Football: ‘We have to play a lot better’ says Cooper even as Forest beat Wolves to reach League Cup semis

Nottingham Forest's Remo Freuler, Ryan Yates, Dean Henderson, Morgan Gibbs-White and Emmanuel Dennis celebrate after winning the penalty shootout. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON - Nottingham Forest manager Steve Cooper insisted there was still room for improvement after his side beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-3 on penalties in their League Cup last-eight game on Wednesday to reach a Cup semi-final for the first time in over two decades.

Forest goalkeeper Dean Henderson made the decisive save from Joe Hodge’s spot kick in the shoot-out, after the game had finished 1-1 after 90 minutes, to send his side through to their first semi-final since they reached the League Cup final in 1992.

While the result provided a moment of jubilation for Forest’s fans and players, Cooper felt his men should have performed better before the game went to penalties.

“(I am) chuffed for the supporters and players,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“The objective of the tie was to get through. I can’t say I loved our performance, I shouldn’t be too negative and won’t be.

“But we have to play a lot better than we did over large spells of the game. The game was there for us to take advantage of Wolves.”

Willy Boly struck after 18 minutes against his former club to give Forest the lead, converting from close range after an initial Serge Aurier effort hit the woodwork and Wolves failed to clear.

Henderson was regularly called into action to keep his side’s lead intact and made an impressive string of close-range saves to deny Raul Jimenez and Hwang Hee-chan before the break as Wolves piled the pressure on the hosts.

They got their reward in the second half as Jimenez easily tapped home at the back post after substitute Matheus Cunha played a well-timed ball across the face of goal towards the Mexican.

Tempers frayed as the game neared the end of normal time, as Wolves had a penalty claim waved away after Matheus Nunes appeared to be tripped in the box, with Aurier, Daniel Podence, Nunes and Wolves manager Julen Lopetegui all booked for their reactions.

Despite their dominance with 66 per cent of the possession, Lopetegui’s men failed to find a way to win the game in the 90 minutes and penalty misses from Neves and Hodge in the shoot-out condemned them to defeat.

“My reaction is of course negative because we wanted to continue in this competition and I think we fought a lot to get it,” said the Wolves boss.

“But in the end, it was a pity for the penalties, because this is the way we have lost this match.”

Nottingham Forest’s Dean Henderson saves Ruben Neves’ penalty for Wolves, during the penalty shootout. PHOTO: REUTERS

Forest were beaten 4-1 by Championship side Blackpool in the FA Cup on Saturday and, despite the nature of the performance against Wolves, Cooper was happy to see his side respond well.

“I think Wolves were good on the night and you have to respect that,” he said. “I felt on Saturday we fell short and got knocked out so it was important not to go out of two Cup competitions in a few days.”

Next up for Forest are Manchester United. The semi-finals will take place on Jan 23 and Jan 30. REUTERS

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