By Sam Wallace, Chief Football Writer at the City Ground
Six years have passed since the last time Manchester United won a trophy: a blink of the eye for many clubs accustomed to decades of mediocrity but a slump unmatched in a generation for the club that has a reputation built on all that power and glory.
Erik ten Hag is now just 90 minutes from Wembley in his first season in charge, and although it is only the League Cup final that potentially awaits, great empires have been built with this first stone. Nottingham Forest will come to Old Trafford on Wednesday with only the faintest hope that they can reverse the tie. It felt like this home leg at the City Ground was the big chance and when their moment came they threw it away.
There were no trophies at Old Trafford between the FA Cup triumphs of 1977 and 1983, and before that 1977 win for Tommy Docherty’s side it had been nine years and a relegation since the European Cup of 1968. Lean periods are measured in decades elsewhere – try 33 years at Forest since their last major honour – but for United those six years sting. Never more so than in the commercial department where they sell the story of success to their global partners.
This is still a United side that feels like it will have many more of its parts replaced before it becomes a serious contender but this was a strong away performance nonetheless. They plundered the chances when they came and in Marcus Rashford, the first goalscorer after six minutes, they have one of the form players of the English game. This was his tenth goal in as many games and he is, once again, the most dangerous of United’s attackers.
As for Steve Cooper, and his great band of unfamiliars, there is now a greater sense of coherence. Even so, Cooper was left to reflect on two avoidable goals and then a disastrous third. “At 2-0 I would be saying a lot of the same things,” Cooper said later, “but to go to Old Trafford at 2-0 you never know. To concede again late on makes it very difficult.”
With a major Premier League game against Leeds United looming a week on Sunday, there are arguments for Forest taking it easy at Old Trafford next week. In Morgan Gibbs-White they have a fine player, although one who came off with an ankle injury as United asserted a grip in the second half. There was a period of the first half when Forest had a goal disallowed by Var and looked dangerous but they faded after the break.
This tie is not over for Cooper, but it is very close to that. Under Ten Hag, United look less prone to the kind of shock it would take to turn this semi-final around. On Sunday, United had been made to look a little ordinary against the title-charge of Arsenal. This time there was a much greater control. A fine performance from Lisandro Martinez, and a better day for Christian Eriksen than it had been at the Emirates. Casemiro back in the midfield made United look much more secure.
Yet even the great Brazil midfielder found it hard at times to cope with Gibbs-White, the best player in the first half. As a No 10 he has power as well as quick feet, and a nice habit of surprising the man on the ball. Gibbs-White and Brennan Johnson looked like the kind of sharp young talent that have adjusted to the demands of elite level football. Johnson’s pace was difficult even for Aaron Wan-Bissaka to cope with. Yet Forest were unable to take advantage of the best moments.
There was a goal at the start of the first half for United, and another at its end for Wout Weghorst, and by the break it felt that this Cup tie, stretching over 180 minutes and eight days, might already be over.
They were cheap goals to give away. The first Forest defensive catastrophe made Rashford look like Lionel Messi and, although it was a fine piece of skill and opportunism, Joe Worrall and Remo Freuler should never have permitted the striker to wriggle between them both. Rashford prodded it through with his trusty right foot, was lucky with a ricochet, and emerged from it all in the box with space to finish with his left.
It was an inauspicious start for Forest but they got to grips with United. Forest’s Brazilian midfielder Danilo, £12 million from Palmeiras, making his home debut, was effective - if sometimes a little scruffy with his touch. Alongside him, another Brazilian, Gustavo Scarpa, hit a sweet first-time volley from a punch that David De Gea took to clear a corner, and the United goalkeeper had to save again. Gibbs-White took Danilo’s fine ball with the outside of his right foot on 23 minutes before slipping in Sam Surridge for the first-time finish.
Unfortunately for Forest, the Var had detected that Surridge’s run was a fraction too late to avoid the dreaded red line of the Var monitor. In the final minute of the first half, Casemiro surged forward with the ball and the second-choice Forest goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey could only push Antony’s shot to Weghorst for his first United goal. Forest’s first choice goalkeeper Dean Henderson, who saved the crucial penalties in the previous round, would have been unable to play as per his loan agreement even if he was not injured.
That second United goal seemed to deflate Forest and the second half was nothing like as compelling as the first. Jesse Lingard came on against his former club but to little effect. Gibbs-White stole the ball from Casemiro one last time before shooting over.
