FA CUP MATCH REPORT: Nottingham Forest FC 0-1 Watford FC
WATFORD'S FA Cup dream remains alive after a late strike from substitute Odion Ighalo secured a hard-fought 1-0 win at the City Ground.
In a game of few chances, debutant Nordin Amrabat had previously come close for the Hornets, but his superb volley was tipped away by Dorus De Vries in the Forest goal.
With the game appearing to be heading for a replay, it was left to Ighalo to snatch the win in the 88th minute and send the Golden Boys into the Fifth Round for the first time since 2009.
Quique Sanchez Flores made seven changes to the team that lined up against Newcastle United last weekend, including Watford debuts for new signings Costel Pantilimon and Nordin Amrabat.
This meant Pantilimon started in goal behind Nathan Ake, Craig Cathcart and the returning pair of Sebastian Prödl and Allan Nyom.
Adléne Guedioura started in defensive midfield on his return to the City Ground alongside Ben Watson.
Ikechi Anya and Almen Abdi started on the right and left of midfield respectively, while captain Troy Deeney slotted in just behind the Hornets’ other debutant Amrabat.
Cheered on by over 4,000 travelling Watford fans, it was the Hornets who had the first shot of the afternoon, but Guedioura’s long-range strike sailed harmlessly over the Forest cross-bar.
The next effort of substance was another effort from distance, but this time it fell to the feet of Forest midfielder Gary Gardner. The midfielder did well to link up with Dexter Blackstock, but his eventual effort sailed harmlessly into the Watford fans behind Pantilimon’s goal.
Blackstock was involved again after 25 minutes following good work by Chris Cohen. The Forest left-back did well to evade the challenge of Anya, before whipping a dangerous ball towards Blackstock which required Cathcart to make a good block.
The first shot on target arrived in the 28th minute, although Guedioura’s effort from 25 yards was straight at Dorus De Vries in the home goal. De Vries was tested more vigorously minutes later, as he was forced into a smart save low to his left to palm away Anya’s powerful effort.
Playing as the lone front-man, it took new signing Amrabat until just before half-time to have his first proper sight of the Forest goal. However, much like the efforts earlier in the match, his shot from distance lacked both the power and direction to truly trouble De Vries.
In an opening 45 minutes of very few chances, the home side were presented with a golden opportunity with the last action of the half. Anya gave the ball away to wide-man Jamie Ward in a dangerous position, and with only Pantilimon to beat, he fired narrowly wide, much to the relief of the travelling Watford support.
The second-half sparked into life after 54 minutes, with Amrabat coming agonisingly close to opening the scoring. The Hornets’ new signing from Malaga struck a perfect volley from the edge of the area which looked destined for the top corner, only for De Vries to produce a stunning save to claw the ball away.
Amrabat again tested De Vries 10 minutes later following excellent work from Anya. The Watford wide-man did well to get the better of Eric Lichaj before whipping a low ball into the Forest area. Amrabat met the cross first, but his clever back-heel didn’t quite have the power to trouble De Vries.
Ighalo and José Manuel Jurado were introduced after 68 minutes, but it was Forest who had the next effort on goal. Full-back Lichaj hit an ambitious volley from 25-yards, forcing Pantilimon into his first, albeit comfortable, save of the afternoon.
However, with the game appearing to be heading for a replay, Ighalo did have the desired effect with just minutes remaining. Nyom broke down the Watford right-hand side and delivered a cross into the Forest area. Kevin Wilson made a hash of his attempted clearance, allowing Ighalo to smash home from close-range, much to the jubilation of the Watford fans behind the goal.
Forest did have one more glimmer of hope as the game entered injury time as substitute Nelson Oliveira broke beyond the back-four, but fortunately Pantilimon was alive to smother the striker at his feet and send the Golden Boys into the Fifth Round of this year’s FA Cup.
HORNETS: Pantilimon (GK); Nyom, Prödl, Cathcart, Ake; Watson, Guedioura; Anya (Jurado, 68), Deeney (Ighalo, 68), Abdi; Amrabat (Paredes, 86).
Subs: Gomes (GK), Britos, Behrami, Holebas.
FOREST: De Vries (GK); Lichaj, Hobbs, Wilson, Cohen; Vaughan; Ward, Gardner, Grant (Oliveira, 80), Burke (Osborn, 65); Blackstock.
Subs: Evtimov (GK), Jokic, Mancienne, Mills, Oliveira, Walker.