Jürgen Klopp had said how his scant knowledge of Nottingham stretched to its association with Robin Hood and until Diogo Jota poked in the winning goal 12 minutes from time to propel Liverpool into the FA Cup semi-finals he was at risk of being on the wrong end of an upset that would have provided him with an unwanted memory. Forest proved courageous and stubborn, leading Klopp to make a quadruple substitution midway through a stale second half, and could have taken the had Philip Zinckernagel tucked home a golden chance. Liverpool, who remain on course for an unprecedented quadruple, will take on Manchester City in the final four.
Steve Cooper made a low-key entrance a few minutes before kick-off, strolling out of the tunnel and raising his right hand to acknowledge the adoring Forest support before taking a seat in the home dugout. Cooper, who spent five years coaching Liverpool’s academy, has revitalized Forest since inheriting a team that was bottom of the Championship. He could be forgiven for wanting to take it all in. Giant tifos were unfurled in the Trent End and even Cooper applauded the rousing pre-match rendition of Forest’s anthem: Mull of Kintyre. “Our desire is always to be here,” read a graphic stretched across the lower tier. At the opposite end, in a pocket of the Bridgford Stand adjacent to the away fans, there was a poignant tribute to those who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster. “97 Never Forgotten” read a banner that covered 97 vacant seats.
The pre-match atmosphere provided the perfect tonic for a breathless first 45 minutes. Forest supporters gasped as Brennan Johnson made the first in-roads down the left flank and the volume increased further when Zinckernagel pinched the ball inside the Liverpool box. His cross from him was deflected across the six-yard box and fell to the lively Joe Lolley but his cut-back was cleared by Naby Keïta, one of seven Liverpool changes from their victory over Arsenal.
Lolley sent a shot whistling wide and a couple of minutes later he skipped past Keïta on the touchline to kickstart another counterattack. In the second half, another Johnson burst lured Joe Gomez into a clumsy challenge that earned the Liverpool full-back a booking. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah were absent through injury, while Sadio Manè was given a breather by Klopp to help aid his preparation for Senegal’s World Cup play-off against Salah’s Egypt.
Keïta was arguably Liverpool’s weakest link during a first half in which they created numerous chances, the best of which Roberto Firmino squandered. Firmino was slipped in on goal after Liverpool intercepted the left-back Jack Colback’s pass but, faced one on one with the Forest goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, the Brazilian forward was guilty of overcomplicating things. Firmino tried to lob Horvath but the goalkeeper read the situation. Kostas Tsimikas went close with a swerving shot from 25 yards and Gomez, having powered forward on the opposite flank, sent a flying shot over on the brink of the interval. Fabinho, one of four to keep his place from him, pulled a shot wide after a flat corner caught Forest cold. The Forest captain, Joe Worrall, also made an expert sliding tackle on Jota just as the Liverpool forward appeared set to take aim.
Jota’s strike provided a cruel reminder of Liverpool’s clinical edge. A couple of minutes after Zinckernagel prodded wide after another fine foray forward by Johnson, whose teasing ball in from the right dropped towards the penalty spot, Jota converted Tsimikas’s floated cross. It was almost as if Cooper was telepathic. He swiveled and winced in the technical area as Tsimikas snatched the ball. But Liverpool did not cruise over the finish line. With the clock ticking Johnson beat Tsimikas and picked out Ryan Yates, but the Forest midfielder headed straight at Alisson.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism