THE CITY GROUND, NOTTINGHAM — Manchester United took a massive step towards a first Carabao Cup final since 2016/17, defeating Nottingham Forest 3-0 in their semifinal first leg.
Marcus Rashford, Wout Weghorst and Bruno Fernandes were the heroes on the night for United, who are looking to end a six-year trophy drought. Forest, meanwhile, will need a monumental shock in next week’s return leg at Old Trafford — where they lost 3-0 in the league a month ago — to have any chance of making a first final since 1991/92.
This famous old ground on the River Trent produced a deafening atmosphere at kick-off, having proven a difficult place for ‘Big Six’ opponents to visit of late, with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur suffering defeats, while Chelsea were lucky to escape with a draw.
Nottingham Forest vs Man United score
That energy was soon sapped by Rashford, though, as the England international continued his sensational run of form. Scoring his 10th goal in as many games, Rashford collected the ball in his own half and breezed down the left flank, before bursting through two Forest defenders and slotting in at the near post.
He’s a man full of confidence and was the clear out-ball for Erik ten Hag’s men through the first half. Every time he got on the ball, Rashford looked an absolute menace, and as he even showed at league-leaders Arsenal on Sunday, the unstoppable force is sending shivers through every defence in the country at present.
But United couldn’t capitalise and allowed Forest back into the game. Morgan Gibbs-White began to pull the strings as only he can for the Reds, showing the full set of golf clubs with some lovely passes and incredible dynamism on the transition. He was tenacious in the battle with the returning Casemiro, who will be having nightmares about Gibbs-White after being dispossessed and burst past several times.
As is often the case, though, Steve Cooper’s side had no cutting edge to match the endeavour. The one time they did have the ball in the back of the net — through Sam Surridge, played in by Gibbs-White, of course — it was ruled out for offside by VAR.
Before the half-time interval, Weghorst then almost certainly took this tie beyond Forest. An annoyed Antony flicked the ball to tee himself up for a volley on the tip of the penalty area, which was saved by Wayne Hennessy — in for the magnificent Dean Henderson, ineligible to play against his parent club this evening. The rebound landed at Weghorst’s feet, and he made no mistake by burying it well.
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Lisandro Martinez and co. dealt with any Forest threat throughout very well, with the Argentinian in particular unfazed by anything thrown his way. Forest’s attack was just getting into a groove and finding some cohesion a few weeks ago, but the injury of Taiwo Awoniyi alongside the arrivals of Gustavo Scarpa and Danilo in midfield — as good as they are — means another awkward period of adjustment.
Other than Christian Eriksen hitting the bar, the second half drifted along without incident, as United were completely content with sucking the life out of the game and Forest offered extremely little — much to the frustration of the home fans.
That was until the 89th minute, when United finally stepped up a gear and Fernandes finished off the contest. Facundo Pellistri twice broke through the middle in quick succession, with his second attack eventually falling to fellow young substitute Anthony Elanga. The winger found Fernandes in an alarming amount of room, running in from the right, and the Portuguese made no mistake with his low first-time effort.
Forest will have the relegation battle in the Premier League on the mind now, welcoming Leeds United here a week on Sunday, while the Red Devils host Reading this weekend in the FA Cup fourth round, before what will surely be a formality of a return leg.
Erik Ten Hag’s post-match reaction
On the performance: “From a result perspective, we bounced back good, quite clear. I think the performance over 90 minutes was okay. There was one moment that could’ve changed the game, and we have to avoid that. It’s a learning moment to develop a really good team.
“The first 20 minutes was all us, we played really well on the ball from the start. Great goal, Rashy again. After the goal, we created some good chances, but then we allowed them almost to come back in the game. That can’t happen.
“The second half was much better, much more calm. We never allowed them a counter, and created ourselves chances. The 2-0 before half-time was important. It was a great action from Antony, and the rebound from Weghorst as the striker, that’s why we got him.”
On Antony: “I think he played a really good game. He was good in between the lines, he had good physicality, had some good actions. He had to score, but there was great combination.”
“We wanted to see that more — more dynamic in the frontline, and that’s the most difficult part. But I have seen some good movements today and in the last couple of games. I’m happy with that.”
