The FA Cup was ‘the one that got away’ for Brian Clough at Forest; the one major trophy that eluded him. The 1991 final should’ve been the moment he ‘completed the set’ but Des Walker’s own goal meant he was to be denied. You could say it has haunted us ever since.
Post-1991, Forest’s FA Cup history has been littered with missed opportunities and it has been a tale, just as for Clough, of ‘what might have been’.
As we prepare for a thoroughly underwhelming encounter with QPR on January 9, here’s seven moments that have symbolised our post-Clough cup malaise (It’ll be like group therapy, honest):
March 7 1992, Portsmouth 1 Forest 0
Game: Although away from home, Clough’s men should have had the talent to overcome a side in a league below. The game was decided by a calamitous error from Mark Crossley, who dropped a tame free kick onto the toes of a grateful Alan McLoughlin. That howler and a Brian Laws red card put paid to our cup dreams.
What might have been: A semi final with eventual winners Liverpool beckoned and a chance to edge closer to ‘writing the wrong’ of that 1991 final. Liverpool won the trophy by beating Sunderland, another second tier side, in the final. We had the chance to make three Wembley finals that year. As it happened we lost to Manchester United in the League Cup final and won the Zenith Data Systems trophy.
Team: Crossley, Laws, Pearce, Walker, Wassall, Crosby, Keane, Gemmill, Clough, Glover, Sheringham
Feb 15 1997, Chesterfield 1 Forest 0
Game: A Mark Crossley red card (not that I want to pick on Norm) helped the Spireites to a giant-killing 5th round win at Saltergate during their famous run to the semi-finals.
What might have been: 2nd division Chesterfield booked themselves a quarter-final with Wrexham by winning this game before eventually bowing out to Middlesbrough in the semi-final. Caretaker boss Stuart Pearce had won manager of the month in January for pulling off five wins – including two in the cup. This was, then, not only a missed chance to go on a great cup run – with a decent path open to the final - but also an opportunity to get that January momentum back. Instead we slid to the second tier fairly tamely, finishing bottom of the league.
Team: Crossley, Lyttle, Blatherwick (Fettis), Cooper, Chettle, Bart-Williams, Haaland, Woan, Campbell, Saunders, Roy (McGregor).
Dec 3 2005, Chester 3 Forest 0
Game: An all-too-common comprehensive defeat under Gary Megson. After a Gary Holt red card we were blown away by the hosts at the Deva Stadium in a result the home fans still look back upon favourably.
What might have been: This was a chance for Gary Megson to lift the gloom that had enveloped his disastrous tenure, and to avoid a hat trick of cup humiliations after defeat in the League Cup 1st round to Macclesfield and Football League Trophy 1st round to Woking. The fact that we avoided defeat to Weymouth in the FA Cup 1st round is some crumb of comfort but even that took a replay. Pitiful times.
Team: Gerrard, Thompson, Cullip (Pittman (Gardner)), Morgan, Curtis, Southall, Perch, Holt, Bopp (Bastians), Johnson, Taylor.
December 11 2007, Luton 1 Forest 0
Game: Kevin Blackwell’s cash-strapped hosts earned a much-needed cup pay day in a tight 1-0 win over Colin Calderwood’s disappointing travelling Trickies.
What might have been: A tantalising tie against Liverpool awaited the victors. Luton’s win meant they were able to pay their players and the Hatters just seemed to want it more against a Calderwood side that was faltering before a (very) late charge to promotion. Given the listless display in the previous season’s 3rd round tie (away to Chelsea with Grant Holt on the left wing) maybe it was for the best that we didn’t take on Rafa Benitez’s men.
Team: Smith, Chambers (Davies), Breckin, Wilson, Lockwood, McGugan (Commons), Lennon, Perch, Cohen, Tyson (Agogo), Holt.
Feb 4 2009, Forest 2 Derby 3
Game: Having held Derby to a 1-1 draw away, this replay couldn’t have started any better for new boss Billy Davies as we raced into a 2-0 lead. However, Nigel Clough’s men exposed the fragility in the side Davies had inherited from Colin Calderwood, coming back to win 3-2. To make matters worse, Kris Commons got the winner.
What might have been: 2009 is often seen as a post-Brian Clough cup high, thanks to the glorious 3-0 win over Manchester City in round three. That shock result – under John Pemberton – was glorious but was tarnished a little by the Derby defeat. Not only that, but a win in this game would’ve set up a home tie against Manchester United.
Team: Smith, Chambers, Morgan, Breckin, Wilson, McCleary (Heath), Perch (Byrne), McGugan, Thornhill, Cohen, Tyson (Newbold 85).
February 16 2014, Sheffield United 3 Forest 1
Game: The Clough cup curse struck again, this time at Bramall Lane. Nigel’s men scored twice in stoppage time to come out on top against a Billy Davies Reds team that had looked in charge when Jamie Paterson fired in a first half goal.
What might have been: It’s easy to forget just what Billy had built by the early months of 2014. On a 16-match unbeaten run, at 1-0 up in this cup game we were well-placed to be just a home match against Charlton away from a Wembley semi final. The second half, and specifically the injury time capitulation, set the wheels in motion for his whirlwind demise. Billy never won another game in charge and was gone by the end of March.
Team: de Vries, Jara, Fox, Lascelles, Collins, Halford, Majewski (Abdoun), Reid, Cox (Mackie), Paterson, Henderson (Djebbour)
Jan 3 2015, Rochdale 1 Forest 0
Game: An early Peter Vincenti penalty ensured League One Rochdale dumped us out of the cup in the 3rd round last time around. Despite 13 shots and 16 corners, there was no way back as Stuart Pearce desperately searched for turning point.
What might have been: This came in the middle of an eight-game winless streak for Pearce’s side and what he’d have done for a morale boosting win to end that run, return to the confidence of the early season honeymoon and stop the rot in the league. The fact he couldn’t conjure a win at Spotland meant even his most ardent supporters began to doubt he was the man for the job.
Team: de Vries, Lichaj, Hobbs, Wilson, Fox (McLaughlin), Burke (Paterson), Tesche, Vaughan, Antonio, Veldwijk, Assombalonga.