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The Guardian - UK

Sheffield Utd 1-2 Nottingham Forest: Championship playoff semi-final, first leg – as it happened

Nottingham Forest's Brennan Johnson scores their second goal.
Nottingham Forest's Brennan Johnson scores their second goal. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Images/Reuters

Here’s Aaron Bower’s report from Bramall Lane.

Brennan Johnson, scorer of Forest’s second, spoke to Sky Sports.

We’re in a good position from winning the game. We played well today and had a lot of chances. We’d have liked the advantage to have been bigger, but we’ll take any advantage going into Tuesday.

It seems like Sander Berge has been awarded the Sheffield United goal, when getting the last touch after Jack Robinson. It was scruffy, and yet all so vital.

Bob Kirk gets in touch: “All Forest fans will now be remembering Yeovil. In the 2007 Div 3 play-offs, Forest won 0-2 at Yeovil. At the 2nd leg at the City Ground they managed to lose 2-5. Most Forest fans will tell you it was the worst game they ever saw.”

Full-time: Sheffield United 1-2 Nottingham Forest

Jack Robinson’s goal has given the second leg real life, and after Forest should have been way out of sight. They may come to rue their misses and the excellence of Wes Foderingham in Blades’ goal though they also look to have by far the better attackers. Blades need to chase this one down, and that will leave plenty of opportunity on the counter.

90+4 min: Last chance to get it launched for Sheffield United, but Forest clear and Alex Mighten, the sub almost escapes, only to be stopped by Wes Foderingham, way out of his his goal. It’s bedlam out there and there will be more to come....that’s it. See you next Tuesday....

90+2 min: Three minutes were added on, and it’s finished chaotically. Bit of beef between Stuart McCall and Steve Cooper. Could be some fun to come at the City Ground.

Goal! Sheffield United 1-2 Nottingham Forest (Robinson, 90)

Well, Jack Robinson climbs up on to fine corner, and it may have come off his arm, and he bundles home, with Samba unable to get near. Did it come off Berge before going in? Game on for the second leg. Forest will have the Stan Collywobbles ahead of the second leg. Their booking for Wembley no longer looks so definite.

Sheffield United’s Jack Robinson (third left) pulls a goal back for the home side.
Sheffield United’s Jack Robinson (third left) pulls a goal back for the home side. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

Updated

89 min: Keinan Davis finds space to shoot but Foderingham won’t be beaten from there. He’s had a good game, but let down by his defenders for both the goals.

88 min: Basham blazes wide. Blades really don’t seem to be able to hit the target.

87 min: Gibbs-White gets to the final defender, only for Cook to step in and then set up a counter, and off goes Djed Spence, who smashes into the side-netting. Forest want a third, they are not settling for 2-0.

85 min: Blades look a little short of ideas, and perhaps need to keep the score down. Johnson is still causing problems, Forest have by far the better attacking options. Johnson runs 40 yards with the ball then Lolley falls over, somewhat inexplicably, in the penalty box. No penalty.

83 min: Davis finds space, then releases Yates, whose shoulder is holding up, but he slips as he shapes to shoot.

82 min: Blades change - Ben Osborn off, and the forward, Daniel Jebbison, is on.

80 min: Two men down for Forest. Yates’s shoulder looks done in, while Djed Spence looks to have cramped up. They both get back up, though look in some pain.

78 min: Stuart McCall, a man whose hairstyle hasn’t changed since 1987 - lucky man - looks on with Paul Heckingbottom, as they try to plot a Blades way back into this game. McCall is probably speaking in his Yorkshire rather than Scots accent.

77 min: Forest change: Sam Surridge off, Keinan Davis on. That’s a bad sign for Blades.

75 min: Ryan Yates, patched up for this game, is holding his shoulder and James Garner looks to be carrying a knock. A reminder that Forest are still 180 minutes off from the promised land after the final whistle here.

74 min: Steve Cook, such an experienced player, clears the danger once more. Forest’s back three have been excellent.

72 min: Sheffield United have played very well in this half and yet they fall further behind. Forest’s greater speed and hustle at the front has made the difference. Joe Lolley, just on as a sub, was the player who hassled Egan into making that error.