On Rashford: “There are more players playing really well, but I’m happy with Marcus, his performance, his development. From the start of the season he is growing, and he keeps doing that. He is responsible for that, to keep this process going. In this spirit, I think he is unstoppable. Then it’s about the team to get him in the right positions.
“In possession, we have a plan, but it’s also intuition, the creativity of an individual to create chances. We have some of it, with Rashy, Bruno, Antony. Jadon Sancho is one, [Anthony] Martial is one. We need these type of players. Christian Eriksen, don’t forget him. Be creative in the final third and do something no-one expects, some crazy stuff. That has to be in a team — some fantasy and adventure.”
The Sporting News was following the match, providing live score updates and commentary from the City Ground below.
Nottingham Forest vs Man United live updates, highlights
FULL-TIME: The first leg of this semi-final finishes 3-0 to United, and the contest is effectively already over.
89th min: GOAL! Captain Fernandes scores to give United a 3-0 lead! Pellistri twice broke through the centre as the Red Devils stepped it up slightly in the last couple of minutes, before Elanga finds Fernandes steaming in completely unmarked, and his low effort is driven in.
84th min: Initially coming from a sloppy Pellistri pass in his own defensive third, Forest win a free-kick on the left edge of the box but it results in nothing. Weghorst then makes way for Anthony Elanga and receives an ovation from the travelling fans, who have been entertaining themselves with anti-Leeds songs for the last 10 minutes. It’s been that kind of half.
79th min: Fred blasts over and Weghorst can’t direct a header on target from a venomous Facundo Pellistri cross, as efforts in this tie become increasingly rare. Small pockets of Forest fans are already beginning to filter out of the stadium, seeing no way back.
72nd min: United will be very happy with how this second half is going now, as the life is sucked out of it. The home fans are becoming restless as their men struggle to get anything going, looking devoid of imagination on the counter. Ten Hag has now replaced Eriksen with Fred, to lock things down further. Meanwhile, Gibbs-White is forced off through injury.
64th min: Jesse Lingard, who famously won the FA Cup for United back in 2015/16, is on to inject some new life in this Forest attack, alongside Emmanuel Dennis. They need it, as the game begins to drift.
60th min: Casemiro has struggled with Gibbs-White all night, and again is shrugged off the ball by the former Wolverhampton Wanderers star in a very dangerous position, but the resulting shot goes wide.
57th min: The boy every United fan wants to see, Argentinian ace Alejandro Garnacho, is on as a substitute in place of Rashford.
53rd min: Eriksen rocks the crossbar! United have stepped it up a gear, playing some intricate stuff before the Denmark international’s effort from the edge of the box goes agonisingly close, and Rashford’s longer-range shot is then saved.
51st min: After starting the half with another Weghorst chance and camping out in the Forest box, United have now settled into a measured passing game in defence and midfield.
46th min: We’re back in action. No changes at the interval for either side.
HALF-TIME: United have one foot in the final already, with a 2-0 lead here at the break.
45th min: GOAL! Weghorst has his first United goal! Antony looks royally peeved having set up a volley for himself on the edge of the area which is saved by Hennessy, and the rebound falls straight to the new signing, who buries it. 2-0 to the visitors.
40th min: Ten Hag’s side have failed to step it up, with the game petering towards half-time without any further clear-cut chances. Gibbs-White, as always, is Forest’s biggest threat. Tenacious in the tackle and pacey in possession, he’s the key if the Reds are to turn this around.
32nd min: United try to take the sting out of the game by retaining possession for a couple of minutes, after Scarpa finds Gibbs-White on the run, who beats Wan-Bissaka in a footrace, but his effort is saved. However, Forest regain the ball well in the midfield through Gibbs-White, with Johnson following up by breezing past two opponents and putting them on the floor, before blasting high. Antony responds with a chance at the other end, saved at point-blank range by Hennessy.
26th min: Gibbs-White plays a superb first-time pass out wide to start another attack, which he can’t quite finish as the return ball catches the back of his boot on the run. Scarpa is then denied a first Forest goal as his volley from the edge of the area is saved, but the crowd have been injected with belief again.
24th min: NO GOAL! It’s been ruled out by VAR. Surridge just strayed offside when the ball was played. Still 1-0 to United.
