Nottingham Forest 1-2 Sheffield United (agg 3-3): Forest win Championship playoff on penalties – as it happened!

Last modified: 10: 07 PM GMT+0

A rousing comeback from Sheffield United, who began the second half trailing 3-1 on aggregate, was enough to force extra time, but Brice Samba then saved three penalties to send Forest to Wembley, where they’ll meet Huddersfield

Ah, and here’s that report. Peace out.

Righto, that is us. Thanks for your company and comments, good luck to Forest and hard lines to Blades; our report will be up here shortly, but otherwise, ta-ra.

Steve Cooper is feeling joy, noting that to get through a two-legged playoff, you need to do a bit of everything – you need to play well, you need to suffer. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen a team be outstanding over a full 180, and isn’t ashamed that his weren’t great tonight. He’s got staff who’ve got playoff experience as players who keep telling him how hard it is, and his players have been great this season, given automatic promotion a good go, and they’ve now got to the final. He also notes that when Forest went 2-1 down, the crowd got louder, so he thanks them, also saying that the City Ground is a special place and that Blades were been excellent over the two legs. On Samba, he says that he’s learnt from his mistakes, and when people make them you’ve to talk to them and help them through it, adding that his keeper loves the limelight so will have enjoyed his evening. His staff have already planned for the final, so they’ll celebrate then get on with that, and keeps saying that none of this is about him, and the whole club are in it together.

Samba is very, very happy. He says he just did what he feels, and thanks his goalkeeping coach. Steve Cook then mentions the two crucial saves, one early and one late, that helped his team stick in the game, and says Forest didn’t deserve to win tonight; Blades were amazing, he found the second half “horrendous”, hating “every minute” of it, and says the dressing room is an emotional place. I’m not surprised, so is my box room, and I’m just a clown with a keyboard. Samba notes that there’s still another game, so they’ll enjoy tonight then prepare for Wembley, and Cook agrees, saying Forest were bottom after six or seven games and is looking forward to a great contest at Wembley. Samba then praises Steve Cooper, saying Forest deserve to go up, and accepts his man of the match award. When you see how calm they were in that interview, you get some understanding of how they were able to take and save those penalties. Sportsmen are built differently.

I can’t think of too many better penalty shoot-out performances than Brice Samba’s tonight. Three saves, two of them belters, and the first preceded by some dark-arts delay. I can’t say he totally psyched out Blades’ takers because the pressure they were under without him was immense beyond comprehension, but he absolutely amped it up, then backed it up. an absolutely gigantic effort.


In the stands, Garry Birtles celebrates, while Stuart Broad simply looks on, moist-eyed and dumbstruck. Next to him, Joe Root isn’t – he must’ve chipped, and I don’t blame him.


It’s mad really, Forest, winners of two European Cups, have been out of the top division – haven’t even made a playoff final – for 23 years. It feels wrong to say any club is more deserving than any other club, but it feels absolutely right to say forest deserve this. They meet Huddersfield a week Sunday – if they’re not still on the City Ground pitch.

The City Ground pitch is a swaying sea of bodies and love. Football, eh? Oh my days, where would we be, what would we do without it?

I guess there’ll be some consolation for the poor lads who missed, in that two others did too. But this is going to hurt them for a long, long time - as long as they live and probably longer. But they should be proud of everything they’ve done to get here and everything they’ve done tonight – they’ve done themselves, their families and their clubs proud.

Oh man, what a night! Forest fans invade the pitch, flares all over the show, and the players are lost among it all. Poor old Blades, who did so brilliantly to fight back, but what a performance from Samba, who made two terrific saves during the game, one at 0-0 and one just before time, then saved a phenomenal three penalties! Tonight will be the greatest day of his life!

MISS ! Nottingham Forest 3-2 Sheffield United! FOREST ARE GOING TO WEMBLEY!

Gibbs-White stutters, stutters again, and a poor kick is easily saved by Samba! Three saves! WHAT A MAN !

MISS! Nottingham Forest 3-2 Sheffield United

Lolley steps up to win it ... and up goes the head, so he smashes over the bar! Blades are still alive!

GOAL! Nottingham Forest 3-2 Sheffield United

Ndiaye opens his body and passes into the right side-netting. But if Forest score next, it’s over.

