Manchester United defeated Nottingham Forest 2-0 at the City Ground on Sunday to record a huge three points in the race for the top four after a difficult week in Europe and losing key players to injury.
After their late collapse against Sevilla in midweek, United had to deliver a response to show that they still have what it takes to finish strongly even after suffering some key injuries to first-choice defenders Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez. The Red Devils started the game brightly in the East Midlands with midfield maestro Bruno Fernandes pulling the strings thanks to the acres of space he found in Forest’s half.
The Portuguese star came close to breaking the deadlock when his powerful drive at goal was brilliantly saved by the experienced Keylor Navas. The Costa Rican was able to pull off a fine stop to deny Anthony Martial late in the first half but the save was followed up by Antony who stabbed the ball into the back of the net to give the visitors the lead and record his first goal since October. The Brazilian winger made an intelligent run to follow in on Martial’s effort after failing to make the most of his back post positioning for chances earlier in the game.
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Steve Cooper’s men came out with a high intensity after the interval and United had to weather the storm in the early stages but Erik ten Hag’s side still looked dangerous when they burst forward. From a nicely worked corner routine between Fernandes and Christian Eriksen, the former saw his rocketed effort from the left tipped onto the crossbar by Navas as Forest were once again feeling the pressure.
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Eriksen was a late addition to the lineup after Thursday’s goalscorer Marcel Sabitzer pulled out after the warm-up, and there was a notable difference in United’s composure on the ball with the Dane back in the midfield.
The visitors continued to push for a second goal and Navas was keeping Forest in the contest as he was called into action at his near post to deny Fernandes for a third time - the Manchester United attacker was certainly keeping him busy. Martial had a great opportunity to score when Casemiro whipped in an inviting cross, but the Frenchman couldn’t get his header on target.
Moments later and the hosts came close to an equaliser with a rare chance. Centre-back Felipe was able to beat David de Gea to the ball from a corner at the near post but his header sailed over the bar. He struck the post in frustration as he knew he would not get a better chance to pull his side level.
The defender was then left to rue his miss as United got their much-deserved second goal as Diogo Dalot netted his first Premier League goal on what was his 100th United appearance. The Portugal full-back, who made a well-timed run, was found by Antony and he made no mistake in slotting the ball past Navas to seemingly secure a big three points for United in the race for the top four.
United will look to carry this momentum into a huge week for the club as they head to Sevilla for their Europa League quarter-final second leg, before facing Brighton & Hove Albion in their FA Cup semi-final next weekend.