eventually prevailed, even if a bit of good fortune helped them on the way.
Nuno Espirito Santo made four changes from the reverse fixture at the City Ground, including a start for Nuno Tavares and a debut for Andrew Omobamidele, as the Reds aimed to avoid losing their third consecutive FA Cup replay. Morgan Gibbs-White’s omission from the match day squad must be noted, the midfielder missing out with an abdominal injury.
But going to Bloomfield Road would be no easy task, with the hosts winning their last seven home games and fresh from two victories coming after the 2-2 draw against Forest.
The Tangerines came out fighting and penned Forest in early on, as the Reds struggled to get out of their own half in the first five minutes. Nothing much would come of this early pressure though; a wide Albie Morgan strike the closest the hosts came.
A static and unbalanced start continued as Forest’s deployment of four midfielders left them lobsided and unable to break Blackpool’s backline down. But Forest did get on the scoresheet after 16 minutes with their first meaningful attempt, an out-swinging Nico Dominguez corner coming up trumps. His near-post delivery was flicked on by Ryan Yates and into the path of Omobamidele, the defender free at the back stick to tap home.
While the youngster did get on the scoresheet, he struggled defensively, with Murillo often stepping across and dominating at the back. The Reds also lacked someone who could take players on in the absence of Anthony Elanga, with natural replacement Callum Hudson-Odoi lacking the confidence to do so.
But Forest were in the lead and, bar a few flurries forward from the Tangerines, looked comfortable with their advantage, without being outstanding.
What was outstanding was their start to the second half, as they grabbed a second goal just 48 seconds into it.
Blackpool played themselves into trouble attempting to switch play, with Morgan selling his ‘keeper Grimshaw short with an under-hit back pass. Grimshaw then collided with Dominguez who beat him to the ball and squared to Danilo, composure then following from the often-rash Brazilian. He took two touches before striking towards the bottom corner, a deflection from defender Marvin Ekpiteta only helping the ball trickle over the line.
You’d think the two-goal cushion would settle Forest and allow them to play safe, anything but. Following a couple of half-chances blocked from Chris Wood and Yates, Blackpool sensed an opening and made it count with an hour gone.
The issue started when Yates had the chance to clear but instead tried to get it onto his left foot, spurning possession on the edge of his own box. Blackpool then failed to work an opening until the ball sat up for Morgan, edge of the box. Fresh from a stunner last time out against Exeter, Morgan connected sweetly and lashed the bouncing ball into the top left corner, giving the home support genuine hope and belief.
From then on you could see what was coming: a direct and aerial barrage on Forest’s defence, but could they cope? They did to an extent, as the game suddenly sparked into life with chances, substitutions and atmosphere.
Forest came close with two strikes from the right corner of the box; first Neco Williams forcing sub goalie O’Donnell into a smart stop before Dominguez’s strike was deflected wide from a similar position. Defender Callum Connolly should have connected better with a Morgan corner after 71 minutes, his headed attempt well wide.
This didn’t hinder Blackpool’s flow though, and the goal they were searching for came after 78 minutes, a substitute striking. A quick throw-in found Andy Lyons on the left, who whipped a ball in tight to the goal line. Forest ‘keeper Odysseas should have come but didn’t, allowing Kyle Joseph to rise and power home a header from two yards out.
Momentum Blackpool. If a side was going to win it, it would be them. Neither side did much to edge it in the final 10 minutes, nor in the extra 10 minutes that were added, until the hosts carved out a huge change in the dying embers.
Substitute Karamoko Dembele was sent through on goal after getting in behind, with Odysseas standing between him and the winner. The winger rounded the ‘keeper but was forced wide, allowing Mangala to deflect the eventual shot away from goal.
So, to extra time we went, just what both sets of managers would have dreaded I’m sure. But Forest fought on and grabbed a goal in the second period of it, in-form Wood bagging once more.
Forest lost possession well forward but a lucky ricochet saw Yates with the ball, by the byline on the left wing. He flashed a ball across goal and Wood was there to convert, lapping up the celebration as Forest had the lead once more.
By this time Scott McKenna and Joe Worrall were on to cope with the Blackpool threat, where Murillo and Omobamidele were beginning to struggle. And despite a late corner where the ‘keeper came up, Forest held out and secured their place in round four.
Blackpool must be commended for their spirit across both games, never giving up despite numerous setbacks. Determined and never-relenting displays from Wood, Dominguez and Danilo must be commended, although there was a distinct lack of quality on show.
On to Brentford Forest go. Battered, somewhat bruised but with a first win of 2024 under their belt.