GOAL! Nottingham Forest 3-1 Sheffield United

Here comes Steve Cook, and he goes high and left as Foderingham dives right. Blades must score next!


GOAL! Nottingham Forest 2-1 Sheffield United

Berge goes left and Samba dives right!

GOAL! Nottingham Forest 2-0 Sheffield United

this is a poor penalty, down the middle, but Foderingham can only deflect Cafu’s kick into the net!

MISS! Nottingham Forest 1-0 Sheffield United

Hourihane goes down the middle, Samba stands, I’ve no idea why, extends a hand barely away from his body, and sends the ball onto the bar and away! Forest are flying!


GOAL! Nottingham Forest 1-0 Sheffield United

Johnson passes into the bottom right. Lovely pen.


MISS! Nottingham Forest 0-0 Sheffield United

Samba takes a drink, takes his time, making Norwood wait. This is so, so, so evil – ooh yeah! AND WHAT A SAVE SAMBA! Norwood goes to the keeper’s right, highish, and the keeper prangs clear!


Blades will go first, at the away end. Norwood to take...

“These accusations of ‘over-celebrating’ are for the birds,” reckons Matt Burtz. “How do these people want the second goal in the first leg of a semi-final to be acknowledged? Just a hearty handshake and a pat on the back? Don’t let them score if you don’t want to see it. P.S. One Headlight by The Wallflowers instantly takes me back to high school.”

We should celebrate less in life. Imagine thinking that.

“Speaking of rather decent extra times,” returns Harriet Osborn. “Featuring a certain aforementioned Forest benchwarmer... The Concacaf Nations League Final (the only one that’s happened to date).”

But before we get to the unbridled joy and searing pain, let’s biggup both sets of players, who’ve given this tie everything – twice. Hold tight, old mates.

Full-time: Nottingham Forest (3) 1-2 (3) Sheffield United

This is an absolute epidemic of excruciation. Every fan we see looks ready to vomit up their soul.

120+1 min OH MY DAYS! WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? A ball over the top, bouncing; Samba charges out again, leaps to try and get a touch or stop Robinson from getting a touch, Robinson goes down ... is that a penalty? No, it’s a yellow card for diving!

120 min There’ll be two additional minutes.

120 min My days, we’re going to have penalties. I feel ill, and I don’t even care who wins.

119 min Garner seems to have a hamstring issue, so is replaced by Cafu.

118 min Hourihane appears down the left, arcs a low cross for Gibbs-White that needs just a touch, not unlike the one from which he scored, and this time his stab at is just misses.

118 min Spence has been much higher in the second period, but again he wallops a cross that misses everyone.

116 min Now here come Forest, Lolley collecting possession out on the right and weaving inside on his left foot. He sees the headlines, jinks across a defender ... and fires a shot just wide!

115 min I’ve no idea what happens next, but the ball finds itself in the middle and Gibbs-White wins the knockdown, finding Ndiaye! Again, he’s in front of goal, again, all he has to do is not hit the keeper ... and again, Samba makes himself gigantic, saving a scuffed effort with his foot! What a chance that was! If Blades lose here, Ndiaye is going to feel very poorly, possibly for the rest of his life!

114 min Nice from Berge, nipping infield and across Yates before unleashing a shot that’s defelcted behind.

113 min We see some crowd shots – there’s a lot of lip-chewing and finger-biting. Actually, we should have that permanently inset – there’s just as much drama in the stands as on the pitch.

111 min Lovely from Gibbs-White, who’s been the best player on the pitch tonight, turning Cook on the half-turn with Zidane-like feet and body-movement. Naturally, Cook ploughs through him and is booked.

110 min Excellent again from Davis, who collects the ball out on the left, near halfway, heads infield and finds Spence ... whose cross whistles across the box.

109 min Foderingham is good to carry on – I think he hurt himself kicking a clearance – but his team are under pressure here.

108 min First change for Blades, Osborn replacing the terrific Baldock. Meantime, Foderingham is down, then Heckingbottom sends on Hourihane for Fleck.

107 min And now it’s Spence down the right, his cross a decent one but a bit high, forcing Johnson to leap into a volley that Foderingham saves.