Goal! Sheffield United 0-2 Nottingham Forest (Johnson, 71)

Another Blades error sets up a Forest goal. John Egan gets caught on the ball, and it slips to Brennan Johnson, who keeps his cool and roofs the ball into the net.

Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson (centre) celebrates scoring their side’s second goal of the game with team-mates.
Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson (centre) celebrates scoring their side’s second goal of the game with team-mates. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

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69 min: Those subs are made: Zinckernagel off for Lolley for Forest. And Norwood off for Blades, and Baldock on, pushing Ben Osborn up to the midfield.

68 min: Joe Lolley is imminent for Forest, with Zinckernagel to come off. George Baldock is coming on for Blades. Forest get on the attack, with Johnson having the ball cleared away by Stevens and behind for a corner.

66 min: John Fleck tries a free-kick routine with Norwood, that Forest read but the ball still comes back in, and Cook has to clear. Then Robinson fires wide. Getting closer, the Blades.

64 min: Samba has to paw the ball away as it’s launched into the Forest box. Looks like Steve Cooper is going to make a Forest change. His team is coming under all sorts of pressure. Coops looks a bit worried.

62 min: Anyway, it’s all Blades, but they are yet to force a proper chance. Ollie Norwood is conducting traffic in his usual way. Gibbs-White’s flick is deflected away as Forest begin to defend deeper and deeper. Blades force a corner.

60 min: On the Sky TV broadcast, they have just shown a Mark Labbett, a “Blades fan and TV celebrity”. I wondered who on Earth that was, feeling like a High Court judge for a moment then realised that’s The Beast off The Chase. Phew. How do you do, fellow kids?

59 min: More Blades pushing, with Gibbs-White launching a shot that is little problem for Samba. Then, in a return to the pattern of the first half, Djed Spence sets off and forces a corner for Forest. It’s a corner wasted because the ball spins out of play.

Updated

57 min: Forest a little more circumspect here. Or just waiting for the counterattack? It’s a bit of both, probably.

55 min: Good football from Blades, and Gibbs-White sets up Berge, who whacks wide. Better from the home team. Sheffield United are, let us recall, missing most of their attacking line-up, and Paul Heckingbottom has needed to improvise.

53 min: Worrall has a shot blocked and that sets off a Blades attack and Worrall himself hurtles back to clear the danger in robbing Gibbs-White. Oliver Norwood is meanwhile booked for smashing over Jack Colback.

51 min: Joe Pearson is back: “Zinkernagel is on loan from Watford. So, even if Forest get promoted, he probably ends up back in the Championship? Sucks to be him.”

49 min: More Blades attacking as Steve Cook comes across to deny Chris Basham. Forest have defended well while also looking a bit nervous with it.

47 min: Blades start with a head of steam, as if they have had a good pinch of, er, snuff. Enda Stevens almost getting on the end of a Norwood ball. The problem is that Forest set off on another of those wildcat counters and John Egan has to hurry back to clear the danger.

46 min: John Denver and Annie’s Song sends us back underway.

You fill up my senses,

Like a gallon of Magnet,

Like a packet of Woodbines,

Like a good pinch of snuff,

Like a night out in Sheffield,

Like a greasy chip butty,

Like Sheffield United,

Come fill me again

Na na na na na...Ooooohh!

Ok, a correction, though one I was prepared for, and thanks to Stephen Gibb and Andrew Bartlett for setting me straight. There WILL be VAR at the playoff final at Wembley. That will clear everything up, then...

From the BBC:

VAR will be introduced for the 2021-22 Championship play-off final at Wembley for the first time, the English Football League has confirmed.

Meanwhile, the league say “discussions remain ongoing” over the use of VAR in the League One and League Two finals.

Half-time: Sheffield United 0-1 Nottingham Forest

Jack Colback’s goal the difference but it could have been many, many more. Forest had chance after chance and their goal only came when Ben Osborn slipped and Colback could not miss on Forest’s second bite of the cherry. It’s nervy, it’s dirty, it’s the playoffs.

45+2 min: Blades concentrating on getting to half-time by defending in numbers. Going in only a goal down would be not a bad outcome.

45 min: The Bramall Lane PA announcer is feeding back like the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Taste The Floor but we are told it’s three more minutes of this half.

44 min: Hello, it’s going off. Jack Robinson of Blades and Djed Spence of Forest get in a tangle, both are booked for leaving their boots where they needn’t be. Quite a few yellows stacking up now.

