Nottingham Forest 4 Leicester 1
Twenty five miles, 18 places and one division may separate Nottingham Forest from Leicester City but ultimately it was the crazy seconds in the first half that exemplified the difference between these East Midlands rivals.
That was the time between goals from Philip Zinckernagel and Brennan Johnson as Forest, from the Championship, deservedly knocked out FA Cup winners for the second round in succession to land a fifth-round tie at home to Huddersfield Town.
The FA has confirmed it will investigate the unsavoury scenes that followed Joe Worrall’s goal nine minutes later as a Leicester fan found his way on to the pitch and took two punches at the celebrating Forest players before stewards took him to ground.
It is eight years since these teams last met but, with some of the form Forest are producing under Steve Cooper, it is not inconceivable the next time they will meet will be in the Premier League.
Brendan Rodgers has talked about changing his squad around this summer but Leicester, without an away win in seven games, need to do something about reviving this season before this rot goes any deeper. They were not just beaten here; they were humiliated.
The pivotal spell of three goals in nine minutes simply took the breath away as Leicester were blown away. When Nottingham Forest have been good this season they have been very good – and when Leicester are bad they have been very bad – but this was something else.
Only Fulham can better Forest’s record in the Championship since Steve Cooper took charge in September and the confidence he has instilled was clear to see, especially after Keinan Davis had chested down Brennan Johnson’s lofted pass back into the area and volleyed, left-footed, against the angle of post and bar.
It was not that Leicester were taking this lightly. Indeed, although they had made three changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Brighton a fortnight ago, the returns of Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho, after the Africa Cup of Nations, ostensibly strengthened the side. That was in theory anyway.
Forest had won four games on the trot before having an off-day at Cardiff last Sunday just as a place in the play-offs beckoned. But here they were just unplayable for the crucial period that ultimately allowed them to win this game.
Leicester were undone somewhat easily for the opening goal. After good work from Djed Spence down the right wing, there was too much space for Brennan Johnson when the ball was played back to him and when his cross was winched in to the back post, Davis outmuscled James Justin to nod the ball down for Philip Zinckernagel to sidefoot the ball home.
The BBC were still showing replays of that goal 24 seconds later when Johnson made it 2-0 after Daniel Amartey played a blind back pass towards Danny Ward in the Leicester goal. The pacey young forward, for whom Forest rejected a £20m bid from Brentford last month, showed fine composure to slot the ball wide of the keeper’s legs.
Ryan Yates should have headed in and Zinckernagel had a shot deflected wide as Forest smelled blood; some of the first-time pass-and-move from Cooper’s team was exhilarating, not least in the move that led to the corner for the third goal. James Garner’s flag kick was headed in by captain Joe Worrall, back from injury, who celebrated injudiciously if understandably in front of the 4,000 Leicester fans.
One fan got on to the pitch and threw two punches at Forest’s jubilant players as Yates, Johnson and Davis pushed him back before stewards took control of the situation.
Ward saved well from Spence, whose future after this loan from Middlesbrough seems likely to be in the Premier League, and when Leicester pulled a goal back five minutes before half-time, there was a sense of the tie being back in the balance. Quite why the eccentric Brice Samba needed to come sprinting from his goal to cover James Maddison’s channel ball only he will know but the goalkeeper’s poor judgment did not stretch to taking out Iheanacho, who touched the ball past him and also Scott McKenna before drilling in from a difficult angle.
Brendan Rodgers went for two up front at the start of the second half, Patson Daka replacing Harvey Barnes. The substitute, fed by Iheanacho, shot over and Ademola Lookman had a shout for a penalty when tackled on the edge of the area before the result was sealed on the hour mark.
Spence, superb all afternoon, cut inside from wide on the right and kept running after playing the ball in to Zinckernagel whose return pass cut out the creaking Leicester back-line. Spence took one touch to compose himself before sliding his shot into the far bottom corner. It was a fitting finish for a display balancing fight and finesse.