106 min Lolley bursts through midfield! He’s got Johnson to his right, Davis to his left, and picks the former, but the ball’s a little behind him, so he can’t cut inside and head for goal, so instead he crosses low, and Lolley slips as he shoots, his effort dribbling into Foderingham’s dive.

Joe Lolley slips as he has misses a big chance.
Joe Lolley slips as he has misses a big chance. Photograph: Simon Davies/ProSports/REX/Shutterstock


106 min Here we go! This is sapping me, and I’ve no dog in the fight.

Half-time in extra time: Nottingham Forest (3) 1-2 (3) Sheffield United

The whistle goes with Forest preparing to take a corner, which doesn’t amuse them. But there’s not loads going on here now - it’s ridiculously tense.

105 min In the last 15 minutes of normal time, Davis looked likeliest to settle things, but he’s barely had a kick since then.

104 min Ndiaye is becoming increasingly influential, pulling left and crossing low, but Samba is there to collect.

102 min Here’s Garner again finding Colback and accepting Diaye’s foul; Diaye is booked, and Garner’s free-kick is a poor, floaty affair directed towards the back post. It comes to nothing.

101 min It’s a weird thing to say, but Garner is coming into this a little – perhaps because it’s slowed down. Though he’s got ability on the ball, there are doubts about him physically – is he quick enough or strong enough? – and nothing we’ve seen tonight suggests that he is.

100 min It’s gone a bit quiet; you could cut the atmosphere with an atmosphere-cutter.

98 min ...but when the ball comes deep to the back post, Robinson, who’s so good at making first contact, can only send a diving header behind.

97 min Now it’s Blades’ turn, Baldock, who’s been excellent, looking to get outside McKenna and winning a corner...

96 min And here’s Johnson down that right flank, curling a decent ball to the near post that Davis attacks. But he can only poke at it, and Foderingham saves easily enough – but those two look Forest’s most likely route to a winner.

95 min It’s rare you see a decent extra time – Brazil v France at the 1986 World Cup, Italy v Germany in 2006 – but the way the 90 finished gives me some hope.

94 min Lolley finds Spence down the right of the box, but Fleck sticks with him well and forces him to check, whereupon he can’t pick out a red shirt.

92 min Another channel ball, this time from Baldock, and Ndiaye is on the end of it! The angle is pretty tight, but he applies laces to ball with decent power, but sends the shot straight at Samba.

92 min In co-comms, Don Goodman notes that Johnson and Spence haven’t been involved enough, and he’s right. I don’t think it’s their fault though, their midfield haven’t been able to get them on the ball.

91 min And Norwood has a dip from halfway. It goes wide.

91 min We go again!

What an effort from both teams. Blades in particular, who did brilliantly to hold it down when the tie looked close to over, but Forest have also played their part over two life-curtailing legs. I’ve not a clue what’s going to happen next, but it’s going to be immense.

Full-time: Nottingham Forest (3) 1-2 (3) Sheffield United

Another 30! Don’t mind if we do!

90+2 min They do! Brennan sets them away and Davis holds up, teeing up Garner outside the box. He opens his body looking to draw one into the far corner ... but someone sticks out a head and sends the ball behind! That is brilliant defending, whoever it was!

90+1 min A lull as Samba waits to take a goalkick, and do Forest have one more chance in them?

90 min There’ll be two additional minutes, and Worrall starts them by hacking down Norrington-Davies when he sticks the ball into space and runs. He’s booked, and Blades have ball to stick into the box ... which Cook thunks clear.

90 min I feel for the players, but another thirty of this? Yes mates!

89 min This is terrific, desperate, wild stuff now. If it carries on like this, we could see another several goals.

88 min Neither side want extra time, and here’s Berge, increasingly influential, clipping a low cross for Gibbs-White ... that Cook clears.

87 min Forest are the better side now – Davis has made a massive difference, and when he nicks it away from Egan, just outside the box, a shooting lane appears ... but Robinson immediately closes it, hurling his body into a block.

85 min Davies has made a difference, and again he finds space down the left, cutting back for Lolley, whose shot is deflected behind. Garner’s corner picks out Worrall, but his header flies over the top.

84 min What cost Forest tonight is that poor start to the second half – that allowed Blades back into the tie, when had they been kept out for a bit longer, they’d have felt it slipping away. But you’ve got to hand it to Heckingbottom and his team - they’ve been by far the better team tonight, and kept at it when things went against them.

