Manchester United secured their place in only a second major final in six seasons on Wednesday night with a 2-0 victory over Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford.
Goals from Anthony Martial and Fred decided the game, bumping up an already comfortable aggregate lead from the first leg to 5-0, setting up a clash with Newcastle at Wembley this month.
The hosts had mild penalty appeals when Alejandro Garnacho went down under pressure from Neco Williams and Willy Boly. But nearly half an hour had passed before either side had a clear sight of goal, with a powerful Casemiro header saved by Wayne Hennessey’s outstretched right foot.
Despite chasing an aggregate deficit, Forest had seen very little of the ball but probably should have taken the lead on a rare foray forward. A throw-in gave Brennan Johnson the chance to dribble his way through, but the pacey Welshman’s finish straight at Tom Heaton lacked conviction.
Antony’s cleanly hit strike from outside the box in the closing stages of the first half had Hennessey worried as he flew to his left, seeing the ball just rise over the crossbar.
Wout Weghorst then struck the post right before the interval after an otherwise quiet opening 45 minutes from the Dutchman, while Forest winger Emmanuel Dennis had his head in his hands when his goal-bound effort was inadvertently blocked by teammate Sam Surridge.
United had stronger penalty appeals not long into the second half when Weghorst nicked the ball in front of Forest defender Scott McKenna, whose attempt to clear then upended the forward. It was given the VAR treatment but the on-field decision surprisingly stood.
Tempers flared a little around the hour mark, with tackles flying and Alejandro Garnacho involved in an ongoing fracas with Johnson and Williams on Forest’s right flank. The young Argentine forced Hennessey into a good save at the near post in one of his final acts before Ten Hag made a flurry of changes, including the return of Jadon Sancho after more than three months out.
With United already starting to turn the screw, those changes triggered the second half goals. The first went to Martial, capitalising on a rebound after fellow sub Marcus Rashford had seen an attempt blocked following an initial run by the Frenchman.
Sancho was then involved in the second goal not long after, feeding Bruno Fernandes on the right. The United skipper’s exquisite outside-of-the-foot ball to the far post was then put back across the box by Rashford for Fred to score an easy tap-in.
Heaton still had to have his wits about him late on to preserve his clean sheet, throwing a big hand up to parry a powerful drive from Danilo as Forest searched for a very late consolation. With the goal gaping, Surridge skied his own attempt on the rebound.
GK: Tom Heaton – 6/10 – A deserved opportunity but hardly a busy night until a spectacular late save.
RB: Aaron Wan-Bissaka – 7/10 – Took up an interesting position relatively high up the pitch and often tucked inside that made it difficult for Dennis and made space for Antony.
CB: Lisandro Martinez – 7/10 – Commanded every situation.
CB: Raphael Varane – 7/10 – Always composed and in control.
LB: Luke Shaw – 6/10 – Back after illness and can be satisifed with this performance.
CM: Casemiro – 8/10 – Another fine example of the type of performance that has really driven the whole team’s resurgence this season.
CM: Fred – 7/10 – Has been thriving alongside his fellow countryman and could play an awful lot more now that Christian Eriksen is out for a few months.
RM: Antony – 6/10 – Inches away from a great goal and posed a threat early on.
AM: Bruno Fernandes (c) – 8/10 – Put in a star turn, especially after moving to the right in the seconc half. Went close to a goal of his own late on.
LM: Alejandro Garnacho – 7/10 – Becoming more and more at home in this team.
ST: Wout Weghorst – 6/10 – A quiet opening 45 minutes until hitting the post on the stroke of half-time. Probably deserved a penalty after the break.
SUB: Marcus Rashford (62′ for Garnacho) – 7/10
SUB: Jadon Sancho (62′ for Antony) – 7/10
SUB: Anthony Martial (63′ for Weghorst) – 7/10
SUB: Victor Lindelof (80′ for Casemiro) – N/A
SUB: Harry Maguire (80′ for Varane) – N/A
Erik ten Hag – 9/10 – Went with a strong side to avoid any slip-ups, but it was the substitutions and slight tweak in shape as Fernandes moved to the right that made the difference.
GK: Wayne Hennessey – 6/10 – Made a handful of saves to keep it 0-0 for at least a while.
RB: Neco Williams – 7/10 – Had his hands full with Garnacho but ultimately outlasted his imprssive opponent, before switching to the other side.
CB: Scott McKenna – 5/10 – Arguably fortunate not to give away a penalty for a swinging leg that caught Weghorst.
CB: Willy Boly – 6/10 – Stood tall for long periods until the resistance finally broke.
LB: Renan Lodi – 5/10 – Barely touched the ball and had a tough night of defending.
CM: Remo Freuler (c) – 5/10 – Tough night against a very good United midfield.
CM: Orel Mangala – 5/10 – Similar story to Freuler, found it hard going.
RM: Brennan Johnson – 6/10 – Should have done with a great first half chance that he created himself, having already done the hard bit.
AM: Gustavo Scarpa – 6/10 – Had promising moments just as in the first leg.
LM: Emmanuel Dennis – 5/10 – Late replacement for the injured Jesse Lingard and initially struggled to get into the game. Had one decent chance blocked by his own teammate.
ST: Sam Surridge – 5/10 – With little of the ball, frustrations got the better of him when he cleaned out Raphael Varane to pick up a yellow card.
SUB: Alex Mighten (64′ for Johnson) – 5/10
SUB: Danilo (64′ for Freuler) – 6/10
SUB: Serge Aurier (65′ for Lodi) – 5/10
SUB: Oliver Hammond (86′ for Scarpa) – N/A
SUB: Detlef Osong (86′ for Surridge) – N/A
Steve Cooper – 7/10 – Set up his side well and they did admirably to hold out for as long as they did.
Player of the match – Bruno Fernandes (Man Utd)
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