42 min: Forest have Blades pinned back but Gibbs-White tries to get away, and he’s brought down by Zinckernagel, who takes the booking for a tactical foul.

40 min: Foderingham keeping Blades in this, making a fine save from Spence. What a game he’s had. On the sidelines, Steve Cooper’s eyes are even wider than normal - this may yet be a choke in the offing. Forest could be as many as four goals up.

39 min: Joe Pearson again: “Since the playoff final will be at Wembley, will they use VAR?”

Believe the answer is no but prepared to be corrected on that.

38 min: Johnson, released by Zinckernagel and Surridge, on another of those Forest breaks. Foderingham is beaten but so is the post. Forest piling up the chances.

Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson rues a missed chance.
Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson rues a missed chance. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

Updated

36 min: Ryan Yates - big miss - it came from Worrall’s great ball, and that should have been 2-0 to Forest. That’s the nerves. Forest keep making chances on the break but they will know they have to score one soon.

35 min: Norwood takes the resultant free-kick and blams it into the wall, and Johnson breaks away, scuttles on to a Colback pass. Foderingham saves at the angle, for a Forest corner.

Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson sees his shot saved by Sheffield United goalkeeper Wes Foderingham.
Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson sees his shot saved by Sheffield United goalkeeper Wes Foderingham. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

Updated

33 min: Joe Worrall is booked now, the captain on a knife edge after smashing down Ndiaye.

31 min: James Garner pulls out of a tackle that would have nobbled Enda Stevens, so all’s well that ends well, though there’s a tinderbox waiting to be lit.

29 min: John Fleck is booked, for clattering Zinckernagel, and in the Premier League with VAR, that might well have been a red. Fleck did, admittedly, lose his footing.

Sheffield United’s John Fleck slips and clatters into Nottingham Forest’s Philip Zinckernagel and ends up in the ref’s book.
Sheffield United’s John Fleck slips and clatters into Nottingham Forest’s Philip Zinckernagel and ends up in the ref’s book. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA

Updated

28 min: Long throw incoming, as Robinson launches one to the back post. Egan the target, but Colback gets it clear.

26 min: A sense of calm descending? Probably not for long. Sheffield United are taking their time over set pieces. A long ball up to Gibbs-White finds the forward in space but his cross goes into the arms of Samba.

24 min: A small break in play as Enda Stevens takes a knock but he’s soon enough back up and demanding the ball.

22 min: Fleck has to step back and clear the danger as Blades push on and on. At the other end, Forest carve another chance - many are going begging - and Steve Cooper’s mouth is open, aghast. Zinckernagel, from memory, is the player who coughed up a big chance in the FA Cup against Liverpool. He’s clearly good at getting in positions, less good at taking them.

20 min: Joe Pearson gets in touch: “ Those Forest kits are something! Woof!” Yes, very acieed house.

19 min: Forest go back on the attack. Breathless stuff. Foderingham has to come to claim a Zinckernagel shot, then Blades go back up the other end. What a game already. Another goal goes in, and madness may ensue.

18 min: Off the line - John Egan climbs up from a corner and Surridge is back there to clear. This game had already taken off.

Sam Surridge of Nottingham Forest heads off the line from John Egan of Sheffield United.
Sam Surridge of Nottingham Forest heads off the line from John Egan of Sheffield United. Photograph: Paul Currie/Colorsport/Shutterstock

Updated

17 min: Basham picks out Berger, escaping beyond the Forest defence but the danger is cleared. The Norwegian wasn’t quite sure what to do once he got there.

15 min: Blades force a corner. Forest have looked a tad ragged since the goal. That must be the tension.

13 min: Good reaction from the Blades crowd to that early setback, though they have been dealt a cruel blow.

11 min: Those slips that cost so much money we mentioned in the preambles - well, we just saw one from Ben Osborn, who lost his footing, and that set up a queue of chances for Forest. Nothing Foderingham in the Blades goal could do once he made the first save.

Goal! Sheffield United 0-1 Nottingham Forest (Colback, 10)

Forest open up Blades, as there’s a slip in the box to let in Zinckernagel, who somehow misses the chance. No matter, up steps Colback on the rebound. Advantage to the Tricky Trees.