83 min It’s a while since we’ve seen Johnson. Forest’s midfielders just can’t get on the ball, and consequently can’t get him on the ball.

81 min Garner goes near post, but running towards it, Worrall can only jab behind. This is horrendously, wondrously tense.

80 min Davis takes a run down the inside-left channel, hits the line, hoists a cross, and Robinson panics, heading when Foderingham could’ve collected. Eventually, the ball goes behind, and Forest have a corner...

79 min Eventually, Forest get the ball away, but Blades are over them like cheap boiler suit, scenting a famous win. Can they find a winner?

79 min Forest are rocking! Another channel ball sees Gibbs-White worrying McKenna, who panics, looking to find Samba but instead sending it just wide!

77 min Gibbs-White has had a fine game, and he drops deep, outside the box and right of centre, then feeds a lovely pass into space and in behind! Ndiaye is there! But, under pressure, he just allows the ball to hit his foot and it goes wide.

76 min Forest send on Davies for Surridge, and will now be fearing defeat!

GOAL! Nottingham Forest (3) 1-2 (3) Sheffield United (Fleck 75)

OH MY DAYS! Baldock does brilliantly, pulling right. He’s got space in behind Colback to attack, so when he tries a chop inside, it looks like the opportunity has gone. But no! He drives outside, diddling his man a second time, heads towards the line, crosses low, AND FLECK TAPS HOME! WHAT A COMEBACK! AND WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN NOW?!

John Fleck levels the tie on aggregate.
John Fleck levels the tie on aggregate. Photograph: Anna Gowthorpe/REX/Shutterstock


73 min But actually, it’s Forest readying another sub, Keinan Davis getting his top on. He’ll replace Surridge, I imagine, at that looks a smart change, because the more desperate blades get, the more space there’ll be for him to attack.

72 min I wonder if Blades will make a change soon – they don’t really look like scoring now, and there’s too much at stake just to hope for a set-piece.

70 min Change for Forest, and it’s one they made at the weekend: Lolley replaces Zinckernagel.

70 min Norwood slides a decent ball outside Worrall for Basham, but it’s got just too much gas and runs out of play before he can catch up with it.

68 min Forest have righted themselves now, but the longer this stays 3-2, the more nervy they – and the City Ground in general – will get.

67 min Meantime, Surridge wins Forest another corner, this time down the right, and Garner’s delivery is better, McKenna up first ... and the ball skids off his brown into the nearest defender.

66 min At St Mary’s, Joel Matip has put Liverpool in front.

65 min Forest have settled again, Worrall humping another down the line and putting Spence in a race with Robinson. He wins it, but Robinson stays just close enough to the laws to get away with his foul, inciting a more obvious one from Spence that allows Blades to clear.

63 min “When using the Scottish vernacular,” chides Craig Hannah, “please use your heid and spell properly!”

I was using the Geordie vernacular, ya radge!

62 min Garner looks for Cook at the far post, but the ball goes just over his head.

61 min Now here come Forest, Zinckernagel nipping outside Basham and winning a corner when his cross is blocked behind.

61 min Norwood swings it in and the ref blows up for a foul, Robinson accused of impeding Cook, but it looked fine to me.

60 min Worrall steps out with it, Gibbs-White worries him, and wins another corner for Blades...


59 min Berge, increasingly influential, knocks off for Baldock who steps infield and tries to thread a ball in behind, but is blocked at source.

59 min Forest have barely been out of their own half since the break.

58 min Spence, who looks a player, feeds Johnson, who knows Robinson is too close so turns him with dismissive ease. Again, Robinson boots him, and this time he’s booked.

57 min I mentioned this earlier, but I was hoping to see more from Forest’s midfielders. Both Garner and Yates have had a couple of decent moments, but they’re not influencing the flow of things.

55 min Johnson backs into Robinson who gives him a nudge ... and again, the ref does nothing. What I really like about Johnson is his ability to play on either flank; these days, strikers tend to prefer coming in on their stronger foot, but he’s got the speed to go on the outside so can pull wide to both left and right.

