Manchester United put one foot into the EFL Cup final with an assured 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest in the first leg of their semi-final on Wednesday.
Goals for Marcus Rashford, Wout Weghorst – his first for the club – and Bruno Fernandes secured victory for the visitors at the City Ground.
After dropping points in back-to-back Premier League games against Crystal Palace and Arsenal, it marked a return to winning ways for Erik ten Hag’s men.
For Steve Cooper’s hosts though, it marks a bitterly disappointing result, with any chance of a comeback at Old Trafford now likely scotched.
United needed just six minutes to carve Forest open, with Rashford afforded space to scamper down the left wing and squeeze between two defenders before beating Wayne Hennessey at the near post.
Forest thought they had equalised with a superb breakaway finished by Sam Surridge in the 23rd minute, only for the VAR to deem the striker offside.
The hosts looked to be growing into the game after that but received a sucker punch on the stroke of half-time when Weghorst turned in after Antony’s effort was parried.
Christian Eriksen nearly added a third nine minutes after the interval, his looping attempt hitting the crossbar.
With time running out, Forest called upon former United midfielder Jesse Lingard from the bench in the hope of salvaging something for the second leg.
But the result was put beyond doubt in the 89th minute, Fernandes drilling into the bottom-left corner to surely send United to Wembley.
Nottingham Forest player ratings (4-3-1-2)
GK: Wayne Hennessey – 5/10 – Made some decent saves but didn’t cover himself in glory for either of United’s first half goals.
RB: Serge Aurier – 5/10 – Running back towards his own goal at no great speed miles off the pace as Rashford put United into a lead.
CB: Joe Worrall – 5/10 – Easily beaten by Rashford for the early goal.
CB: Scott McKenna – 5/10 – Didn’t much lose the ball but what does it matter when three goals went in?
LB: Renan Lodi – 5/10 – Antony had more chances than Forest probably would have been happy with.
CM: Danilo – 7/10 – Always careful not to lose possession cheaply and did plenty to win it back.
CM: Remo Freuler – 5/10 – Struggled to make much impact on the game.
CM: Gustavo Scarpa – 7/10 – Impressed in phases, particuarly with a well-controlled volley that needed De Gea to save it.
AM: Morgan Gibbs-White – 7/10 – At the heart of Forest’s good spells in the game. Cruelly forced off with what appeared to be an injury.
ST: Brennan Johnson – 6/10 – Pace made him a threat, particularly on the break. Had a few chances that he might think he could have done better with.
ST: Sam Surridge – 5/10 – Had the ball in the net in the first half, only to see VAR flag up his offside knee. Didn’t otherwise see very much of it.
SUB: Jack Colback (59′ for Danilo) – 6/10
SUB: Jesse Lingard (64′ for Scarpa) – 6/10
SUB: Emmanuel Dennis (64′ for Surridge) – 5/10
SUB: Neco Williams (73′ for Lodi) – 6/10
SUB: Lewis O’Brien (73′ for Gibbs-White) – 6/10
Steve Cooper – 5/10 – The players looked a little uncertain of the shape in the first half and the gaps out wide in those crucial stages really favoured United. His team were simply too open.
Man Utd player ratings (4-2-3-1)
GK: David de Gea – 7/10 – Not a quiet night by any means.
RB: Aaron Wan-Bissaka – 6/10 – Almost got burned for pace by Johnson at one stage but was otherwise pretty solid.
CB: Victor Lindelof – 6/10 – Probably guilty of leaving too much space when Surridge scored the offside goal – he got away with it on that occasion.
CB: Lisandro Martinez – 8/10 – Stooped low to put his head where it hurt in the first half and put himself about physically in pursuit of the clean sheet.
LB: Tyrell Malacia – 7/10 – Tenacious and energetic.
CM: Casemiro – 7/10 – Returned to the base of the United midfield after being suspended at the weekend. His usual performance.
CM: Christian Eriksen – 8/10 – Unlucky to see a great shot come back off the bar and began to exert more dominance in the second half.
RM: Antony – 6/10 – Lots of good touches and promising interplay. Still lacked a clinical edge as multiple chances went begging.
AM: Bruno Fernandes – 7/10 – Took risks on the ball but made a few chances and was eventually rewarded with a goal at the end.
LM: Marcus Rashford – 8/10 – A goal six minutes in. Stretched Forest so well in his left channel and came off inside an hour with his job for the night done.
ST: Wout Weghorst – 7/10 – Off the mark in United colours with a well-taken poacher’s finish.
SUB: Alejandro Garnacho (57′ for Rashford) – 6/10
SUB: Fred (71′ for Eriksen) – 6/10
SUB: Facundo Pellistri (71′ for Antony) – 5/10
SUB: Anthony Elanga (85′ for Weghorst) – N/A
Erik ten Hag – 8/10 – The starting XI reflected how serious he is taking this competition as an opportunity to end Uniteds six-year trophy drought. But he was also able to rotate once his team had a healthy lead and were in control.