As I Just Can’t Get Enough blared from the speakers, Nottingham Forest’s players and staff all made a beeline for Dean Henderson. Seconds earlier Henderson hurtled towards the Brian Clough Stand, sliding before the home fans after saving Joe Hodge’s spot-kick to clinch a penalty shootout victory over Wolves and advance to the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup. It means Forest are in the semi- finals of the competition for the first time since 1992, when they lost to Manchester United – now their opponents in the last four – in the final. There was a flareup involving the former Wolves midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White as Forest celebrated but the focus for Steve Cooper’s side was on basking in the moment.
Raúl Jiménez had earlier canceled out the former Wolves defender Willy Boly’s first-half strike. Forest side hit a post with 13 minutes of normal time to play and six minutes of second-half stoppage time could not prevent penalties.
Forest’s rich history in this competition is just about everywhere Cooper looks at the City Ground. There is the picture of Brian Clough in his office, the hoardings in the top tier of the stand bearing Clough’s name that offer a reminder of the trophies in the club’s cabinet – the 1978 League Cup, their first triumph in the competition, is directly opposite Cooper’s technical area – and before kick-off the Trent End unraveled a display of their own; the words “New Team Same Dreams” were draped across the stand beside images of their triumphs of yesteryear under Clough.
Towards the end of last year Cooper, the Forest head coach, picked the brains of Nigel Clough, now manager of Mansfield Town in League Two, over a cup of tea after a training game between the sides.
After being humbled by Blackpool in the FA Cup last weekend Forest’s motivation to succeed was even stronger. The Brazilian forward Gustavo Scarpa, who in December became Forest’s 23rd signing of the season, was the only player to keep his place from him. Wolves, meanwhile, made six changes from their 2-2 draw at Anfield on Saturday, when they were left reeling after Toti Gomes’s potential late winner was ruled out for offside. Wolves complained to Howard Webb, the head of Professional Game Match Officials Limited, and also contacted the Football Association but the reality is they face a third-round replay against Liverpool at Molineux on Tuesday.
The galling thing for Wolves was that Forest’s goal on 18 minutes was very much made in Wolverhampton. Gibbs-White, who signed for Forest last summer for an initial £25m having spent the previous 16 years at Wolves after joining as an eight-year-old, caused havoc with a flat corner and the set piece culminated in Boly, who spent five years at Wolves and joined Forest less than a fortnight after Gibbs-White for £2.25m, prodding in on the line. The Wolves defender Jonny, who operated on the right of Julen Lopetegui’s three-man defence, was on the back post but his panicked clearance inadvertently plunged Wolves into danger and presented Boly with a gift for his first Forest goal. The defender’s celebrations were muted.
The omens were not good for Wolves given they had won once this season after conceding first – at Everton on Boxing Day in Lopetegui’s first league game in charge – but they responded well before the interval and would have leveled but for Dean Henderson in the Forest goal .
Moments after Gonçalo Guedes, replaced by Rúben Neves at half-time, registered Wolves’ first shot on target on 35 minutes, Henderson superbly denied Jiménez when faced one on one with the Mexico forward. A couple of minutes later Henderson repelled Hwang Hee-chan’s volley from Jiménez’s cross after the South Korea forward peeled off the returning Forest captain, Joe Worrall.
José Sá made a fine save low to his right to deny Gibbs-White five minutes into the second half and Serge Aurier saw a shot blocked after more good work by Gibbs-White, but just as it seemed as though the game may fizzle out Wolves spring into life. Matheus Nunes located the substitute Matheus Cunha to his right and he played a low ball across the six-yard box for Jiménez to tap in. His third goal of the season gave Wolves a newfound belief.
Cooper freshened his attack by introducing Sam Surridge and Emmanuel Dennis and the latter played a part in almost smuggling a freak late winner. Dennis looked to play a one-two with Jack Colback, another substitute, but Colback’s pass cannoned off Nélson Semedo’s knee and on to Sá’s left post. Gomes wellied the ball to safety but the drama of penalties was still to come.