53 min I don’t know what Heckingbottom said at half-time, or gave his players to drink, but they’re absolutely all over this – more so than at the start of the first half. Forest need to clear their heeds and dig in.

52 min Blades are first to every ball here, and when Norwood swings in a free-kick, Egan knocks it back ... and someone, Surridge I think, knocks it behind.

50 min Blades win another corner and again it goes back stick, and there’s a mismatch! Berge against Garner! Garner goes everything he can to wrestle his man to the ground without making it look like he’s wrestling his man to the ground, which is to say it’s obvious to everyone looking that he’s wrestling his an to the ground. But the officials, who let a lot go, either miss it or let it go, and there’s no VAR. Blades need to make more of a fuss about those things.

49 min Blades win a corner and it picks out Robinson at the far post, who thunders a header ... that hits Ndiaye on the back of the heed! I think that was going in!

GOAL! Nottingham Forest (3) 1-1 (2) Sheffield United (Gibbs-White 47)

HELLO! NOW THEN! Ndiaye gets on the ball down the right side of the box and Worrall does really well to slide in and win it, but here’s Berge, lanking to the line – someone has got to stop that – and he crosses low and hard, for Gibbs-White to flash a finish into the far corner, running the ball off the inside of his foot with no backlift. That was a much harder finish that it looked, and we got outselves a ball-game!

Morgan Gibbs-White strikes for the Blades.
Morgan Gibbs-White strikes for the Blades. Photograph: Anna Gowthorpe/REX/Shutterstock


47 min Again, Balades start fast, Gibbs-White dashing between two defenders who do well not to bring him down.

46 min Off we go again! During the break, a mate messaged to tell me that Brennan Johnson is now the second player to score in both legs of a Championship playoff semi-final. The first was his dad, 19 years ago, in a tie involving same two teams. That’s a bazzer.

On the half-time whistle, Forest stayed out, presumably to avoid potential ruckus. Blades are out early for the resumption, and now the home side follow. Here we go!

“The mist rolling in from The Trent,” says Adam Roberts. “I am having to follow this on my work computer as it’s only 2.45 here. I went with two of my children to the City Ground back in November to see Forest annihilate Preston 3-0. The atmosphere was fantastic. I can only imagine what it’s like tonight.”

It’s got the buzz going in my box room, and I’m in north London.

Half-time email: “What do you mean by no one helping Fernandes?” wonders Yash Gupta. “Pretty sure his teammates would’ve apologised on social media with a tear and stay strong emoji. Nottingham Forest are a proper club and the Premier League would be better with them in the league especially since it looks like Leeds are going down.”

I try not to be elitist about these things, but I can’t say I’d complain if it’s them who go up. I’d love to see this team given another year to grow together, almost as I’d like a day out “in and around” the City Ground.

Do it!

At St Mary’s, it’s 1-1 at the break.

Half-time: Nottingham Forest (3) 1-0 (1) Sheffield United

That was a lot of fun, unless you’re a Blades fan. They’re still in this, but look second-best.

45+3 min Nice again from Forest, Spence sending Johnson skipping away down the right with Surridge in the middle. His cross is decent, low and fast, but a flick off Egan is enough to take it away.

45+1 min Robinson tries to send Norrington-Davies down the line but overhits a pass that skids into touch. The crowd enjoy that one, sharing a good old chortle with each other.

45 min There’ll be three added minutes.

45 min Gibbs-White has a nibble at McKenna then Colback, missing both. This is getting tasty.

44 min Norwood’s been quiet so far, but here he is no picking the ball up left of centre, moving towards goal, and wiping his foot across a shot that swerves one way then the other on its way over the bar.

43 min Fleck steps across Johnson, neither of them proximate to the ball. The ref lets it go, but Forest need to make sure they don’t get involved, because Blades are searching for something, anything.

42 min Norrington-Davies appears down the left and crosses, but McKenna heads away well.

41 min All that fire Blades had in the early exchanges has evaporated. Ultimately, class is telling – Forest have better players.

39 min The crowd are having an absolute time here, and it’s going for Forest. Johnson slips on the astroturf over the touchline, so when Spence wins it back off Robinson, he’s right there and released forthwith. He glides down the right, has Surridge in the middle ... and overhits his cross.

