Diogo Jota struck late to break Nottingham Forest’s stubborn resistance as Liverpool set up an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City with a 1-0 win at the City Ground.
The Championship promotion chasers had enjoyed arguably the better of the game until Jota’s 78th-minute winner, and moments earlier had passed up a golden chance to take the lead themselves as Philip Zinckernagel missed the target from eight yards.
Forest largely kept Premier League title hopefuls Liverpool at arms’ length over 90 minutes in front of a sell-out crowd, with Roberto Firmino’s dinked effort, well saved by Ethan Horvath, their only real chance of note before their eventual winner.
That came after fine work from Kostas Tsimikas teed up Jota’s far-post finish, confirmed by VAR, which kept Liverpool’s quadruple hopes alive and set up a tasty semi-final at Wembley against title rivals Man City – the weekend after the pair go head to head in the Premier League, live on Sky Sports.
Forest match Liverpool all the way in FA Cup classic
Scorelines can often be deceiving, and the 90 minutes in front of a packed City Ground offered far more entertainment for fans of either side than the scoreline suggested.
Nottingham Forest, flying in the Championship under Steve Cooper, refused to give an inch to their illustrious visitors and set out their intentions early on when man-of-the-match Joe Worrall robbed Jota in the home box with an inch-perfect sliding challenge.
They might have done more with the 30 per cent of possession they had before half-time, but went in relieved to be level from their one moment to forget, with Jack Colback caught in possession and Firmino, clean through, denied by a superb Horvath save after trying to chip the goalkeeper.
Liverpool were again given no quarter by Forest after the break, and had to rely on long-range efforts and half chances as they looked to avoid an extra-time period they could ill afford with a packed April on the horizon.
Zinckernagel might have spared them the additional 30 minutes, although not in the way they would have wanted, when he was teed up by an inviting low Brennan Johnson cross, only to fire back across goal and past the far post to deny Forest another special moment in their FA Cup run.
He was substituted moments later, and, to add insult to injury, Jota’s smart back-post finish from Tsimikas’ cross, confirmed by a VAR review, put Liverpool in front almost immediately.
There was another chance to come as substitute Cafu chested down a cross but was left off balance for his second touch, and could only balloon over the bar with the expectant Forest crowd off their seats.
The home fans were brought to life again when Alisson’s challenge on Ryan Yates in the Liverpool box looked every bit a penalty on first viewing, but an unmoved Craig Pawson was backed up by VAR that there had been minimal contact between the pair.
The relief on the Liverpool players’ faces come the full-time whistle was a true sign of the test they had been given by their Championship hosts, as they celebrated a job done and moved one step further to turning an unlikely quadruple campaign into a reality.
Victory in Nottingham added a seventh game in 22 days for Liverpool, who now face Manchester City twice, both legs of their Champions League quarter-final with Benfica and old rivals Manchester City and Everton between April 2 and April 24, as their continued progression in all competitions inevitably begins to bite.
Here is Liverpool’s full fixture list over the next 35 days…
April 2 – Watford (H) Premier League
April 5 – Benfica (a) Champions League QF first leg
April 10 – Man City (a) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
April 13 – Benfica (H) Champions League QF second leg
April 16/17 – Man City (Wembley), FA Cup semi-final
April 19 – Man United (H) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
April 24 – Everton (H) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
Klopp hails ‘proper’ cup tie after late victory
Jurgen Klopp was unsurprisingly buoyant after Liverpool shook off the tricky challenge of a confident Forest side, and paid tribute to the quality the Championship side had shown in running his team so close.
He told ITV Sport: “It was a proper cup match. It was a bit like a European night at Nottingham Forest – I know they don’t get anything for it, but massive compliments to them. They played a really good game.
“They fought, closed the gaps, we should have played better but they made it very difficult. We should have scored the sitter, it’s unlikely Bobby [Firmino] doesn’t square for Diogo [Jota], but the game stayed open.
“We came through in the end though, and I’m very happy with it.”
Both sides face a fortnight’s rest due to the international break, with Forest returning to their promotion push on Saturday April 2 when they face Blackpool, live on Sky Sports Football from 12pm; kick-off at 12.30pm.
At the same time, Liverpool will look to leapfrog Man City in the Premier League table when they take on Watford at Anfield in the first of their seven games in 22 days, before they travel to Benfica in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals on April 5; kick-off at 8pm.