Brice Samba was the hero as he saved three penalties in the shootout to give Nottingham Forest their first Wembley appearance since 1992.
Sheffield United may have joined Liverpool as the one of two teams to have beaten Steve Cooper’s team at the City Ground in 2022, but ultimately Forest’s remarkable rise from the foot of the Championship to the cusp of the Premier League is still on.
Samba, the mercurial French goalkeeper, saved from Oliver Norwood, Conor Hourihane and Morgan Gibbs-White to extend United’s hoodoo in the playoffs, in which they have now failed in nine attempts.
John Fleck levelled the scores on aggregate in the 75th minute of a tumultuous Championship play-off semi-final as Paul Heckingbottom’s team battled battle back from 3-1 down on aggregate to take Forest into extra time.
Fleck, a key member of the side who went from League One to the Premier League under Chris Wilder, turned in George Baldock’s cross from the right wing to turn this tie on its head.
Battling for the right to meet Huddersfield Town at Wembley on 29 May, Forest led on the night through Brennan Johnson’s goal only for Gibbs-White to equalise shortly after half-time as United refused to give up on their bid for a return to the elite.
But Forest held their nerve in the shootout as the majority of another 29,000 sellout crowd spilled onto the pitch to celebrate in a mist of red.
The atmosphere at kick-off was red hot but that only intensified as United spurned a chance to level the scores on aggregate before going behind to Johnson’s 19th goal of the season.
There was a searing humidity around the City Ground as Forest fans walking over the River Trent dared to dream of a first trip to the new Wembley, maybe even of a first appearance in the Premier League this century.
Egan had already come steaming in to head Jack Robinson’s long throw just wide when Gibbs-White went scampering away down the inside-left channel. With an audacious flick, United’s player of the year arced the ball perfectly into the path of Iliman Ndiaye: near enough the goalkeeper to tempt Brice Samba out but swerving back towards the Frenchman now reborn as a goalscoring target man with four goals in six games.
As the City Ground held its collective breath, Ndiaye shot low and powerfully but Samba saved, to his left, superbly. It felt like a huge moment, the kind on which games, seasons, livelihoods pivot. While it was a good save, United should have been ahead.
How Forest made them pay. Sam Surridge looked up as he ran away down the left and crossed, good and early, for Johnson to stretch and scythe the ball into the top corner.
People could not hear their neighbour speak as the noise level cranked up to 11 and Surridge had a shot blocked, Ryan Yates curled another wide. Forest were on fire but tempers inflamed. When Paul Heckingbottom shoved the ball into Djed Spence’s stomach as the Forest full-back went to reclaim in order to take a throw-in, there was a furious coming-together of all except three players, with both benches getting involved.
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As Michael Oliver went easy and showed a yellow card to Heckingbottom, the City Ground responded by telling the United manager he’s “just a shit Neil Warnock”. That would have made the former Notts County manager laugh.
Steve Cooper kept his players on the pitch for a minute to let the visitors go down the tunnel on their own. It was as enthralling as it was frenetic but the advantage lay with Forest.
Not that United had any intention of lying down. Within two minutes they were level on the night, their ferocity undimmed by the interval. Joe Worrall produced a perfectly timed tackle to deny Ndiaye as he threatened to get in behind for a clean shot on goal but the ball broke for Sander Berge.
It was the Norwegian’s stoppage-time goal on Saturday that had limited the damage and now he weaved to the byline to pull back the cross from which Gibbs-White adroitly turned in his 12th goal of an impressive season.
Source by www.theguardian.com