37 min A scuffle! EVERYTHING that NO ONE (apart from EVERYONE) wants to see. Heckingbottom was slightly enthusiastic in how he returned the ball to Spence prior to a throw-in – i think we can now be sure that he doesn’t want half-time – and Johnson was over there quicksmart, along with most of his mates. It’s very proper football man of me, but when you see that, you know a team are together – by way of contrast, I was at Anfield a few weeks ago, and when Fabinho flung Fernandes to the ground, no one did or said anything. Anyway, Heckingbottom is booked.

now now, chaps.
now now, chaps. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA


36 min The last few minutes have disappeared. forest won’t mind that, and maybe Blades won’t either, because they’ll not want to concede again before half-time.

34 min Sean Dyche is in the crowd, presumably supporting Forest. He’s still dressed as a manager, in shirt and tie, though I always thought there was something of the speed awareness course instructor about him.

32 min Zinckernagel’s been quiet so far, but he conducts this latest move, which eventually comes to a halt when the ball hits the ref.

31 min Johnson performs a leaping touch-off, and Robinson performs a leaping ankle-stud. He does well to avoid a booking.

30 min Pre-match, Heckingbottom noted that in the first leg, Forest scored with their first attack. Well, they did it again tonight, and that will be nausing him right up. On which point, the away goals rule is not in operation here.

28 min Ndiaye pulls left and tries a pull-back; it’s blocked, so he forages for possession and takes it off Yates, then shoots from outside the box ... and Samba saves easily.

27 min Johnson is down, but he’s just having a drink. He’s earned one! Meantime, Takumi Minamino has equalised for Liverpool at St Mary’s.

26 min A little lull. Blades need this.

24 min The force is with Forest now; they’re playing like a team that knows they’re going to win, but if they make the final, they’ll do well to remember how poorly they started here

22 min This is a very different game now. First, Spence snaps into Zinckernagel, who touches off first time for Surridge, who’s shot is blocked, then Zinckernagel tees up Garner, who from the right of the box, sweeps a brilliant, rising effort just wide of the far post. If Forest can keep this going, they could finish this before half-time.

21 min Oh man, look at David Johnson absolutely having it. There’s a Yiddish word, naches, that means intense pride in one’s children, and I’m not sure there’s a higher version of it than watching them score a goal for your club.

20 min Poor old Iliman Ndiaye, but that, right there, is the difference: ruthless finishing.

GOAL! Nottingham Forest (3) 1-0 (1) Sheffield United (Johnson 19)

I said Forest were growing, and this is what they do! A brilliant ball into the channel from McKenna sends Surridge away - what a call from cooper to retain him – his cross is low, fast and perfect, and arriving onto it on an absolute tear, Johnson slides into a punishing finish, the ball fizzing high inside the near post! The City Ground goes stratospheric!

Brennan Johnson lashes home the opening goal of the evening.
Brennan Johnson lashes home the opening goal of the evening. Photograph: Molly Darlington/Action Images/Reuters


18 min Blades are doing a really good job of shutting down Forest’s passers – a much better job than they did at the weekend – and are playing with the intensity of desperation. Just these last few minutes, though, Forest are moving it better.

16 min Looking again at that Ndiaye chance, he thought it was easier than it was, and that a decent connection would be a goal. It’s true that Samba could only really save it if it hit him, but he spread himself well and yerman didn’t do enough to guide it where he wasn’t.

15 min Talking of Garner, I’d not seen him have a kick until then. He and Yates need to get themselves going here, because currently, Forest’s midfield isn’t in the game.

15 min Forest win a corner down the right and Garner, who’s shown himself pretty nifty at them will take ... but his kick is headed clear at the near post.

13 min Forest just can’t hold onto the ball, and Norrington-Davies gets Gibbs-White away down the left! He looks up, sees Ndiaye in the middle, and curves a luscious ball into his path with the outside of his right foot! He’s in! But Samba races out, blocks his shot, and Cook clears before Berge can pick up the pieces! This is warming up!


12 min I should’ve said sooner, Southamton and Liverpool are playing too ... and Southampton have the lead! If Liverpool don’t win, City are more or less champions.

10 min Blades have the territorial advantage so far and win another throw, not as close to the corner flag as before, which means Robinson has to chuck it further, but has more of an angle to pick out a man. And this is another decent one ... that finds Egan on the run! He makes decent contact too, but sends his header wide.

