Casemiro’s late nod topples Forest as Manchester United roll on in FA Cup

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Casemiro;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Casemiro</a> roars after his late winner for <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Manchester United;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Manchester United</a> against <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Nottingham Forest;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Nottingham Forest</a> set up a quarter-final with Liverpool.</span><span>Photograph: Marc Atkins/Getty Images</span>

Legend has it that Mark Robins was the man to save Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United managerial career with an FA Cup winner against Nottingham Forest in 1990. That year United went on to win the trophy at Wembley and the pressure was lifted from their manager. Erik ten Hag will be hoping Casemiro’s late ­winner might have the same galvanising effect on his tenure.

The Brazilian’s header was the 36th attempt on goal on a night devoid of quality but the result is all that matters for Ten Hag, who will be ­holding on to hope United can reach ­Wembley in this competition as he looks to prove himself to Sir Jim ­Ratcliffe, the club’s new ­minority ­shareholder – although the small matter of ­Liverpool awaits in the next round as United look to go one better than being beaten ­finalists last season.

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Ten Hag will be judged on ­trophies and signings but one of the ­latter, Antony, offered 73 forgettable ­minutes. The FA Cup is United’s only shot at silverware after failing to find consistency in the Premier League and a dismal effort to get out of their Champions League group. Success is required to justify employment at Old Trafford and Ratcliffe’s arrival has ramped up the pressure. Casemiro’s goal was an underwhelming way to end the tie but it was all the match deserved, as United made the most of Forest’s struggle to defend set pieces.

“He has scored so many goals for us,” Ten Hag said of Casemiro. “It is great to have a player like Casemiro in your squad. You see how important he is for us. When he is not there like in October, November, December, you really miss him because he sets some structures in the team because his leadership makes us better.”

It felt like extra time was guaranteed thanks to 89 minutes of wayward shooting. Few were anticipating a punctual exit. United were missing their injured in-form striker ­Rasmus Højlund, who has shown ­clinical form in recent months, ­scoring seven in six league games. The Dane was missing for the home defeat against Fulham on Saturday, where it took United 21 shots to muster a solitary goal. At the City Ground they required one fewer to win, which is a sign of progress of sorts.

It was a battle to get through, Ten Hag praising United’s “resi­lience”. They are hindered by injuries, starting the central midfielder Sofyan Amrabat at left-back and needing Bruno Fernandes to play through the pain barrier, although he was mocked by Fulham on their social media accounts after writhing in pain on Saturday.

“You could see that Forest were targeting him,” Ten Hag said of ­Fernandes, who limped out of the City Ground. “It was a serious injury and when you see how serious they are, to criticise him on social media is pathetic. He fought to be part of this game and he has a high pain threshold. He did similar last season against Spurs and in the semi-final [against Brighton] and that shows leadership.”

Within the opening 17 minutes, United could easily have scored three. Antony, Scott McTominay and ­Marcus Rashford all had fine chances from inside the box but only the Scot tested the goalkeeper, his colleagues hitting the bar or the fans behind. United are clearly in need of a backup striker to alleviate the burden on Højlund that will mount upon his return.

United travel to Manchester City on Sunday where they will be unlikely to get as many chances, nor will their rivals be as profligate as ­Forest. The hosts were barely in the game in the first half but maintained parity thanks to the poor finishing served up by United.

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After the break, Forest found a threat. Taiwo Awoniyi and Divock Origi tested André Onana but the goalkeeper was alert. “It was frustra­ting to lose in the end but football can be cruel,” Nuno Espírito Santo said.

With quality lacking from start to finish, the prospect of a chance being taken seemed a distant dream until Fernandes whipped in a free‑kick from the left that bounced on the way to the front post where Casemiro was waiting in space to nod through Matt Turner’s legs.

A lengthy VAR delay followed to ascertain if Raphaël Varane was offside and ­influencing play but the goal was allowed to stand. There was relief in the away end and dugout.

United have found a knack of ­scoring late goals. Without them Ten Hag would be in a concerning position. Thanks to Casemiro he has hope of winning a second trophy as United manager, but the pressure is on to get back to Wembley.