The Reds are heading to Wembley after sealing victory 3-2 on penalties after the tie finished 3-3 on aggregate after extra-time – and they now face Huddersfield for a place in the Premier League
Nottingham Forest are within one more win of a long-awaited Premier League return after an epic penalty shoot-out win.
Steve Cooper’s side sealed a 3-2 win on spot-kicks over Sheffield United after the score finished 3-3 after extra-time on aggregate at a vibrant City Ground in the second leg of their pulsating Championship play-off semi-final. They will now meet Huddersfield Town in the showpiece final at Wembley on Sunday, May 29 with the winners guaranteed a place in next season’s top flight.
Brennan Johnson opened the scoring to give Forest a two-goal lead in the tie early on – an advantage they took into half-time. United needed a response after the interval and Morgan Gibbs-White provided it within two minutes of the restart, equalising on the night. And then they drew level in the tie when John Fleck was on hand to tap in after superb work from George Baldock down the right flank.
That took an absorbing contest into extra-time but neither side could force a winner in the extra 30 minutes – with the resulting penalty shoot-out also proving eventful and Forest stopper Brice Samba was the hero saving three spot-kicks
Here, Mirror Football looks at five talking points to emerge from tonight’s absorbing contest.
Penalty joy and heartache
Action Images via Reuters/Molly Darlington)
A scintillating tie went the distance after three-and-a-half hours, six goals and a bucketful of drama.
Forest goalkeeper Samba had been far busier than his opposite stopper Wes Foderingham during the second leg, pulling off a fine save in extra-time to keep out Ndiaye to ensure this game went to penalties.
And in the shoot-out Samba was the undoubted hero. He immediately made his mark with a superb stop to keep out Oli Norwood with the very first spot-kick before tipping Conor Hourihane’s onto the bar with an incredible save.
Sander Berge and Ilimian Ndiaye netted United’s third and fourth penalties whilst Brennan Johnson, Cafu and Steve Cook all tucked away their efforts for Forest.
Joe Lolley then botched his spot-kick when he had the chance to clinch the win before Gibbs-White had the chance to make it 3-3 – only for Samba to have other ideas and send Forest to Wembley.
Third time lucky for Cooper?
Steve Cooper has come up just short in the play-offs in his only two previous seasons as a club manager.
Two years ago he led Swansea City to the semi-finals before going one better 12 months ago as the Swans were edged out by Brentford in the final.
He will be hoping it is now third time lucky when his side face Huddersfield at the national stadium on May 29.
He has completely transformed Forest’s season since his appointment last September, turning the two-times European champions from relegation candidates into genuine promotion contenders.
Just one more game stands in Forest’s and Cooper’s way.
Blades’ play-off hoodoo goes on
This represented Sheffield United’s ninth crack at the play-offs and they have still yet to come out on top in this particular format.
They had hoped to qualify for a fifth final in that sequence as they bid to end their terrible record – but it wasn’t meant to be.
The visitors came out all guns blazing after the restart with Morgan Gibbs-White finishing from close range to reduce the arrears. And John Fleck’s goal took the tie to extra-time – something that scarcely seemed believable at half-time.
But despite giving it a superb effort, United were edged out on penalties and just could not find a way past Samba in the shoot-out.
Despite the obvious raw disappointment that will be felt by United’s players, staff and fans they can be proud of how they have turned their campaign around since Paul Heckingbottom’s appointment as permanent boss.
Given their supposed play-off curse, they’ll be targeting automatic promotion next season.
A great advert for the play-offs
Since their inception in 1987, the Football League play-offs have become a must-see event that guarantees drama and storylines across all three tiers of the EFL.
Tonight’s match, and indeed both games in the tie, brought together two historic clubs and saw them play out a classic. It had goals, drama, flashpoints and every ingredient that we have come to expect from this format down the years.
That only one of them was guaranteed a spot in the blue riband finale on May 29 only added to the intrigue – and as a contest it certainly did not disappoint either supporters of both sides or onlooking neutrals.
Just the right amount of needle
Given what was at stake, and the historical bad blood between these two sides, it perhaps wasn’t a surprise that this game was punctuated with its fair share of flare-ups.
The first leg at Bramall Lane saw seven players carded and bizarrely the first individual to receive a yellow in the second meeting was visiting manager Paul Heckingbottom.
A first half flashpoint between the 44-year-old and Djed Spence saw the Blades’ chief appear to shove the ball forcefully into the Forest player’s midriff. It sparked a reaction from both benches and lit the touch paper for a series of further incidents between the two sets of players – and of course it was played out to a backdrop of a raucous atmosphere inside the City Ground.
Thankfully, the game had just the right amount of needle without it ever threatening to spill over and ruin a fascinating contest.