Nottingham Forest 1-2 Sheffield United *3-3 on aggregate, 3-1 pens (EFL Championship Playoff Semi Final 2nd leg) 18.05.22
It was never meant to be easy. But Nottingham Forest have now gone one step further than they have in their previous 23 years, to gain a much deserved lottery ticket to finally playing at the iconic arched and still ‘relatively new’ Wembley Stadium for the first time, just a single match playoff final away now for a place in the Premier League at stake.
Holding a 2-1 first leg lead, you would be forgiven for thinking it was all over, but Nottingham Forest rarely do things straight forward, and on a rollercoaster of a night, fans inside the City Ground felt every emotion from agony to ecstasy.
After Sander Berge’s late goal in Sheffield, much of the post-match talking was from the Blades boss Paul Heckingbottom, and former Red Jack Robinson, who didn’t enjoy the fact that Forest ‘celebrated’ Brennan Johnson’s goal at Bramall Lane, claiming that United were not out of the race, and the goal in injury time from the Norwegian on Saturday, certainly gave food for thought about that.
Forest fans knew, the club knew, the players knew, that the game was certainly still alive and kicking, but that didn’t stop people from dreaming of Wembley, hotels and tickets were talk of the town all leading up to the match on Tuesday night Trent side.
A frantic start had neither team settling on the ball, a ping pong match played at Chinese elite level pace, neither could put a foothold on the leather, neither was allowed, at a hostile City Ground, with both sets of supporters ‘giving it some’.
Forest however drew first blood, a game settling goal to ease the nerves of the majority of the 29,000 strong crowd, but that after United broke down the left as the Reds defence left space in behind, Ndiaye denied by Brice Samba with a gaping goal and no-one else around.
On 19 however a slick move, started by McKenna, supplied by Surridge, and emphatically finished by Brennan Johnson, had the noise of Nottingham heard as far as the South Yorkshire borders. 1-0 to Forest, 3-1 on aggregate, surely they can’t let this slip?
It wasn’t pretty. That goal a standout moment of ‘class’ during a half where more headers were made than passes, more tackles then attempts, more grit than glamour, but then how else would you expect such a huge game to be played between these old acquaintance’s that have never really shown much love for another.
Half time had us talking more of Wembley, the lesson learned from Saturday should have been don’t count those chickens just yet, and within a minute of that break, United were back in the tie.
A long ball over the top, caught Forest’s three man central defence cold and whilst Joe Worrrall did well to recover with a tackle, Berge picked up the loose ball and squared to Gibbs-White who side footed home to send the visiting fans wild.
Twenty tense minutes followed before matters got significantly worse for Forest, George Baldock doing brilliantly down the right to put Colback on his backside before crossing low where John Fleck would arrive. Tie all square with United full throttle.
That goal ensured the mood of the City Ground faithful soon lowered from fever pitch to deafening silence as United followers in the Bridgford Stand drowned out their Chip Butty song, 3-3 on aggregate, both sides pushed late on with Reds substitute Joe Lolley misfiring the home sides best chance, although neither keeper regularly troubled before the full time whistle was blown.
Extra time added more pressure and more nerves and in fairness Forest looked the better of the two to get a goal, but with just two minutes remaining it was United who had the stand out chance to win the tie outright, a partially headed corner up in the air, fell to Ndiaye who volleyed from five yards out straight at Samba who stood firm, a huge save that would ensure the Reds at least make the cut to penalty kicks.
United first to go, as the Reds fans belted out ‘Mist Rolling In’ for the umpteenth time of the evening, Brice Samba guessing right, as Oliver Norwood saw his spot kick saved by the former Marseille man.
Brennan Johnson up next, coolly dispatched his attempt and with Samba standing for Conor Hourihane’s effort, the ball flicked off his wrist and onto the bar to safety, the reds then two up through Cafu with a calming ease all of a sudden, swarming supporters, who started to believe that this might actually be ‘our’ night.
Sander Berge netted before Cook and Ndiaye dispatched with Joe Lolley needing to score to win, celebrations on hold as the former Huddersfield winger found the upper tier of the Bridgford Stand.
It mattered not though, Samba again the coolest man in the stadium, guessing right to save Gibbs-White’s flimsy attempt. Enter pitch invasion and Nottingham Forest ecstasy.
One troubled spectator did mar the evening, a fan running into United skipper Billy Sharp who needed stitches from the unprovoked attack. The man in question deserving of a life-time ban, Forest do not want supporters of this nature associated with the club, but for 29,014 others who did attend the game, including those from Sheffield United, the game was otherwise played in true football spirit, and a credit to the Championship, of which Nottingham Forest, may hopefully be leaving later this month.
Fingers crossed, next up Huddersfield Town at Wembley Stadium, one ninety minutes away, with the possibility of yet more extra time and penalties, to booking their place in the Premier Division for the first time this side of the Millennium.
Nottingham Forest: Samba, Cook, Worrall, McKenna, Spence, Yates, Garner (Cafu 119), Colback, Zinckernagel (Lolley 71), Johnson, Surridge (Davis 75).
Sheffield United: Foderingham, Basham, Egan, Robinson, Baldock (Osborn 108), Norwood, Fleck (Hourihane 109), Norrington-Davies, Berge, Gibbs-White, Ndiaye.
Venue: City Ground (29,015)
*Main image @NFFC Samba celebrates as the Reds hero is mobbed.