Dean Henderson was the hero as Nottingham Forest advanced to the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup after a 4-3 penalty shoot-out win over Wolves.
The on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper first kept out Ruben Neves’ penalty, before producing another strong save to keep out Joe Hodge’s spot-kick and send Steve Cooper’s Reds through to the last four, where they will face Manchester United.
Raul Jimenez had come to the visitors’ rescue with a simple tap-in in normal time (64) after ex-Wolves defender Willy Boly – who spent five seasons at Molineux – bundled in a corner from close-range (18), but they could not find the equalizer they often threatened.
The victory sees Forest reach the semi-finals for the first time since they finished as runners-up to United in 1991/92.
Nottingham Forest: Henderson (8), Aurier (6), Worrall (6), Boly (7), Lodi (6), Yates (6), Freuler (6), Mangala (5), Scarpa (5), Johnson (6), Gibbs-White (7).
Subs: McKenna (6), Colback (6), Surridge (5), Dennis (5).
Wolves: Sa (6), Jonny (6), Toti (7), Kilman (7), Semedo (7), Moutinho (6), Nunes (6), Ait-Nouri (5), Hwang (5), Guedes (5 ), Jimenez (7).
Subs: Neves (5), Podence (5), Cunha (6), Traore (5), Hodge (5).
Player of the match: Dean Henderson.
How Steve Cooper’s Reds booked their semi-final spot
The reality of reaching the semi-finals of this competition was so alien to both teams that neither appeared to want to go great guns from the off. Wolves last progressed from the quarters when they won it in 1979/80 and it was the same for Forest, who reached the final in 1992.
The visitors were allowed to dominate the ball for long periods, with Forest safe in the knowledge that, for the most part, their opponents were unable to use their dominance to threaten.
But that meant Forest were liable to execute fast, incisive counter-attacks – and when one produced a corner, they deservedly took the lead. Serge Aurier flicked an in-swinging delivery on at the near post, Jonny inadvertently helped it onto the bar and Boly was on hand to apply the finishing touch. Unexpectedly, no celebration followed.
Wolves did grow into the game, though, and may well have been level going into the break had it not been for Henderson, who first batted away Jimenez’s curling shot, before a strong one-handed save denied Hee-Chan Hwang.
Julen Lopetegui’s side picked up where they left off after the restart and came close again when a misguided header from Neves teed up Brennan Johnson to force Jose Sa to dive at full stretch to his left to make the save.
They finally got their reward with 64 minutes played. Matheus Nunes and Matheus Cunha combined well, with the latter laying the ball on a plate for Jimenez to roll in the long-awaited equalizer and his third in three games in the competition this term.
It was almost undone in a matter of minutes, however, when time seemed to stand still as Jack Colback’s pass took a nick off Nelson Semedo’s knee and came back off the post before the ball was hastily hooked clear.
Steve Cooper was able to make 10 changes to the side that lost 4-1 at Blackpool in the FA Cup third round on Saturday. The sole survivor was new signing Gustavo Scarpa, who made his second start since arriving from Palmeiras.
Meanwhile, following their impressive 2-2 draw with Liverpool in the FA Cup, Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui made six alterations. Rayan Ait-Nouri, Raul Jimenez and Goncalo Guedes were among those to retain their places in the starting XI, with the likes of Jose Sa, Max Kilman, Mathias Nunes and Hee-chan Hwang returning.
While Wolves pressed for a winner, Forest held firm and, ultimately, forced the shoot-out, which started in dramatic fashion, with Sam Surridge and Neves denied by Jose Sa and Henderson respectively.
Each of the next seven were scored, leaving 20-year-old Joe Hodge with the pressure of keeping Wolves in the tie and forcing sudden death. But it was not to be, when Henderson, who was impressive throughout the night, saved to send Forest through.
Player of the match – Dean Henderson
Cooper: Henderson being ineligible to face Man Utd has put a dampener on tonight
Speaking after the match, Nottingham Forest’s Steve Cooper praised his side’s progression as a step in the right direction, but was quickly brought back down to Earth with a bang when he was reminded goalkeeper Dean Henderson will be ineligible to face parent club Manchester United in the semi-final.
“It’s brilliant to get through to the semi-final for the first time in 31 years, so I’m really pleased for the players to have got this far and given themselves an opportunity to play against Manchester United,” he said.
“I’m really pleased for our supporters – it gives our older generation a chance to reminisce and it’s given our younger generation a chance to enter new territory and that will always be important to me.
“It’s just another positive message to the progression the club is trying to make. We know we’ve got a long way to go and, as soon as we leave here, all focus is back on the Premier League, but the objective was to get through and we did. I didn’t love us, if I’m being honest. I didn’t love our performance, but I shouldn’t be too negative on a night like tonight.
“Do you know what, I’ve only just thought of that [Henderson being ineligible]. Dean was excellent in the penalty shoot-out, but he was more than good in the game. It’s unfortunate.
“He’s so invested in the group, how we work, what we’re trying to accelerate in terms of what we want to become. To do that, you need a really good goalkeeper. That’s put a bit of a dampener on it for me , to be honest.”
Lopetegui: We should have had a penalty – maybe I don’t know the rules of football
Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui aired his frustration at the fact his side were not awarded a late penalty at the City Ground.
Matheus Nunes went down under pressure from Emmanuel Dennis in the Nottingham Forest penalty area, with his boot coming off his foot as a result of the apparent contact.
He said: “The reaction is negative because we want to continue in this competition. I think we have fought a lot to get here and then it was a very hard match for both teams.
“We started by conceding one goal after a corner and after, we had two very big, clear chances in the first half that we didn’t score. In the second half, we scored one goal and had more chances. In the end, it was a pity it went to penalties.This is the way we have lost the match and we have to accept it
“But I don’t want to forget one key action against us, which was a very clear penalty for Matheus Nunes. Maybe I don’t understand anything about the rules of football; maybe I have to review all the rules of football.
“I don’t need to hear anything about this [from the referee]. The rules are not different in England to Spain, France, Germany – they are the same.”
Nottingham Forest return to Premier League action at 3pm on Saturday when they take on Leicester at the City Ground. Steve Cooper’s side then travel to Bournemouth at the same time on January 21.
Up next for Wolves is a home match against West Ham in the Premier League at 3pm on Saturday before they welcome Liverpool to Molineux at 7.45pm next Tuesday for an FA Cup third-round replay.