Morgan Gibbs-White hobbled around for the final minutes of the 120 played at the City Ground last night, yet he was still able to stride up and slot his penalty away. A captain’s display that summed up the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into the FA Cup run so far.
The backlog of games just seems to keep coming for Nottingham Forest, almost as if they are still playing in the Championship with the nature and frequency of the games. But Bristol City had truly merited their replay at the City Ground and would be no pushovers; the cup the only thing really left in the Robins’ season.
Unsurprisingly, Nuno Espírito Santo made eight changes from his side’s draw against Bournemouth on Sunday — the remaining three were Andrew Omobamidele, Morgan Gibbs-White and Anthony Elanga, with a change in formation to a 5-2-1-2. Bristol City named a relatively strong side just four different from their defeat on Friday to Leeds, their only win in 2024 remains in the cup against West Ham.
Which Forest would we see? The Forest which has the ability and confidence to overpower their Championship opponents, or the side that makes it difficult for themselves and looks rather disjointed?
For starters, it was the former. Forest were quick out of the blocks with a fast and ferocious start. A couple of early corners and a fierce strike from Elanga blocked, the Reds looked at it.
Their early confidence translated onto the scoresheet, taking the lead after just eight minutes. The corner following Elanga’s shot was swung in by Morgan Gibbs-White and met by the head of Felipe, who nodded towards goal from the near post. Felipe was off celebrating acrobatically but his celebrations would be for an assist, with the returning Divock Origi there to chest over the line from a yard out.
It wouldn’t take long for the pendulum to swing in Bristol’s favour, though, fighting back from the restart and applying some pressure of their own. Matt Turner, playing due to Matz Sels’ unavailability, had to be alert to make a neat near-post save from Sam Bell before Bristol got themselves back level.
Andy King shot from range, his effort spilling through Turner’s grasp and kissing the inside of the post, bouncing across goal and to the far post where Bell collected. After turning down the shot, he turned and looked for a pass, finding Jason Knight six yards out. Knight’s first-time strike looped over Turner and into the net, 1-1 after just 14 minutes.
A classic and entertaining Cup tie early on — something that hasn’t been said at all in Forest’s run in the trophy so far. This excitement wouldn’t continue, though, as the game then went rather flat.
Forest did show their Premier League quality at times, with Elanga looking a class above the Bristol defence and Felipe shining on his return. The Brazilian and Origi went close with headers but there would be no meaningful attempts after that — 15 shots in the first 35 minutes but none in the final 10 of the half, meaning scores level at the break.
The second half would be very similar, with the visitors happy to let Forest have the ball and look to get forward in certain moments. They came close when a corner routine resulted in Anis Mehmeti having a shot at goal, his rushed effort was saved low by Turner.
Forest’s best opening of the half came on 73 minutes when substitute Taiwo Awoniyi was played through, up against two defenders. The striker drove goalwards but the shot wasn’t on, so he waited for support and found Origi, the Belgian’s long-range shot flying wide of the near post.
Bristol started to push forward more as the game went on, meaning Forest looked better on the break, crafting an opening with seven minutes of normal time remaining. Callum Hudson-Odoi received on halfway and looked to dribble down the wing, seeing Neco Williams in acres of space at the far post. The former’s delayed ball to Williams meant a defender was on the cover and the Welshman looked rather lost, eventually mustering a strike that went wide.
The second half would finish 1-1 as extra time beckoned, the Reds spurred on by the substitution of youngster Joe Gardner, the 18-year-old’s drive and passion just what Forest needed.
Extra time was probably the last thing the manager would have wanted, but advancing into the fifth round was the priority now; it would be a shame for all the hard work and minutes played to be in vain.
Neither side took many risks in the extra-time but both had chances to grab the victory, Forest close with Williams again who could only shoot straight at ‘keeper O’Leary. They then had a huge chance in the second half of extra time—another attack down the right. Williams found the onrushing Gardner on the byline, who looked infield and picked out Gibbs-White on the edge of the box. He had two shots, the first blocked by his own player, Awoniyi, and the second flying wide, an attempt more in frustration than composure.
Two minutes later Bristol ought to have won it, attacking down the right with Nahki Wells. The veteran striker raced past the challenge of Felipe and crossed back post towards Harry Cornick, his first-time sliding effort landing wide of the goal, luckily for Forest.
But ultimately, a lack of endeavour from both sides got its rewards, as a penalty shootout beckoned. The kicks would be towards the Bridgford End, the end with familiar and fond memories from two recent shootout victories against Sheffield United and Wolves.
Two confident penalties to the right of the goal from Hudson-Odoi and Gibbs-White were sandwiched between a conversion from Cornick, giving Bell the chance to level the score. Bell went bottom left but so did Turner, the American got a good hand to the ball and made the first save of the shootout.
The next two were assertively scored by Williams and Wells, giving Moussa Niakhaté the chance for redemption after his penalty miss at the AFCON which ultimately saw Senegal eliminated. Second time lucky for the defender, striking into bottom-left corner and giving Forest the upper hand.
A Turner save would mean a Forest win. As Mehmeti stepped forward, the City Ground was celebrating as Turner got a hand to it, but the ball eventually trickled over the line. Celebrations weren’t paused for long though, with Awoniyi converting Forest’s fifth penalty cooly into the bottom right and sending Forest through.
These cup games haven’t been the easiest on the eye, but it’s all about progression, and Forest got that particular job done in the end. A tasty tie against Manchester United under the lights to come in a few weeks then, at least that one can’t go to a replay.