Reasons to be cheerful have been thin on the ground for Nottingham Forest in recent weeks so you have to take the positives whenever they come.
A winless patch in the league saw Nuno Espirito Santo’s labouring team slide into a relegation dogfight - and that’s even before the looming threat of a points deduction.
This performance over 120 minutes against a middling Championship team in Bristol City was wholly uninspiring - rather like the goalless draw at Ashton Gate - but at least they won in the end.
Nottingham Forest edged through the FA Cup fourth round by beating Bristol City on penalties
Taiwo Awoniyi netted the decisive spot-kick in the penalty shootout to break Robins' hearts
Nuno Espirito Santo's delighted side will now face Manchester United in the FA Cup fifth round
Matt Turner after crucially saving Sam Bell's spot-kick for Bristol City in the penalty shootout
Although Divock Origi gave Forest an early lead after Santo made eight changes, any hopes the City Ground might witness a rare comfortable night were quickly dashed.
City captain Jason Knight equalised shortly afterwards and the visitors had more than enough chances to add Forest to their scalp of West Ham in the last round.
Nottingham Forest (3-4-3): Turner; Omobamidele, Felipe, Niakhate; Montiel (Gardner 90), Kouyate (Awoniyi 64), Danilo, Toffolo (Tavares 75); Gibbs-White (c), Origi (Williams 75), Elanga (Hudson-Odoi 64)
Substitutes not used: Vlachodimos (GK); Murillo, Osong, Abbott
Manager: Nuno Espirito Santo
Scorer: Origi 8
Bristol City (4-2-3-1): O’Leary; McCrorie (Knight-Lebel 83), Vyner, Dickie, Roberts (Tanner 61); King (James 61), Williams; Bell, Knight (c) (Cornick 61), Mehmeti; Conway (Wells 75)
Substitutes not used: Bajic (GK); Backwell, Taylor-Clarke
Manager: Liam Manning
Scorer: Knight 14
Referee: Michael Salisbury
Gibbs-White (Forest) - Scored 1-0
Cornick (Bristol City) - Scored 1-1
Hudson-Odoi (Forest) - Scored 2-1
Bell (Bristol City) - Saved 2-1
Williams (Forest) - Scored 3-1
Wells (Bristol City) - Scored 3-2
Niakhate (Forest) - Scored 4-2
Mehmeti (Bristol City) - Scored 4-3
Awoniyi (Forest) - Scored 5-3
‘The character to never give up makes me very, very happy, it was tough but it’s worth it,’ said Espirito Santo.
‘The FA Cup is so special so we are proud to keep fighting for a trophy which would be huge for us.’
Espirito Santo made eight changes from the team that drew at Bournemouth on Sunday but most were enforced because of injuries, suspensions and ineligibility.
Nonetheless, Forest started on the front foot and Morgan Gibbs-White forced City keeper Max O’Leary into a sharp one-handed stop.
The hosts went in front from the resulting corner. Gibbs-White’s inswinger was glanced on by Felipe, who darted out of a crowd of players to the near post, and the goalhanging Origi allowed the ball to brush his body as he guided it home.
City’s defenders immediately appealed for handball against the scorer but VAR Michael Oliver saw no reason to disallow his goal.
If a full house at the City Ground though that a precursor to a rare comfortable night for Forest, they were sadly mistaken.
The visitors, languishing 14th in the Championship, really had nothing to lose from a bit of adventure.
They levelled six minutes after going behind. Andy King - formerly a stalwart of Forest’s bitter rivals Leicester City - was allowed space to drive into and his 25-yard strike hit one post and bounced across to hit the other.
Sam Bell retrieved the ball fastest and cut back for Knight, the ex-Derby County midfielder, to caress home. You can imagine that didn’t go down too well.
City continued to hold their own and Matt Turner pushed away Tommy Conway’s low effort, while shortly after the resumption Anis Mehmeti forced another stop.
The away fans, not used to VAR being a feature of their football watching, chanted enthusiastically in favour of it when Oliver considered a penalty shout, before quickly changing their tune when nothing was given.
The moans and groans in the home stands became more and more audible as Forest laboured, with Santo turning to Taiwo Awoniyi and Callum Hudson-Odoi from the bench just after the hour.
Forest roused themselves towards the end with Nuno Tavares forcing a good save from O’Leary with a powerful hit before Neco Williams shot wide after a quick counter.
Bell cuts tearful and disappointed figure after Bristol City are eliminated from the competition
Divock Origi (right) tapped home from close range to fire Nottingham Forest ahead early on
Jason Knight equalised in the 14th minute to send Bristol City and Forest in level at half time
They had all the urgency at the start of extra time as City tired. Youngster Joseph Gardner saw a shot blocked before Williams was denied by O’Leary at his near post.
But City still carried a threat and Mehmeti forced Turner into another save before Bell tested the keeper with a first-time volley.
In the second period of extra time, Nahki Wells ended up in the back of the net rather than the ball after Bell broke free to cross with Moussa Niakhate doing just enough to keep it out.
‘There are mixed emotions in the changing room - so many positives but also frustration we didn’t put it to bed,’ said City boss Liam Manning.
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