Yet United never looked in trouble no matter how many changes were made by Cooper. It was the substitute Anthony Elanga who teed up a simple finish for Bruno Fernandes on 89 minutes for the third goal and the path to a League Cup final looked very clear for Ten Hag’s players.
Nottingham Forest 0 Manchester United 3 – as it happened
Erik ten Hag speaks to Sky Sports
"I am happy and happy with the performance, I think for 90 minutes we controlled the game. There was one moment in the game that could change the game and that is what we have to be aware of. They changed the system and we didn't read... anticipate on that, I have to say also that they still did the same counter attacks. It can't happen. That is still a moment where we have to learn, improve as a team. If you want to be top [that can't happen]."
"I think we created some more really good chances. It was a real striker's goal. I think we almost let them come into the game. We can't allow an opponent to come back into the game because we started the game so good and we dictated the game totally. We can't allow opponents to come back in the game. I think the second half we were much more calm and much more composed. It was much better."
"I already planned the sub to come on. We have many games to cover and it was 2-0. We were winning and we were in a good position. Garnacho is really hungry to play games and play minutes. We have to play one game and we have to do the same. We have to prepare, we have to make a good game plan and the players have to be focused."
Goalscorer Wout Weghorst speaks
"Great night for us, great result. Of course, after this first match 3-0 in front it's a really, really good chance at the final. It's always special and you always want to score goals, you prefer to have this first one as quick as possible. Really happy, I think it was a really important moment as well. It gives a way better feeling in the break."
"I think we started well. I think then we didn't have the control like we wanted... we made it too much their game. Then this 2-0 before half-time was an important one. We controlled it [in the second-half] with the 3-0 at the end it made it an even better result."
Rashford's red-hot form
Man of the Match Lisandro Martinez speaks to Sky Sports
"I am really happy with the job of the guys. We played so good today, we controlled the game but still we have many things to improve. We know that the team is doing a really good job, against Crystal Palace the last minute, against Arsenal as well, but we never give up. We won the game, so that's the first important. You can see when we don't do the right things we can concede goals. It was offside, though."
"We controlled the game but still we have many things to improve but we have to keep going. We showed discipline, I saw the whole game, we were fairly focused. We have to play always like this. We have to keep going and keep fighting. Today we deserved the result."
A fair assessment, I think.
Was that an excellent performance from Manchester United? No, but it was more than good enough. Forest did threaten the United goal and penalty area but the number of clear-cut chances they had were few. 3-0 is probably a harsh scoreline, though. Going 1-0 down in the first six minutes did not help, they had a goal offside and then it was 2-0 after their most impressive and dangerous period of play. The second half, a few instances aside, was fairly easy for United.
FULL TIME: Forest 0 Man Utd 3
Job not quite done in the technical sense, but that is a long way towards getting to Wembley. It would be a task worthy of a monument if Forest manage to overturn this one.
90+1 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 3
A bit of a worrying moment after the goal when an advertising hoarding fell over under the pressure of 50 or so United fans, some falling to the floor. The hoarding is up again within a minute and everyone seems to be okay. It wasn't an attempted pitch invasion, just the away fans rushing to celebrate with their team.
GOAAAAL! FERNANDES MAKES IT THREE!
Pellistri latches onto Fernandes' pass in the box, but gets a bit tangled up with Nico Williams. The ball then finds it way out to Fernandes on the edge of the box and he volleys hard past Hennessey's right arm to give United at least one foot into the final. A well-taken goal in a comfortable win for United.
Forest 0 United 3
88 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Fred dispossesses Forest on the edge of the box, putting Pellistri through in the box, but his first touch is poor and Hennessey (eventually) gets there.
87 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Forest with another attacking free-kick, on the right. United break but then Fred gets the ball stuck under his feet and they try a more patient approach with only a few minutes of normal time left.
84 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Pellistri misplaces a Park back towards Martinez and gets his team team into trouble, finding a red shirt on the edge of the box. Martinez rescues the danger. Pellistri has another moment in fouling Williams, just on the byline and just outside of the penalty area by a yard. A dangerous free-kick. Wan-Bissaka heads it away at the far post and then United win a free-kick just outside of their own box.
Weghorst off for Elanga.
82 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
The game, which was drifting about 10-15 minutes ago, is now almost out of the reach of radar technology. United fans in good voice, singing about which clubs they hate: Leeds, Liverpool, Man City.
79 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Pellistri curls a cross in, hard from the right but Weghorst can't get the right connection on his header and it's wide for a goal kick.