*Video available in UK:
NO GOAL! ❌
A ruthless counter-attack from Nottingham Forest is brilliantly finished by Sam Surridge but it’s ruled out for offside after a VAR check! 📺 pic.twitter.com/hmxGrND99v
23rd min: GOAL! Forest are level! Gibbs-White blasts through the middle of the pitch and plays in Surridge on the left, who converts brilliantly by sliding across goal into the far corner. 1-1.
22nd min: Rashford looks an absolute menace every time he receives the ball and is the clear out-ball, but no more major chances for United. Forest have come into the game a little more, winning a corner and having more concerted possession, though a lack of quality in creating an opening.
13th min: United are purring when they break. Antony again can’t quite find the finishing touch when cutting in, after good buildup from Weghorst and Casemiro. Forest have twice broken down their left to get the crowd going, but to no avail.
8th min: Antony – who needs a big performance after recent criticism – goes narrowly wide, with his left-footed effort cutting in from the right. Ten Hag’s men looking in the mood.
6th min: GOAL! Rashford is simply too hot to handle! A wonderful goal as the England international breaks down the left wing, starting in his own half. He gets between two Forest defenders, who don’t know whether to lunge in or not, and finishes well with his left foot at the near post. 1-0 to United.
3rd min: The City Ground has been loud all season, but it seems to be reaching new levels tonight with a great atmosphere here. United have settled into possession slightly better, as expected.
KICK-OFF: We’re underway in the East Midlands!
15 mins to KO: For United, this competition represents a huge chance to end a run of six semi-final appearances without lifting silverware.
Two semi-final exits came in the Carabao Cup in 2019/20 and 2020/21, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The former also saw them reach the final four of the FA Cup and UEFA Europa League without success, while the latter campaign featured a final defeat in Europe. The Red Devils also lost the FA Cup final in 2017/18.
30 mins to KO: Forest fans have fond memories of the League Cup, though their last appearance in a final came in 1991/92 — a defeat to United, coincidentally.
That marked the sixth time they had reached the showpiece occasion in a 15-year span, with the Reds lifting the trophy on four of those visits to the capital. A victory in the 1989/90 edition remains their most recent major trophy.
45 mins to KO: The return of Casemiro will be a huge boost to United, given his spectacular impact since switching Real Madrid for the north of England last summer. A leader on the field, the 30-year-old central midfielder has enjoyed a 69% win rate with the Red Devils, while that figure falls to 25% without him.
1 hour to KO: Team news is here. Gustavo Scarpa and Danilo start for a new-look Forest, with the pair both moving from Brazil in the current transfer window.
Meanwhile, United have also gone with a first-choice lineup, other than the absence of Raphael Varane, who is on the bench. Casemiro returns to the midfield after missing the loss to Arsenal on Sunday through suspension.
1 hour 15 mins to KO: During Forest’s Premier League exile, these two sides avoided each other in the cup draws, meaning their most recent meeting here came back in 1999. It was a humbling 8-1 loss for the hosts in Alex Ferguson’s treble-winning campaign. It remained the biggest ever away win in the Premier League for two decades, until Leicester City’s 9-0 demolition of Southampton.
🔙 Nottingham Forest 1- 8 Manchester United.
😲 This was the last time the two sides met at the City Ground and Ole Gunnar Solskjær scored 4 goals in the space of 10 minutes.
1 hour 30 mins to KO: While they’ve struggled on the road against top opposition, Forest’s home form versus the ‘Big Six’ has been impressive.
Most recently, the Reds fought out a 1-1 draw with Chelsea and really should’ve had more from the New Year’s Day affair. They also defeated Liverpool 1-0 before the World Cup break, while getting revenge for a league loss to Tottenham by beating Antonio Conte’s men in this competition.
1 hour 45 mins to KO: These teams are meeting for the second time in the last month, having resumed their Premier League campaigns post-World Cup at Old Trafford in late December. United eased to a 3-0 victory on that occasion, despite some fearless early signs from Forest.
Marcus Rashford opened the scoring and registered an assist for Anthony Martial that night, kickstarting a magnificent run of form for the England international which currently sees him as one of the most feared players in the country.
2 hours to KO: Welcome to The Sporting News’ live coverage from the East Midlands. Forest have turned the City Ground into a fortress in recent months and are unbeaten at home across all competitions since September 16, knocking out Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Carabao Cup.
Ahead of their biggest home cup game in over 30 years, the Forest faithful will play a crucial role in looking to push Cooper’s charges one step closer to the final.