Nottingham Forest squeaked through to the FA Cup fifth round after Taiwo Awoniyi scored the decisive spot-kick to win a nerve-shredding penalty shootout against Bristol City.
Nuno Espírito Santo spent much of this game, including a fraught period of extra-time, scuffing his feet on the edge of his technical area in frustration but Forest eventually prevailed from a fourth-round replay against Championship opposition, who went agonisingly close to registering a winner before the match was decided from 12 yards.
By the end Divock Origi’s early goal – his first for Forest, which was cancelled out by Jason Knight – felt a distant memory but Forest went through to tee up a date here with Manchester United. Sam Bell, otherwise outstanding, saw his penalty saved by the goalkeeper Matt Turner, who has lost his place in the Premier League to the January recruit Matz Sels but ultimately proved the hero, saving down to his right to leave the visitors wondering what might have been.
Every minute counts in Forest’s fight to avoid relegation so going the distance here was hardly ideal preparation for Newcastle’s visit in the Premier League on Saturday.
Forest’s priority is survival and so, with injuries and suspensions to contend with, Nuno made eight changes to his starting lineup, presumably in the hope he would not require the cavalry. Forest were unable to afford such a luxury and with extra-time on the horizon after a tense and largely forgettable hour or so, Awoniyi and Callum Hudson-Odoi arrived as substitutes. Then came Nuno Tavares and Neco Williams, providing a welcome spark, as well as the 18‑year‑old Joe Gardner for his debut.
Forest practised penalties on Tuesday and they proved flawless. Morgan Gibbs‑White, one of those to retain his place, took the first penalty, rifling his spot-kick into the bottom corner past Max O’Leary, the Bristol City goalkeeper. Hudson-Odoi, Williams and Moussa Niakhate also scored in the shootout.
That the centre‑back Niakhate stepped up a week after missing a crucial spot-kick for Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations, resulting in his country crashing out and him returning to Nottingham earlier than he would have hoped, spoke volumes of his character. Turner, too, will take confidence from his display. “We know that it is not easy after the decision we took to change goalkeeper in the Premier League, but his response was that of a top professional,” Nuno said.
Bell’s penalty proved his only misstep on a night when he and his teammates made a striking impression. Bell made a crucial intervention to prevent Awoniyi from having a clean shot at goal with seconds of extra-time to play, after Tavares streaked upfield. “We wouldn’t have got to penalties if it wasn’t for him making that recovery run at the back post,” Liam Manning, Bristol City’s head coach, said. “Understandably, he’s gutted but the lads have been great and got around him.”
When Forest scored from their second effort on goal, Origi getting the final touch after Felipe headed Gibbs-White’s corner goalwards, it seemed they could be in for a rare night of comfort. It turned out to be anything but. Andy King, parachuted into the base of Bristol City’s midfield for his first start since October, was the unlikely source of their equaliser.
King took aim from 25 yards and his shot, via Turner’s gloves, cracked off both posts before Bell laid the ball off for Knight to lash in. From there the visitors, who face another trip, to Middlesbrough on Saturday, gained the upper hand.
“It would have been common sense for the game to go straight to penalties,” Manning said. “I feel for the lads but at the same time we have to create that ruthless edge.”
Extra-time beckoned and once it arrived both teams had chances to win it. Williams saw a shot blocked after being slipped in by Gardner but Bristol City had the best opportunities in the second period of added time. Turner somehow smothered the ball before the substitute Nahki Wells could convert from practically on the goalline after meeting Bell’s low cross and few minutes later Wells breezed past the veteran defender Felipe, by this point creaking, and supplied another substitute, Harry Cornick, who could not steer his effort on target.
With seconds of extra-time to play Awoniyi dawdled when slipped through on goal by a gallivanting Tavares, allowing an alert Bell to nip in and intervene. That crescendo ensured a nail‑biting round of penalties. “We are so happy, it was tough but it was worth it,” the chuffed Forest manager said afterwards.