77 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Fred, who hasn't done a great deal since coming on, has a shot from distance. It is not good.
74 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Another half-chance for Forest. A ball is swung in from the left, Lingard is waiting on the edge of the six-yard box but he only glances it behind for a United goal kick. Couldn't quite get the clear header he needed or slightly misjudged it.
72 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Gibbs-White in a bit of trouble. He has some kind of injury that means he cannot carry on. Williams comes on and Lodi also makes way for O'Brien.
70 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Eriksen with a United corner from the right. The game drifting a bit now with 20 minutes of normal time and a few mistakes and sloppy play starting to creep in for both sides. left. It's cleared straight away by Aurier.
A double substitution for United this time: Fred and Pellistri on for Eriksen and Antony. Eriksen the more influential of the pair. Antony still a bit... well, below par tonight. Could do better.
67 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Casemiro has been disappointing today and he gives the ball away in a good position, allowing Forest to break.
66 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Eriksen lofts a ball in towards Fernandes from the left, but it is sent behind for a corner.
63 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Two changes for the hosts: On comes Lingard, off comes Scarpa. Surridge off and Dennis comes on.
62 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Forest still scrapping pretty hard here, Johnson and Aurier linking up on the right before finding Scarpa on the left, coming from deep into the box. It's a great sidefoot volley technique for his shot but Wan-Bissaka blocks for another Forest corner, which is somewhat wasted.
58 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Gibbs-White robs Casemiro on the edge of the box, takes a few touches into the box and strikes with his left foot! He's not far away but should he have done better? Probably, but it was a chance and another warning for United. There have been a few tonight.
55 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Garnacho looks to be warming up. On for Rashford? Possibly Antony?
United win a corner through Fernandes' deflected hooked pass. Worrall chests it behind.
It's Rashford off for Garnacho. A good evening for the man in the form of his life. A good 40 minutes for the youngster to impress.
Danilo off for Forest and Jack Colback on to replace him.
53 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Eriksen hits the bar! A pass is rolled sideways to him, he curls it with the inside of his right boot 20 yards out, and it may take a little deflection on its way to the woodwork. Rashford then follows up soon after but Hennessey saves.
51 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Another goal for United would all but kill the tie, you'd have thought. They have a little passage just knocking the ball around the centre of the pitch without too much threat.
It ends with a Malacia cross from the left, Fernandes is in space behind the penalty spot but it lands awkwardly in front of him and he completely miscues his shot.
Moments later and Johnson is nearly in at the other end after a nod down on the edge of the box from Gibbs-White. Lindelof is there to sweep away the danger but it's a fifth Forest corner.
47 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
Antony, charging forward, slides the ball out to Weghorst on the right of the box and the Dutchman slips and shoots (or shoots and slips) but's blocked behind for a corner.
46 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 2
A few match stats for you: United with 68 per cent of the possession, eight shots and four on target. Forest with five shots and two on target.
KICK OFF: SECOND HALF UNDER WAY
What can Forest get from this, if anything?
It's a positive start at a loud City Ground as Malacia has to send a dangerous cross from the left behind for a corner, with red shirts waiting behind him.
HALF TIME: Forest 0 Man Utd 2
That Weghorst goal kind of killed the atmosphere at the City Ground. Forest went behind early on and looked a little off. But they came back into it and, after Surridge's 'goal' was ruled out for offside Forest were arguably the better side. But they were hit on the break, perhaps unluckily, and find themselves a fair way back in this two-legged tie. But there is still plenty of time left, but they can't really afford to concede any more and need to get at least one of their own.
GOAAAL! WEGHORST WITH HIS FIRST UNITED GOAL!
Forest perhaps jut a little asleep. Antony lays the ball off to Casemiro who makes a run on the right, then finding Antony again on the edge of the box. It's a powerful shot from him which Hennessey does well to save to his left, but he can only divert it into the path of Wout Weghorst who pokes it home to put his team 2-0 up, a little against the balance of play of the last 20 minutes.
Forest 0 Man Utd 2
44 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
Fernandes has a pop from distance and his shot is nothing short of appalling. Ten Hag is rightly furious. Not necessarily because of the result of the shot but because of him doing it, I guess.
43 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
Still feels like United could cut through Forest in one go, go 2-0 up and kill the game a bit, though. Not playing like this, though!
Fernandes is a little too calm on the ball, losing control and then possession to Surridge, who bursts through to the left byline. Fernandes gets back to win a goal kick, though, making up for his error to some degree.
