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.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 25, 2023
What does it mean? United move towards first final under Ten Hag
There has been a lot of water under the bridge since United last played in a major final, going down on penalties in the 2021 Europa League final to Villarreal.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick failed to recapture those highs last season, but under new management now, they are seemingly – assuming Forest cannot manage an unlikely turnaround – just one step away from ending their silverware drought.
Rashford remains in rampant form
Though replaced just before the hour by Alejandro Garnacho, the England international had already made his mark with an 18th goal of the season.
Among Premier League players, only Manchester City’s Erling Haaland, with 31, has scored more than him across all competitions.
Gibbs-White impresses as Forest sputter
Though he was forced into an early exit with what looked to be a potential injury problem, the former Wolves man was almost everywhere for Forest in their attempts to find a response.
His three attempts was a joint-high for the hosts alongside Gustavo Scarpa, while only Danilo made as many tackles as him among his team-mates.
Key Opta facts
– Manchester United are the first side ever to win eight consecutive meetings with Nottingham Forest in all competitions.
– This was the joint-biggest win by an away side in the first leg of a EFL Cup semi-final, alongside QPR winning 4-1 at Birmingham City in 1966-67 and Luton Town winning 3-0 at West Ham in 1988-89.
– After Newcastle United’s win at Southampton and Man Utd’s at Forest, 2022-23 is only the third EFL Cup season in which both semi-final first legs were won by the away side (also 1972-73 and 1992-93).
– Bruno Fernandes registered his 100th goal involvement for Manchester United in all competitions, scoring 56 and assisting 44.
– Marcus Rashford has scored 10 goals in 10 games for Manchester United in all competitions since the World Cup finished, the most of any player for clubs in Europe’s big five leagues in this period.
United are in FA Cup action with a fourth-round match at home to Reading on Saturday, while Forest have a full week to recover before the second leg of this tie next Wednesday.