Manchester United eased through their EFL Cup semi-final second leg with Nottingham Forest to book a 1999 Wembley rematch with Newcastle.
Second-half goals from Anthony Martial and Fred ensured victory on the night for Erik ten Hag’s side, even though a place in the final was virtually secure anyway thanks to their 3-0 first-leg triumph at the City Ground.
Martial marked his return from a four-match injury absence by driving home his sixth goal of the season, after a pass intended for Marcus Rashford deflected back to the French striker 17 minutes from time.
Within 180 seconds, United had another when Bruno Fernandes picked out Rashford with a brilliant curling cross-field pass, which the England man turned into the path of Fred, who nudged the ball into an empty net from barely a yard out with his knee.
New signing Marcel Sabitzer watched from an executive box as United put themselves within one victory of their first trophy since 2017.
There was also a return to action for Jadon Sancho, who had not featured since October after Ten Hag put the England winger on an individual training programme in an effort to recover his form amid physical and mental issues.
United on trophy hunt
While their barren run does not compare with that of Newcastle, United know that if they fail to win a trophy this season it will be the club’s longest spell without silverware since the nine years after their European Cup triumph in 1968.
Manager Ten Hag made reference to the demands placed upon him in his programme notes, saying: “This club must always aim to be chasing honours.”
For the next three months at least, they will do so without Christian Eriksen, whose ankle injury has robbed United of arguably their most creative force.
The returns of Martial and Sancho are therefore well-timed.
Ten Hag views Martial as his optimum number nine, whose fluidity and movement is capable of causing problems for any defence.
Sancho’s talent for direct running is well known, even if it has not been seen that much since he returned to England from Borussia Dortmund in 2021.
United beat Newcastle in the FA Cup final 24 years ago in the second leg of their historic treble.
They will be acutely aware their task this time around will not be made any easier by the fact they must entertain Barcelona in the Europa League three days before the EFL Cup final on 26 February.
Forest fans enjoy night out despite defeat
Although there was never any likelihood of Forest rescuing the situation, their sizeable away following had a good evening out, even if their optimistic pre-match song “We’re gonna win 4-0” was wide of the mark.
Jesse Lingard’s hopes of appearing against his former club disappeared when he was injured in the warm-up.
His replacement, Emmanuel Dennis, might have put Forest ahead just before half-time with a shot that could have crept in had it not struck Sam Surridge, who tried – and failed – to get out of the way.
Danilo brought an acrobatic save out of Tom Heaton before the end, with Surridge putting the rebound over with the goal at his mercy.
With Brazilian defender Felipe, midfielder Jonjo Shelvey and three-time Champions League winner Keylor Navas emerging on deadline day from the revolving door that is Forest’s recruitment department, boss Steve Cooper has more change to manage over the final 18 games of a first top-flight campaign in more than two decades in which the number-one target is survival.
However, the Welshman has done an excellent job so far and, despite the disappointment of a second defeat to the same opposition in the space of a week, can take comfort from the knowledge his side were competitive for long spells in both games.
During the first-half, VAR Michael Salisbury was asked to check a potential red card offence between United winger Alejandro Garnacho and Forest forward Brennan Johnson, who had clashed not far away from the visitors’ technical area.
It was quickly ruled there was nothing in the incident to warrant a dismissal.
Referee Peter Bankes did make a point of speaking to Johnson, although no action was taken.
Forest boss Steve Cooper gave a very blunt response when he was asked about the reason for Johnson’s angry reaction: “I don’t want to make a comment on that.”
Player of the match
Squad number18Player nameCasemiroAverage rating
Squad number10Player nameRashfordAverage rating
Squad number8Player nameBruno FernandesAverage rating
Squad number6Player nameLi MartínezAverage rating
Squad number19Player nameVaraneAverage rating
Squad number25Player nameSanchoAverage rating
Squad number23Player nameShawAverage rating
Squad number17Player nameFredAverage rating
Squad number9Player nameMartialAverage rating
Squad number29Player nameWan-BissakaAverage rating
Squad number22Player nameHeatonAverage rating
Squad number49Player nameGarnachoAverage rating
Squad number27Player nameWeghorstAverage rating
Squad number21Player nameAntonyAverage rating
Squad number2Player nameLindelöfAverage rating
Squad number5Player nameMaguireAverage rating
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