Doesn’t Odion Ighalo love stealing a headline?
Club-record signing Nordin Amrabat battered at the Nottingham Forest door for 89 minutes on his debut while Mario Suarez is about to be announced as one of the biggest signings in the club’s history, yet it was the Nigerian, the man with the golden touch, who stole the show once more to send the Hornets into the next round and to within two games of a day out at Wembley. It wasn’t pretty but who cares?
The Nigerian pounced on a poor Kelvin Wilson clearance to direct his bouncing effort past Dorus De Vries with one minute remaining of normal time. It was his 15th of the season and ensured that Watford will be ball No9 in the hat for the fifth round. What a sense of timing he has. Quique Sanchez Flores, who has won five of six cup finals he’s been involved in, has weaved his magic in the cup once again.
Watford didn’t have things all their own way in what was largely a dreadful game. Forest, who were enjoying a 13-game unbeaten run before the visit of the Hornets, showed exactly why they have been so hard to beat of late. Dougie Freedman set his side up to sit deep and limit Watford’s creative powers with a compact midfield five. The Forest bus was parked and had the handbrake on. They didn’t force a corner until 13 minutes from time and and only threw on their top-scorer with less than ten minutes to go.
Adlene Guedioura looked determined to wind back the clock at his former stomping ground, shooting from long range at every opportunity. De Vries was forced to save one fizzing volley from the Algerian. Amrabat made his debut and the forward exhibited the qualities that led to Watford breaking their club record to sign him. He held the ball up well and tried to get in behind the Forest back four at every opportunity. The Moroccan was inches away from teeing up Guedioura and had a big appeal for penalty after being seemingly hacked down by Wilson, who was sent off the last time these two met, all within the first half hour.
Forest rarely ventured forward, playing with nine behind the ball, but they almost struck with the classic counterpunch on the stroke of half-time. Jamie Ward dispossessed the far too casual Ikechi Anya on the right flank and broke clear, cutting inside Nathan Ake before drilling his effort past Costel Pantilimon and also past the right post. It was a massive let-off for the Hornets.
The second half was not much better and the tie looked to be destined for a replay. Gary Gardner had a decent shout for penalty and Eric Lichaj’s volley tested Pantilimon. Sanchez Flores saw enough and not wanting the complication to the schedule he threw on Jose Manuel Jurado and Ighalo with minutes remaining. Sanchez Flores has not had much luck with his substitutions this season but he struck gold here. Ighalo, as he always seems to be, was in the right place at the right time to convert a cross from the rampaging Allan Nyom. It wasn’t pretty but it was classic Ighalo.
Nottingham Forest: De Vries, Lichaj, Wilson, Hobbs, Grant (Oliveira 83), Burke, Gardner, Vaughan, Cohen, Ward (Osborn 69), Blackstock. Subs not used: Jokic, Mancienne, Mills, Oliveira, Evtimov, Walker.
Watford: Pantilimon, Nyom, Prodl, Cathcart, Ake, Watson, Guedioura, Anya (Jurado 71), Deeney (Ighalo 71), Abdi, Amrabat (Paredes 86). Subs not used: Gomes, Britos, Behrami, Holebas.