Nottingham Forest’s Jack Colback lashes the ball home to open the scoring.
Nottingham Forest’s Jack Colback lashes the ball home to open the scoring. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Images/Reuters
Nottingham Forest’s Jack Colback (centre) celebrates scoring their side’s first goal of the game with team-mates.
Colback (centre) celebrates with his team-mates. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA

Updated

9 min: Forest give away a free-kick, and Ollie Norwood - as ever - will take it for Blades. There’s a claim that Berger was bundled over in the box, but no dice. Not sure why: Garner was all over the Norwegian. No VAR - lucky for Forest. That was an act of manhandling.

Updated

8 min: Forest keep looking for the out-ball to Johnson while Blades are trying to hit Morgan Gibbs-White, who is up against three huge defenders. Zinckernagel makes a mistake and Forest only just get the ball clear.

7 min: Blades back on the offensive but Sander Berger’s ball fails to send Ben Osborn away.

5 min: Ooof. Great defending by Blades’ Basham as Brennan Johnson escapes down the flank, and his cross is scrambled clear after a fine ball by Worrall. Sam Surridge was lurking and had the interception been missed he was set fair to score.

4 min: Blades the brighter, with Samba claiming the ball after an attack down the left flank of the Forest defence.

3 min: It’s very bright sunshine at Bramall Lane, and the opening to the game is a little tepid. It’s loud off the field at a stadium the noise rattles around. An early corner to Blades is cleared by Spence. John Egan’s header was blocked.

1 min: And away we go....Blades bid to return after a year away from the Premier League, and for Nottingham Forest it’s as long as 1999.

There’s something about these playoff games, where every move has a pricetag attached to it, and the TV commentators rattle with portents of what it all might mean. It’s an existential crisis played out on a football pitch. This means more? In this case it very probably does.

At a sunny Bramall Lane, both Paul Heckingbottom and Steve Cooper, the two managers, have been talking.

SC: [On Keinan Davis]: “With him being on the bench it means he can contribute. If we need the boys from the bench we know we have options. We want to win, I go into every challenge waning to win. We know it’s a bit different. It’s a different context, and of course we want to win. “

PH: “We’ve shown great character to come through. This week’s been very similar to last with no midweek games, and it’s allowed us to prepare.”

Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest players line up ahead of kick-off.
Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest players line up ahead of kick-off. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA

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Our resident Blade remembers this fixture very fondly indeed.

Updated

Barry Glendenning previewed this meeting of the playoff hopeless.

Sheffield United are unchanged from the team that walloped Fulham 4-0 on the final day of the regular season, while Steve Cooper has almost completely shuffled his pack from the match with Hull. Steve Cook returns to the team, as does Jack Colback comes at left wing-back, with Djed Spence on the right. Ryan Yates will partner James Garner in the centre of midfield. Keinan Davis is named on the bench, the hope is he will be it for Wembley.

Sheffield United fans make their way to the Bramall Lane.
Sheffield United fans make their way to the Bramall Lane. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Updated

Here are the teams

Sheffield United: Foderingham, Basham, Egan, Robinson, Osborn, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens, Berge, Gibbs-White, Ndiaye. Subs: A Davies, B Davies, Baldock, Hourihane, Osula, Norrington-Davies, Jebbison.

Nottingham Forest: Samba, Worrall, Cook, McKenna, Spence, Yates, Garner, Colback, Zinckernagel, Surridge, Johnson. Subs: Horvath, Figeueiredo, Davis, Laryea, Mighten, Cafu, Lolley.

Updated

Preamble

Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, Arthur Seaton, Sean Bean, Deep Purple sticksman Ian Paice, Joe Root, DH Lawrence, just a few names who will be watching on in this playoff game between two clubs who bloody hate the playoffs. Forest have never won a playoff tie, while Blades have played in eight playoff campaigns and been successful in none of them. Forest finished fourth after 46 games of the regular season while Blades finished fifth. The sense was that Forest, under Steve Cooper, left their revival too late after changing their manager in September, but the same is also true of Paul Heckingbottom, who replaced Slavisa Jokanovic as late as November at Bramall Lane. To get to Wembley and the £170m game, they have to get their teams through these 180 minutes over two legs. This is massive.

Join me, kick-off is at 3pm UK time.