9 min Twice, Forest try and feed Spence, such a good outlet for them down the right – I’m told he’s a proper player – and twice, Norrington-Davies crunches him.

8 min We’re reminded that Blades are missing Sharp and McBurnie, but actually I wonder if Gibbs-White and Ndiaye, midfielders by trade, might give them something a bit different. We already know, I think, that the former two aren’t Premier-League players, whereas the latter two might just become that.

7 min “I believe that Brennan Johnson is named after Jimmy Brennan, former Forest and Canada fullback!” advises Mike Mercer. I wonder what David has against the name James.

6 min It’s a brute and for a second it looks like it might drop to an attacker, but someone – Worrall, I think – slides into a clearance.

4 min So far, this is a total mess, and the rain is falling vertically. But then Ndiaye runs the channel, Fleck lofts a decent ball into space, and eventually Fleck, now further forward, win a throw off Spence. Robinson will hurl this into the mixer...

3 min It’s been a scrappy start, the ball flying backwards and forwards, but Blades are on the front foot, trying to prevent Forest from playing out.

2 min Jack Robinson reckons Forest over-celebrated their second goal at the weekend. If Blades get a second tonight, I daresay he’ll be over-celebrating faster than you can say, well, Jack Robinson.

1 min I said it just a moment ago, but it needs saying again: the City Ground is in a right old state.

1 min Away we go!

The players take the knee. All black lives matter.

Forest have been getting well into their tifo lately, and they’ve got two huge banners in their popular end. Has any other club won more European Cups than league titles?

The City Ground is absolutely jumping. You absolutely love to see it.

Here come the teams!

If I’m Root – for avoidance of doubt, I’m not – no chance I’m turning my back on SJ Broad, after the events of the winter.

Look who’s in town @NFFC. Cheers for the photo @root66 and @StuartBroad8. COYR 🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈

— Samit Patel 🏏 (@Samitpatel21) May 17, 2022

“There’s no rush,” says Heckingbottom of his team’s task for tonight. He identifies Forest as a counter-attacking side – I’m not sure Cooper would have that – noting that on Saturday, they scored with their first attack after Blades had started well. He wants his team to be patient, and thinks the score may stay the same for a while.

Over the PA, they’re playing Born Slippy. I don’t actually love the end of it, but I can’t think of many, if any, opening bars that give me that same shiver of total happiness, rooting me in a time and place – Robert Miles’ Children, maybe. Obviously that’s partly because I was young then, but not, I don’t think, solely because of that – there’s just something about the actual music. Anyway, feel free to send in your equivalents.

“As you say you’ve watched a fair bit of Forest this season,” says Harriet Osborn, “I’m curious to know your thoughts on Ethan Horvath. Considering he was able to hold Liverpool to a single goal in that FA Cup tie, along with what he did last summer, he seems a bit too good to be a backup. Certainly to be content with being a backup. Should he move? Should he start? Or am I just referencing the only good things he’s done in two years?”

He’s not played enough, or on telly enough, for me to have a sensible opinion about him. But yeah, at 26 he’ll probably feel he needs to be playing.

Steve Cooper tells Sky he’ll try and win the game, as he does with every game. Ryan Yates is carrying a shoulder knock – “You try telling him he’s not playing,” he chortles.

“I spent 3 years living with a Blades fan,” confesses Nick Spray. “He had ‘Blades’ tattooed on his leg. He definitely called them ‘Blades’. Never “the Blades’.”

“Nah, you’re thinking of Pixies,” says Matt Dony on Thegate. “It’s an easy mistake to make.”

Actually, it was Buzzcocks.

On which point, Robin van Persie’s son Shaqueel has just signed for Feyenoord. Look at his face! Just look at his face!

Robin van Persie's son, Shaqueel van Persie has signed his first professional contract at Feyenoord until June 2025. He is 15-years old.

— SPORTbible (@sportbible) May 17, 2022

Oh man, Sky are showing highlights of the first leg, and they’ve just cut to David Johnson, gooning in the away end after Brennan’s goal. I’ve seem that a few times since the weekend and my eyeballs have started sweating every time; I’ve not a clue how parents of players hold it down.

