Aiming to avoid a second domestic cup exit in the space of a week, Nottingham Forest welcome Wolverhampton Wanderers to the City Ground for Wednesday’s EFL Cup quarter-final.
Steve Cooper’s side were humbled 4-1 by Blackpool in their FA Cup third-round tie last time out, while the visitors managed to take Liverpool to a replay following a 2-2 draw.
Opting to rest the bulk of his first-team stars amid their scrap for survival in the Premier League, Cooper witnessed a second-string Nottingham Forest side be torn apart at will by Blackpool, who served the top-flight strugglers a slice of humble pie in the FA Cup.
Marvin Ekpiteta, Ian Poveda, CJ Hamilton and Jerry Yates all struck for the rampant Seasiders before Ryan Yates – no relation to the latter – scored arguably the most inconsequential consolation he will ever score in second-half stoppage time.
While a deep run in the FA Cup may have provided a slight silver lining to a difficult Premier League campaign, Forest are within touching distance of reaching the EFL Cup semi-finals for the first time since the 1991-92 season, where they ultimately went down to Manchester United in the final.
The four-time EFL Cup winners’ most recent quarter-final tie ended in dismay, losing 3-1 on aggregate to Tranmere Rovers in 1993-94, but they have already notched up a tournament-high nine goals in successes over Grimsby Town, Tottenham Hotspur and Blackburn Rovers this time around.
Two defeats from five in all tournaments since the return of club football is hardly a disastrous record for the Tricky Trees, who also have a six-game unbeaten run at the City Ground to write home about, but holding their own away from home has been the theme for Wolves in recent matches.
It has not taken long for recently-appointed Wolves manager Julen Lopetegui to experience his first taste of VAR fury in England, as the ex-Sevilla coach was left to rue what could have been in a four-goal FA Cup stalemate with Liverpool at Anfield.
Strikes from Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah cancelled out Goncalo Guedes’s opener before Hwang Hee-chan levelled the scores again, and Wolves thought they had knocked the holders out right at the death through Toti, only for the offside flag to go up after Matheus Nunes apparently received the ball behind the last defender.
However, a lack of available camera angles meant that VAR could not intervene, forcing Wolves to fit another fixture into their unrelenting schedule as they also try to pull away from the threat of top-flight relegation – sitting second from bottom in the Premier League table.
It has been 27 years since Wolves last progressed to the quarter-finals of the EFL Cup, losing to West Midlands rivals Aston Villa in 1996, and not since winning the crown for the second time in 1980 have the visitors gone as far as the final four.
Wolves hit Forest for four unanswered goals in the 2021-22 EFL Cup and have also claimed a 1-0 win over their Eastern counterparts in this season’s Premier League, and few in the home end will be expecting their pipe dreams of silverware to materialise should Cooper’s side produce a Blackpool-esque showing.
After delivering a scathing assessment of his players at Blackpool, Cooper – who hit out at the sense of ‘entitlement’ within his squad – will revert to a more familiar XI here, albeit one still bedevilled by injuries.
Jesse Lingard, Moussa Niakhate, Cheikhou Kouyate, Omar Richards and Giulian Biancone will definitely miss out, while Neco Williams will need assessing after picking up a knock in the FA Cup, but the Welshman was always likely to drop out for Serge Aurier anyway.
Assuming he can shake off a bout of fatigue, Taiwo Awoniyi ought to come back in to lead the line for the hosts, while Yates, Renan Lodi, Remo Freuler and Brennan Johnson should also earn recalls to the starting lineup.
As for Wolves, Daniel Podence will aim to shake off a knock in time to make the squad for Wednesday’s game, but Pedro Neto, Chiquinho, Sasa Kalajdzic and Boubacar Traore are all out of contention.
Rayan Ait-Nouri came off with a knock at Anfield and will need a once-over, but Hugo Bueno is more than capable of filling in on the left-hand side, and Nelson Semedo ought to return on the opposite flank for rising star Dexter Lembikisa.
A first start in Wolves colours could now come the way of Atletico Madrid loanee Matheus Cunha, who has come off the bench in the Premier League and FA Cup but may now be preferred to Raul Jimenez and Diego Costa in the final third.
Nottingham Forest possible starting lineup:
Henderson; Aurier, Worrall, Boly, Lodi; Mangala, Yates, Freuler; Johnson; Awoniyi, Gibbs-White
Wolverhampton Wanderers possible starting lineup:
Sa; Semedo, Collins, Kilman, Bueno; Nunes, Neves, Moutinho; Traore, Cunha, Guedes