40 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
It's probably United who need to take a bit of time to get themselves back into the game now. Forest keep coming and coming and whilst they are not exactly creating clear-cut chance after clear-cut chance, they are putting the opposition under sustained pressure.
It's relieved a little bit now as Scarpa has a wild thrash with his left foot which flies well beyond its target.
37 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
That 'goal' from nowhere that was ruled out has really transformed Forest. After 15 minutes it looked like they were all set up to take a battering but Forest look the better side and the more likely to score at the moment.
35 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
Forest posing a definite threat here. End-to-end stuff. Rashford picks up a through ball but his first touch takes it beyond his own reach and out for a goal kick.
33 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
Save! Antony finds himself put through on goal with just the keeper to beat. He pokes it with his left foot, goalwards but Hennesey goes down and saves excellently with his left foot!
This has turned into a pulsating game. Not quite of the quality and intensity of Sunday's game at the Emirates, but not a bad imitation.
30 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
Brennan Johnson again! He does two or three United players with some silky skill as well as strength, gliding past them all. He runs it a bit too wide out right and leans back when he takes his shot from the corner of the box. It is high and wide. Should have done better with his attempt, but a fair run, that.
28 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
United have their first corner, Fernandes tries to scoop it goalwards but fails to. Forest break again with Scarpa finding Johnson on a dangerous run, he goes toe-to-toe with Wan-Bissaka trying to break into the box, but the United defender comes out on top this time... just.
Forest really coming into this game now.
25 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
There's another dangerous ball into the United box, which Lindelof fails to deal with and Martinez has to stoop down low to head the ball behind for a corner before it can be stabbed in by a red shirt.
Much better from Forest, who are looking like a threat now.
Another good chance here, Scarpa sidefoots a volley from the edge of the box after a clearance after the corner De Gea punches away.
22 mins - Forest have goal ruled out for offside
Forest think they've scored on the counter as Surridge puts the ball past David de Gea from inside the box with a well-taken finish... it came after United had a threatening attack of their own.
It was a lovely finish with his right foot along the ground, but it is ruled out by Var for offside. There's not much in it, Surridge is looking down the line but he's off by a foot or so, if that.
21 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
Rashford breaks on the left again in space, stutters a little before trying to thread a pass through to Malacia who makes a run into the box. It's deflected slightly and then Forest win a free-kick on the edge of the box in the follow-up incident.
20 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
It's a second Forest corner of the game. Scarpa takes it from the right, with his left. Pretty dangerous and United head away twice, but only for an attacking throw-in.
17 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
Hard to reiterate just how much space Forest are giving United here. What's their game plan from here? Try and get some of the ball and keep it would be a start, in fairness. Complexion of the game and the tie has changed after that Rashford goal, though.
15 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
Forest with their best break of the game as Gibbs-White finds Lodi, but his pass towards the right corner flag is overhit and United win the ball back again.
United's time to make a mistake as Eriksen overhits a pass trying to find a Marcus Rashford run and it's a home goal kick.
13 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
Antony with another good chance after Fernandes finds him in space in the box. He favours his left foot here, as expected, and it's high and wide and a little poor.
12 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
Again, a little too easy for the visitors at the moment. So much space and time in the middle of the park. A little bit more congested in the final third, but Forest just static and without much of the ball at all in the opening 13 minutes.
9 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
Forest have a little bit of attacking joy and win a corner, the first of the game for either side.
7 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 1
Antony now has a crack from just inside the right-edge of the box, curls it in with his left foot and it goes just beyond the far post...
Forest look a bit at sea at the moment.
GOAAAAL! RASHFORD WITH THE OPENER
Rashford picks the ball up on the left wing in his own half, he runs into space, and then through two Forest defenders – Worrall and Freuler – with ease, then into the box, and then slots into the near post with his left foot past the outstretched arm of Wayne Hennessey!
Forest 0 Man Utd 1
4 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 0
United in black and white and Forest in their usual red and white. The home side win a throw-in on the right touchline about 40 yards out from goal. United try and play out from the back and down the left through Rashford...
2 mins - Forest 0 Man Utd 0
United look like getting a shot on goal through Rashford, who finds Eriksen on the edge of the box but then the Dane's pass is awry. Fernandes then breaks through on the left after a defensive lapse right in the box, drives to the byline and sends in a dangerous cross but Hennessy clears.
We are under way at the City Ground.
