There were three moments of real class in the game, two for Forest, one by Bradford’s Callum Cooke, and that is how it was decided.
As soon as Joao Carvalho scored two well-taken goals, cleverly crafted by Philip Zinckernagel, in as many late first-half minutes it seemed there was only going to be one winner of the first-round game at the City Ground, for all that the Bantams had thrown their weight around against young opponents.
Cooke’s brilliantly-curled free-kick kept Forest working to the full-time whistle but ultimately the Bantams had created and wasted better chances than that to open the scoring. Had they just taken one, we might have seen a youthful side’s mettle in a penalty shoot-out.
As it was, Bradford could take away pride and precious little else from their night’s hard work, but their first, second and third priority is League Two promotion and except perhaps for a head injury to Levi Sutton, nothing else that happened by the Trent did any harm to their prospects or hopefully their self-belief. They can consider themselves very unlucky if they face football of the quality Forest showed in a couple of flashes in the league this season.
Derek Adams likes to lean on experience and he wanted to give the League Cup his best shot, so teenager Finn Cousin-Dawson’s injury-enforced inclusion was the only change to the 18-man squad which had started the season at Exeter City on Saturday. Forest’s Chris Hughton took a very different approach, changing his XI entirely and fielding a back five (goalkeeper included) of debutants. It felt more like the Football League Trophy, where lower-league sides share their competition with Under-23 teams from up the pyramid, except in front of an enthusiastic crowd bolstered by 1,172 away fans.
Bradford tested the youngsters in the early stages, Andy Cook glancing a Cooke cross, and Alex Gillead unable to get on the end of a good curling cross from Liam Ridehalgh. The winger was dangerous when he came off the line to get his head on the ball.
After an unconvincing start, the saplings started to grow with Zinckernagel, wide on the right, leading the way. He earned the corner Riley Harbottle volleyed wide under pressure, Cafu shot wide, Zinckernagel had a shot blocked then flashed a centre over without a touch all within a matter of minutes.
Bradford could have gone under at that point, particularly with Sutton taking a bang to the head which would eventually end his night, but Cooke and Elliot Watt linked well at a short corner only for Gillead to nod wide, and a Lee Angol shot had to be beaten away. Watt’s lovely dinked ball created a corner Niall Canavan put wide and although an excellent Angol touch came to nothing, it showed he was confident.
The problem was Forest were too with the ball at their feet and they swept down the right, Fin Back feeding Zinckernagel who drilled the ball across perfectly so Carvalho did not have to break stride to open the scoring. The pass to release the Portuguese for his second was exquisite.
Sutton’s replacement Abo Eisa might have equalised when Gillead nodded to him but with the goalkeeper and a defender trying to cover the goal, he missed the target.
Played through in the 47th minute, Angol saw the whites of Ethan Horvath’s eyes, but could not beat him. It looked like being the story of the night.
Zinckernagel was substituted, job done, and Forest fans began singing disparagingly about Adams’s trainers and Derby County.
Cooke, though, provided a minor plot twist. Eisa’s surge down the right had not created a chance but the ball stayed alive long enough for Bradford to win a free-kick Cooke put away brilliantly.
For all their effort, Bradford could not carve another high-quality opportunity, even with Cooke’s confidence lifted a couple of notches and Cousin-Dawson raining in long throw-ins.
A looping Cooke cross produced a looping Cook header and when the ball fell invitingly for Watt to volley in the 89th minute, it did not live up to the anticipation. Richard O’Donnell smothered Carvalho’s hat-trick chance and Alex Mighten curled a shot wide in the nine added minutes.
“I just can’t seem to get enough,” sang Depeche Mode over the tannoy at full-time and when it came to the quality of finishing, that was perhaps the story of Bradford’s night – good, but not good enough.
Nottingham Forest: Horvath; Back, Fernandes (Yates 69), Richardson, Harbottle (Figueiredo 67); Fornah, Cafu; Zinckernagel (da Costa 50), Carvalho, Konate; Mighten. Unused substitutes: Smith, Gabriel, Lolley, Johnson.
Bradford City: O’Donnell; Cousin-Dawson, Canavan, O’Connor, Ridehalgh; Watt, Cooke; Sutton (Eisa 34), Angol, Gilliead (Crankshaw 83); Cook (Vernam 83). Unused substitutes: Hornby, Foulds, Kelleher, Evans.
Referee: P Wright (Merseyside).