Nottingham Forest’s Under-18s came agonisingly close to claiming silverware in the Club’s first-ever FA Youth Cup Final appearance, but two late goals saw them succumb to a 3-1 defeat to 11-time winners Manchester United.
In front of a record crowd of 67,492, including first-team manager Steve Cooper and his backroom staff, Forest’s youngsters produced a courageous display at Old Trafford.
Despite suffering an early setback, Warren Joyce’s side maintained their composure and drew level before the break through Josh Powell’s hit from distance, but a brace from talented Argentine Alejandro Garnacho proved to be the difference.
The visitors created the first clear opening inside five minutes when Northern Ireland international Dale Taylor’s out-swinging corner was headed wide by skipper Jamie McDonnell.
Ten minutes later, it was a United set-piece that would break the deadlock. Captain Rhys Bennett beat his marker and flicked on Sam Murray’s whipped delivery from the right, with keeper Aaron Bott unable to prevent the goal-bound header.
Forest sought an immediate response and almost restored parity within two minutes when the lively Taylor steered a volley from close range towards goal, forcing Radek Vitek to make a smart save.
Another corner, this time from Powell, caused United problems once again when Justin Hanks headed over from six yards out, while at the other end, Garnacho found enough space on the edge of the area to bend a right-footed strike just past the post.
With half-time fast approaching, Forest got themselves back on terms after some neat build-up play led to winger Powell cutting inside onto his favoured left foot and shooting low to Vitek’s left, with the Czech goalie letting the ball through his grasp and into the back of the net.
The hosts showed more intent to start the second half, applying plenty of pressure without offering too much a threat to the Forest goal, with Charlie McNeil, Marc Jurado and Garnacho all having attempts at goal comfortably cleared from danger.
Forest enjoyed lengthy spells of possessions and appeared to be managing the game expertly until a defensive error gifted United the opportunity to regain their advantage.
A sloppy touch from Zach Abbott allowed Garnacho to pounce on a loose ball in front of goal before being brought down by Abbott, who made a rash challenge in a desperate attempt to atone for his error.
With contact adjudged to have been made inside the box by the referee, Garnacho picked himself up off the turf to take the resultant penalty kick, coolly sending the keeper the wrong way to put the Red Devils in the ascendancy with a quarter of an hour remaining.
Seventeen-year-old Garnacho – announced as United's Under-18 Player of the Year before the match – continued to cause problems and sealed the result in stoppage-time, driving down the left flank and twisting and turning inside the area before shifting the ball onto his left foot and unleashing a deflected shot that gave Bott no chance.
Manchester United: Radek Vitek; Marc Jurado, Rhys Bennett (C), Louis Jackson, Sam Murray; Kobbie Mainoo, Dan Gore; Sam Mather (Sonny Aljofree 86’), Isak Hansen (Maximillian Oyedele 64’), Alejandro Garnacho; Charlie McNeill (Joe Hugill 64’).
Substitutes not used: Tom Wooster, Logan Pye, Omari Forson, Ethan Ennis.
Nottingham Forest: Aaron Bott; Ben Hammond, Zach Abbott, Pharrell Johnson; Josh Powell, Justin Hanks (Joe Gardner 81’), Jamie McDonnell (C) (Aaron Korpal 90’), Sam Collins (Ben Perry 73’), Kyle McAdam; Detlef Esapa Osong, Dale Taylor.
Substitutes not used: Alex Akers, Jack Perkins, Jack Thompson, Jack Nadin.
Referee: Josh Smith