Just before kick-off
A minute's silence for holocaust memorial day.
Kick-off just five minutes away
Predictions? Hard to see past the visitors overall, but Forest will be up for it. They may as well have a go.
That's enough about United for now
Read this fantastic piece from John Percy, an interview with Nigel Clough, who recalls the City Ground glory years and a competition upon which his father and Nottingham Forest built a lasting legacy.
Erik ten Hag speaks
"It's great always to play such games. A lot of attention from everyone around in the club, the fans especially but also the players. You feel it, they want to go for the final. It's a big game. We have a strong team tonight, we have to win this game and we want to win this game. We have to do everything we have in our capabilities to win this game."
He says Luke Shaw is out of the squad through illness and it is not sure whether he'll be back for the weekend.
Erik ten Hag tells Marcus Rashford to snub PSG and stay at Manchester United
Erik ten Hag has told Marcus Rashford he is critical to his plans to make Manchester United great again amid uncertainty over the England striker’s long-term future at the club.
Rashford is in the form of his life, with 17 goals already this season, but the 25-year-old has entered the final 18 months of his contract at Old Trafford and is attracting strong interest from Paris Saint-Germain.
Read more from James Ducker on Rashford's situation here.
The last time these two teams met at the City Ground
It was 24 years ago... and Manchester United, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a substitute, ran riot.
The Norwegian came on as a sub with 18 minutes to play and scored four goals in 14 minutes. Forest ended the season bottom of the league with just seven wins.
How they got here
Third round: 4-2 vs Aston Villa
Fourth round: 2-0 vs Burnley
Quarter-finals: 3-0 vs Charlton Athletic
Second round: 0-3 vs Grimsby Town
Third round: 2-0 vs Tottenham Hotspur
Fourth round: 1-4 vs Blackburn Rovers
Quarter finals: 1-1 (4-3 on penalties) vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Starting XI: Hennessy, Worrall, Gibbs-White, Surridge, Johnson, Freuler, Aurier, McKenna, Danilo, Scarpa, Lodi
Substitutes: Smith, Cook, Mangala, Williams, Colback, Lingard, O'Brien, Dennis, Boly
Starting XI: De Gea, Wan Bissaka, Lindelof, Martinez, Malacia, Casemiro, Eriksen, Antony, Fernandes, Rashford, Weghorst
Substitutes: Fred, Varane, Heaton, Pellistri, Williams, Elanga, McTominay, Garnacho, Mainoo
Erik ten Hag arrives at the City Ground
Often a stern-looking man, Mr Ten Hag.
We will have team news in a moment.
What they are all playing for
Forest and United are two of the most successful clubs in the competition's history, with the latter having won it five times and the former four times, with a total of 15 final appearances.
Welcome to our live coverage for tonight's second Carabao Cup semi-final, first-leg game between Nottingham Forest and Manchester United. It might be too much to say that Newcastle United have one foot in the final at Wembley after yesterday's 1-0 win at Southampton, but there is an opportunity for either side tonight to take a big step towards some silverware.
Clearly, Manchester United are big favourites to win the overall tie and indeed Forest are outsiders for tonight at 5/1, with the draw 3/1 and an away win at 8/13. The two last met in the league on December 27, with United running out 3-0 winners at Old Trafford.
Since a painful 4-0 loss to Leicester at the beginning of October, their domestic form has been pretty decent for a newly-promoted side with 16 games played, six wins, six draws and four losses. It has been helped by their run to their first domestic semi-final since the 1991/92 League Cup, when they eventually lost to tonight's opponents in the final (below).
After a dodgy start to their first Premier League campaign for decades (four points from their first eight games), they now stand 13th and six points off the relegation zone after picking up 17 points from their next 12. They are still not out of the relegation fight just yet, though.
Manchester United have enjoyed a recent revival, too, although the start to their domestic season was a little shorter-lived. Erik ten Hag has turned a club in crisis into a team that at least looks like it has half an idea what they're doing. They are far from the finished article, with some areas that need addressing. Sunday's 3-2 loss at Arsenal highlighted those deficiencies and how far they are behind the league leaders.
Still, although progress in the league is the benchmark, the club has not won a trophy since 2017's Europa League (which followed the League Cup the same season and the FA Cup the season before). As Erik ten Hag said last week, for a club of this size and history that is not acceptable and the Carabao Cup offers them a chance to pick up some silverware in the next month or so.
Kick off is at 8pm and I will be here for all the build-up, latest updates and reaction from the tie.