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The 'tasty triumvirate' Nottingham Forest must be wary of in Sheffield United showdown

By Sarah Clapson

After a week of waiting, the play-offs begin for Nottingham Forest on Saturday as they head to Bramall Lane for the first leg of their semi-final against Sheffield United.

It promises to be an enthralling - and nerve-wracking - encounter as the two teams go head-to-head, with the return fixture to come at the City Ground next Tuesday night. At stake across the two ties is a trip to Wembley for a shot at promotion to the Premier League.

Steve Cooper’s Reds are out to end an absence of more than two decades from the top-flight, while their opponents want to make an immediate return after last season’s relegation. Ahead of this weekend, we got the lowdown on the Blades from YorkshireLive’s Sheffield United correspondent Nathan Hemmingham.

Read more: Brennan Johnson explains story behind Forest goal celebrations

Read more: Riverside views and St Andrew's sadness mark out best and worst Forest away days

What's the latest on the injury front? How's the United squad looking?

United are expected to field a similar side to the one that faced Fulham last time out. All those players left on the treatment table have been ones with season-ending injuries.

The only one we don't have any timeframe on is Billy Sharp. He suffered a calf tear in the week leading up to the QPR fixture.

The club and player are doing all they can to try to recover, but he's not expected to be back for this fixture. The best-case scenario for him is that United get to the final and he therefore has a few more weeks to try to be ready.

What's the general mood around the club ahead of the play-offs?

It’s a good one. Very similar to Forest under Cooper, United were way off the pace when Paul Heckingbottom was appointed, but they stormed up the table, played some wonderful stuff and secured a number of big results and delivered some impressive performances.

Scoring goals, keeping clean sheets and to finish fifth after being 16th when Heckingbottom came in is a fantastic achievement. Everyone is looking forward to these next two games.

How much can be read into that final day 4-0 thumping of Fulham?

I think a lot. People may talk about Fulham being in party mode, but the way they started the game shows you they weren't. They were the better team up until United opened the scoring, and that gave everyone a huge boost.

But more importantly, United have lost every senior striker to injury, with all four (David McGoldrick, Rhian Brewster, Oli McBurnie and Sharp) out. They've had to find a new way of winning, and the way Morgan Gibbs-White and Iliman Ndiaye have played at the top end has been really encouraging. Both have been more of a number 10 this season but they have scored, assisted and linked up well with attacking midfielder Sander Berge.

That triumvirate looked really tasty against Fulham. The visitors couldn't cope with the movement from those three and that has seen optimism rise ahead of this one. It was a really impressive victory.

The season ended with three wins in a row, so is that a sign of United finding top form?

I know they say form doesn't count in the play-offs, and there is an argument for that, but due to the point mentioned above about striker injuries, the way United are winning and the combination of that forward play now has to give everyone confidence going into this one. Those last three games have shown they are a match for any team, and the way that forward line played against Fulham there was no defence coping with that in this league. Before those last three matches United had been hanging on in the play-off picture, but to finish the way they did was really impressive and that has seen a natural lift about the place.

What will be United's approach over the two legs, particularly with the second one being at the City Ground?

United's home form has been superb under Heckingbottom - just one defeat. They have been really strong at Bramall Lane and blown some good teams away - putting four past Fulham, Middlesbrough and Swansea. They beat Blackburn and drew with Forest and Bournemouth under Heckingbottom, so they have had a big-game mentality and done well in these matches.

They have not been too good away from home recently and that QPR win - owed much to an excellent second half - was their only win in their last seven on the road. With the way they have played here, I would expect United to go for the win at home and try to use that home advantage, then look to protect that away in the second leg.

I can't see United looking to ensure they 'keep the tie alive' by being cagey or anything like that. I expect them to be looking at nothing else but a win and going all out for that win to take to the City Ground.

How are you feeling ahead of the play-offs? Have your say in the comments below

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