Manchester United put one foot on Wembley Way after taking firm control of their League Cup semi-final with a 3-0 first-leg win at Nottingham Forest.
First-half goals from Marcus Rashford and Wout Weghorst and Bruno Fernandes’ late third at the City Ground mean that only a miraculous turnaround in next week’s second leg will stop United appearing in the final at the national stadium next month.
Rashford’s strike was a moment of individual brilliance as he raced 50 yards and converted, Weghorst celebrated his first goal for the club since his loan move, while Fernandes effectively killed the tie at the death.
The win put United on the brink of returning to Wembley for their first domestic showpiece since losing the 2018 FA Cup final and manager Erik ten Hag will have the possibility of ending the club’s trophy drought, which stretches back to 2017, firmly in his sights in his first season at Old Trafford.
“I'm really happy with the job from the guys. We played so good today and we controlled the game,” United centre-back Lisandro Martínez told Sky Sports.
“We know [Forest] is doing a really good job but we never gave up. Today we won the game and that's the most important thing.
“You can see when we do the right things we don't concede goals. We controlled the game but we still have many things to improve on and we have to keep going.
“I'm really happy because we showed discipline and I saw [for] the whole game we were pretty focused. We have to play always like this, keep going and keep fighting.
“We know it's a good result for us but we have to take it step-by-step.”
Forest will see this as a missed opportunity to go to Old Trafford next week with something to hold on to.
They had a strong period in the first half where Sam Surridge had a goal disallowed and Morgan Gibbs-White and Brennan Johnson had decent opportunities.
But Ten Hag’s side cruised to the win and will be circling February 26 for a Wembley day out.
Ten Hag named his strongest side possible and was rewarded with an early lead as Rashford’s sublime form continued with a brilliant individual goal.
The England international, who has scored in the previous three rounds of the competition, picked up the ball in his own half, carried it to the other end of the pitch, darted in between Joe Worrall and Remo Freuler before beating Wayne Hennessey at the near post.
It was his 10th goal in 10 games since the resumption after the World Cup and his form has been the driving force behind United’s impressive run of results.
Forest had been overrun in the opening 15 minutes but they came to life and thought they had levelled in the 23rd minute.
A brilliant counter-attack saw Gibbs-White feed Surridge, who produced a fine first-time finish into the bottom corner, but it was ruled out after for offside.
David de Gea produced a flying save to keep out Gustavo Scarpa’s volley from the edge of the area, then got down well to stop a Gibbs-White effort before watching Johnson fire over after gliding past a couple of United tackles.
Having soaked up that pressure, United got a killer second goal on the stroke of half-time.
They expertly manoeuvred the ball from back to front and, after Hennessey palmed out Antony’s shot, Weghorst reacted first to fire home the rebound and break his United duck.
The hosts struggled to recreate the verve they showed in the first half and United kept them at arm’s length.
Indeed, it was the visitors who strengthened their grip on the tie as Fernandes drilled home a low finish in the 89th minute.