Bristol City, Nottingham Forest and the magic of the giant killers
The story of the plucky underdog overcoming all obstacles standing in their way, refusing to surrender, competing ferociously and triumphing over a more technically superior, talented and elite force never ceases to surprise us. The fascinating world of football is no different with both the domestic cup competitions in England being the stage of two stunning upsets.
The first of those took place on the 20th of December 2017 as Manchester United took on Bristol City in the quarter finals of the Carabao Cup with the former tipped to win comfortably.
Perhaps, there was a sense of complacency that had set in among Jose Mourinho's men who may have felt that they can coast through given the inferior nature of the opponents. However, Bristol City were not going down with a whimper.
Buoyed by the extremely noisy Ashton Gate faithful, the home team kept pushing their boundaries and were aptly rewarded in the 51st-minute thanks to the opening goal by Joe Bryan. However, when Zlatan struck the equalizing free kick just 7 minutes later, United appeared to be back on track and heading for the semi-finals.
As the match approached the butt end of the game, the home fans would have been dreading a winner for the team renowned for scoring in 'Fergie Time'. With virtually the last kick of the game, Korey Smith scored and the exhilaration, inexplicable joy and the noise levels were absolutely staggering as Manchester United and Jose Mourinho stood stunned as their defence of the Cup came to a shuddering halt.
Hot on the heels of this came the sequel which took place last Sunday on the 7th of January 2018, with the manager-less Nottingham Forest taking on the might of Arsenal- 13-time record winners of the FA Cup and current holders of the FA Cup, in the 3rd round of the FA Cup.
Even though players of the calibre of Alexis, Ozil and Lacazette were benched, the Gunners were expected to have a comfortable afternoon against a struggling Forest at the City Ground. As evidenced by Manchester United's humbling, form books do not guarantee victory as the London outfit found to their detriment.
When Eric Lichaj nodded the home team ahead, they needed to hang in and keep Arsenal at bay. Per Mertesacker had other ideas as he drove Rob Holding's rebound shot over the line to ensure that the lead lasted barely 3 minutes. As half-time approached, the goal scorer for Forest got himself back on the goal sheet with a stunning finish.
Forest continued to press and when Brereton put Nottingham Forest ahead from the spot in the 64th minute, they were in dreamland. However, when Danny Welbeck scored 11 minutes from time to set a grandstand finish, there was clear tension and nerve in the air for the home faithful as the away team pushed forward with increasing swagger.
As the game approached the 85th minute, Forest received a debatable penalty. The resulting spot kick was buried by Kieran Dowell to incredibly make it 4-2 to Nottingham Forest. However, the Arsenal players appealed for a re-take since the kick taker appeared to hit the ball twice.
After Referee Jon Moss consulted with his Assistant Referee and subsequently blew the whistle to allow the goal to stand, the anxiety was lifted off the Stadium with the two-goal cushion proving to be sufficient to see out the game without much drama and in the process, cap off one of the proudest results in the history of the club as the holders were dumped at the first hurdle in spectacular fashion.
Results and events of this magnitude inflate the emotion levels of all walks of life beyond football and instil hope, belief, motivation, courage by proving that despite challenges of a diverse nature, victory can be achieved through hard work, sincere commitment and optimum dedication. Thus, undoubtedly the magic of the giant killer is very much alive.