It’s a real life game in just about a minute. That’s how long it took the VAR officials to decide that Sam Surridge’s equalizer midway through the first half would not stand. The Nottingham Forest forward was an inch or two offside.
In short they were standing on the City Ground. Fathers kissing sons and things like that. The last time Manchester United were here – in 1999 – they won 8-1 so equality on this occasion felt vital to a provincial club still trying to prove itself again in the modern era.
But technology said no and quality was superior and it must be said that application and industry won out in the end. United was better by Forest by a distance but also more energetic and sometimes seemed hungry.
Manchester United are in a comfortable position in their Carabao Cup semi-final tie after a 3-0 first-leg victory on Wednesday
Manchester United team-mates celebrated after Marcus Rashford’s goal put them ahead just six minutes into the game
Rashford scored a brilliant goal where he ran from his own half and squeezed between two Nottingham Forest players
That will be a disappointment not only to Forest manager Steve Cooper but also to neutrals hoping for a live second leg in Manchester next week.
Nottingham Forest: Hennessey, Aurier, Worrall, McKenna, Renan Lodi (Williams 73), Danilo (Colback 58), Freuler, Gibbs-White (O’Brien 73), Gustavo Scarpa (Lingard 64), Surridge (Dennis 64), Johnson
Unused subs: Cook, Mangala, Smith, Boly
Manchester United: de Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Martinez, Malacia, Casemiro, Eriksen (Fred 71), Antony (Pellistri 71), Bruno Fernandes, Rashford (Garnacho 57), Weghorst
Unused subs: Varane, Heaton, Williams, McTominay, Mainoo
Goals: Rashford 6, Weghorst 45, Fernandes 89
As such, United will surely be at Wembley against either Southampton or Newcastle at the end of February, the club’s first domestic cup final in five years.
United scored early and brilliantly through Marcus Rashford and they really struggled for about twenty minutes in the middle of the opening half. Forest is lively at this point, especially young wide receiver Brennan Johnson.
Had Surridge’s goal stood, United could have experienced a bit of what Liverpool and Chelsea did while failing to win at Trent this season. The City Ground can be a lively old place when the Garibaldi blood rises.
Erik Ten Hag’s team, however, have a coolness about them that United sides haven’t had for the best part of a decade. And after taking some of the sting out of their opponents, they effectively booked a place in next month’s final with a first United goal for forward Wout Weghorst just before half-time.
In case there was any doubt about that – and there wasn’t – captain Bruno Fernandes scored the third goal at the end of the second period. Cue the scenes at the far end.
Think what you will about United but they’ve always valued cup success and now, in the middle of a season that continues to offer them plenty, they have a chance to return to relevance from that point.
United’s best player here is Brazilian midfielder Casemiro. He missed out, suspended, as United lost to Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday and here he was the dominant force of the game, reading the game well and passing the ball beautifully and metronomically.
The England forward then made no mistake with his finish to score his 18th goal in all competitions for United this season
Nottingham Forest thought they had equalized with Sam Surridge and fired David de Gea
Although Surridge was left disappointed after the VAR judged that he ran a little too early and was offside
Antony had plenty of chances but the Brazilian still lacked the same cutting edge as team-mate Rashford
He was actually involved in the opening goal in the sixth minute, but only barely. As Forest lost possession from a throw-in on their right, Casemiro fed Rashford.
From a position fully 70 yards from goal, Rashford began to run into open country, only to change his stride pattern when Forest pair Remo Freuler and Joe Worrall were tackled 25 yards from their own goal. They are favorites to stop him at this point. Two against one and all that. But neither player was right and as Rashford swept beautifully between them he managed to beat Wayne Hennessey at his near post with a left foot shot.
Rashford has now scored ten times in ten goals since the World Cup. With contract negotiations ongoing, Rashford’s timing was perfect.
Weghorst doubled Manchester United’s lead shortly before half-time – his first since joining the club on a short-term loan
Rashford and Weghorst ensured United had a comfortable lead to defend in the second leg of the tie at Old Trafford
Forest was a little scared and unusual. Their recent form has suggested they are better than this. United would have left them quickly. Antony, who had his United career unfairly ruined, curled two shots narrowly wide.
But then, in the 23rd minute, Rashford gave the ball away and Forest quickly stepped up for their first significant attack. Morgan Gibbs-White fed Surridge to his left on the counter and the 24-year-old swept the ball past David de Gea and inside. It was a good breakaway goal, the kind that can energize a team and a crowd and thus turn a game. But it couldn’t be counted out and once Johnson threatened twice down the right but didn’t ultimately deliver, that was about as good as it got for Cooper and his men.
United have been stretched and worried at times this season. They don’t look like the most secure team when opponents turn them around. But Ten Hag’s attack has been a real threat this season and after Antony was denied by Hennessey’s legs in the 32nd minute – a superb one-touch move, that is – he was once again beaten by the goalkeeper before half-time only for Weghorst to eat the rebound.
Bruno Fernandes’ 89th-minute goal looked to have sealed the tie for United with one hand in the Carabao Cup final
There is no such thing as a good goal to accept but some feel worse than others and this one felt awful. Immediately after the break, Weghorst snuffed again – he was denied by a Scott McKenna tackle – and then Christian Eriksen hit the bar with a first-time shot from the edge of the area.
For Forest, Gibbs-White – who failed to track Casemiro for United’s second goal – curled a shot from 18 yards. His team hasn’t given up yet.
But with the end of the second period beginning to drift, Fernandes drove low from 18 yards and United were out of sight of a tie.
United’s comfortable lead means they can make a few changes with Facundo Pellistri among the carryovers
Nottingham Forest are keen to determine the status of Morgan Gibbs-White who has been limping off the pitch with injury.
Steve Cooper’s side have been given a huge task at the top if they are to reach their first cup final since the 1989-1990 season.