United emerge victorious despite Navas heroics

18th placed Nottingham Forest welcomed an injury-riddled Manchester United side to the City Ground on Sunday, hoping to end their barren spell of 9 league games without a win. Three points against the Red Devils would see Steve Cooper’s side rise out of the relegation zone. Meanwhile, Manchester United would be hoping to make it three successive league wins and take advantage of Newcastle’s and Tottenham’s slip-ups yesterday to reclaim the 3rd spot and boost their chances of finishing the season in the Champions League places.

NFO: Navas; Felipe, Niakhate, McKenna; Lodi, Danilo, Freuler, Williams; Gibbs-White; Awoniyi, Johnson.

MUN: De Gea; Dalot, Lindelof, Maguire, Wan-Bissaka; Eriksen, Casemiro; Sancho, Fernandes, Antony; Martial.

History didn’t favour the hosts ahead of kick-off, as the last time Forest beat United at home was in 1992 under Brian Clough. They lasted hosted Manchester United in the Premier League in 1999 – and that game saw ex-United boss Ole Gunner Solskjaer net four goals as a substitute in a staggering 8-1 win.

United were already without eight first team players as they travelled to Nottingham, and Erik Ten Hag’s side were dealt a further blow when Marcel Sabitzer picked up a knock in the warm-up, ruling him out of the fixture. Christian Eriksen replaced him, with the Danish midfielder making his first start since January.

In spite of this, Manchester United started the game remarkably well. Jadon Sancho’s effort was destined to nestle in the bottom corner, but it was blocked brilliantly by Felipe. United kept piling on the pressure, and Bruno Fernandes’ powerful volley was athletically saved by Navas in the 18th minute to prevent the Portuguese maestro from opening the scoring.

Controversy struck soon after though when a corner ricocheted off Harry Maguire’s arm – however the VAR opted not to award a penalty to the hosts. Forest seemed to be causing mayhem in the United box from corners, and in the 25th minute another looping ball to the back post found McKenna who turned the ball against the upright. However, the replays showed that the ball struck his arm – so the goal may not have stood even if he did find the back of the net.

Antony broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute for his 4th goal of the Premier League campaign after Anthony Martial’s tackle on Danilo led to the Frenchman being played through on goal brilliantly by Bruno Fernandes – only to be denied by Keylor Navas in goal. The Forest ‘keeper could only watch in horror as Antony responded first to his clearance though, tapping the ball into an empty net.

Taiwo Awoniyi came close to levelling the score in the 44th minute for the home side when Diogo Dalot’s sloppy touch led to the Nigerian striker having a shot from a promising position – only to blaze the ball over the United goal.

Bruno Fernandes missed a glorious opportunity to double the lead in the first minute of added time when he sent his header wide of the post despite being unmarked in the penalty box. United took a one-goal advantage into the break, and Steve Cooper’s side had their work cut out for them in the second half if they were to come back and pick up a result.

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Similar to the first-half incident, Forest were once again denied a penalty claim when Dalot blocked a cross with his boot – only for the ball to bounce off the turf onto his arm. Simon Hooper waved away Forest’s appeals though.

The home side seemed unorganised and uninspired as Manchester United launched an onslaught of attacks on the Forest goal after the resumption of play – Fernandes was brilliantly denied by Navas in goal, who somehow managed to turn the curling shot onto the frame of the goal and deny the midfielder in the 56th minute.

Just 2 minutes later, Antony came agonisingly close to scoring as he cut onto his left foot before lashing a shot from outside the box just past the post. In the 60th minute, it was time for the third instalment of Fernandes v Navas, as the Portuguese international was once again denied at the near post by the Forest goalkeeper.

Christian Eriksen was next in line to be denied by the Forest shot-stopper, who stood strong and turned away the attempt from close range after the Dane was slipped in by a beautifully disguised Fernandes free-kick.

In the 71st minute, Anthony Martial missed a glorious opportunity to put the game to bed when he misplaced his close-range header after an inch-perfect cross from Casemiro. Antony was then denied just minutes later at full stretch by the ex-Galactico Navas, who seemed to be doing whatever he could to keep Nottingham Forest in with a shout with a quarter of an hour remaining.

Manchester United were finally able to beat the great wall of Navas in the 76th minute when Dalot scored his first ever Premier League goal following a beautiful through ball by Antony. A well worked United sequence found the fullback 1-on-1 in the box, and the Portuguese international neatly tucked the ball into the back of the net.

In the end, it was a comfortable win for Erik Ten Hag’s men who have now surpassed last season’s point total and climb back into 3rd place before Thursday’s Europa League return leg in Seville. Over in Nottingham, things are looking bleak for Forest, who are now winless in 10 games and travel to Anfield next time out.