For that reason, I wonder if Jimmy Garner might sit a little deeper than usual. When he joined Forest last season, he was a number 6, and over the course of his loans has developed into an 8, and I’m sure Cooper would like him to play his normal game. But someone needs to get, er, “in and around” Berge, and that might be his brief.

Looking at the “The Blades” line-up, if they’re going to do this, chances are they’ll need their front three to get this done. It’s not often you see a 3-4-1-2, never mind one playing another, and if I’m Paul Heckingbottom, I’m ordering my attackers to gang up on Forest’s back three whenever possible.

Email! “Just a tiny point,” says Rob Jacques, “but it’s either ‘Sheffield United’ or ‘The Blades’. There are no circumstances whatsoever under which the team can be referred to simply as ‘Blades’.

I’m intrigued by this, I’m sure I’ve heard locals calling them that when visiting as an away fan, but perhaps I’m confusing them with Birmingham, “Blues”. In fairness to, er, me, drink had been taken.

In particular, I’ve been impressed with Brennan Johnson – son of David, formerly of Ipswich, but probably not named after Mark of Panini stickers fame.

Mark Brennan

Anyhow, he looks a talent, quick, intelligent and excellent running with the ball. I’d love to see how he gets on the Premier League, and at some point, whether next season or not, whether with Forest or not, I’m sure that’ll happen.

I’ve seen more of Forest than Blades this season, and what a breath of fresh air they’ve been. Obviously Fulham have trounced the division, scoring a ridiculous 106 goals, but otherwise, only Bournemouth, with 74, have more than Forest’s 73, and next after them is Huddersfield with nine fewer.

Forest are, as expected, unchanged – Keinan Davis is fit again, but Sam Surridge keeps his place – while Blades make two alterations: Enda Stevens is injured, so his place on the right of midfield goes to George Baldock, while Rhys Norrington-Davies is in for Ben Osborn, who’s on the bench.



Nottingham Forest (3-4-1-2): Samba; Worrall, Cook, McKenna; Spence, Yates, Garner, Colback; Zinckernagel; Johnson, Surridge. Subs: Horvath, Figueiredo, Davis, Laryea, Mighten, Cafu, Lolley.

Sheffield United (3-4-1-2): Foderingham; Basham, Egan, Robinson; Baldock, Norrington-Davies, Norwood, Fleck; Berge; Gibbs-White, Ndiaye. Subs: A. Davies, B. Davies, Uremovic, Osborn, Hourihane, Jebbison, Osula.


Football is a parochial, traditional, protectionist affair, so it won’t surprise you to hear it said that this should be a Premier League fixture. Two grand old clubs with glorious histories, who hail from big cities and boast serious followings, need to be in the top flight for the gratification of those who watch other teams in that division. Makes sense, right?

Except football is also a precise, meritocratic, competitive affair, so it also won’t surprise you to hear it said that no team has any business playing in any competition unless they earn the right so to do on the pitch. However much I one might fancy visiting the various hostelries around their grounds.

Forest were relegated in 1999, and since then haven’t got all that close to a return, losing three playoff semis – most recently, in 2011. It’s been a long schlep.

Blades, on the other hand, have sunk lower – they spent six years in League 1 between 2011 and 2019 and are yet to win promotion through the playoffs in eight attempts – but managed two straight seasons in “this league” between 2019 and 2021. As such, they’ll feel confident they can make it again, because there are several players in their squad who were part of that surprise Chris Wilder-inspired renaissance.

They’ll have to go some, though, because Forest are on a buzz. After losing their first four games and taking one point from their first seven, Steve Cooper replaced Chris Hughton as manager with transformative effect. Though he won five of his first six, it’s in the run-in that everything really changed, a young, dynamic, ridiculously likeable side taking 29 points out of the last 36 available. If they play well tonight, it’ll take something serious to stop them reaching Wembley, to meet Huddersfield a week on Sunday.

United, though, cannot be discounted. In Iliman Ndiaye and Morgan Gibbs-White they have two pacy, brave and skilful strikers, and if Sander Berge has a good day behind them, they’ll have chances to retrieve their 2-1 first-leg deficit. This is going to be intense.

Kick-off: 7.45pm BST



Daniel Harris

The GuardianTramp

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