Nottingham Forest gained the advantage in their Championship play-off semi-final with Sheffield United by winning 2-1 at Bramall Lane – but a late goal Jack Robinson kept the Blades’ hopes alive.
Forest bounced back from their disappointing defeat to Bournemouth with a top performance in South Yorkshire, although Paul Heckingbottom’s side are still in the tie after scoring in injury time. The result perfectly sets up the second leg at the City Ground on Tuesday night.
Sheffield United were given a warning just five minutes in when Brennan Johnson got in behind the Blades defence. The Welshman put in a dangerous cross but Chris Basham – who was recently given a two-year contract extension by United – was there to clear at the back post.
Heckingbottom’s men didn’t learn their lesson though and Nottingham Forest went 1-0 up in the 10th minute. Sam Surridge got to the byline and pulled the ball back for Philip Zinckernagel, who benefitted from former Forest star Ben Osborn slipping at the crucial moment. Wes Foderingham, United’s best player in the first half, saved Zinckernagel’s shot – but Jack Colback was there to finish from the rebound.
John Egan had the home side’s best chance of the first half in the 18th minute. He towered above his marker from a corner to head at goal. Forest goalkeeper Brice Samba was nowhere to be seen and was lucky to have Surridge head off the goal line.
Forest began to carve the United defence open with regularity and Surridge should have doubled the visitors’ lead when shooting from inside the box. But once again Foderingham was there to keep United in the match.
John Fleck then slipped going into a challenge and tackled with two feet as a result. The Forest players protested for a red card but referee Andre Marriner gave Fleck a yellow.
Reds midfielder Ryan Yates should have scored in the 36th minute when heading from a James Garner cross, although he could only steer the effort wide.
After Johnson dragged a low drive just past the post, Foderingham pulled off a brilliant double save to prevent Surridge, and then Johnson, from scoring.
United had more control in the early part of the second half, and their first chance after the break fell to Sander Berge. Following some nice work down the right flank, Morgan Gibbs-White played into Berge’s path. The Norwegian raced into the box and searched for the top corner but failed to hit the target with his shot.
United began to dominate proceedings as they stepped up their hunt for an equaliser. Forest had to soak up the pressure and defend deep in their half.
Both managers made changes in the 69th minute. Zinckernagel was replaced by Joe Lolley for Forest, while George Baldock came on for Ollie Norwood. The latter change saw Heckingbottom move Osborn up into midfield from right wing-back.
Despite growing into the match, the Blades went 2-0 down in the 71st minute. United skipper John Egan was too slow in possession and Lolley pinched from him before firing at goal. Fleck did brilliantly to block his effort but the ball fell into Johnson’s path and he dispatched into the top corner.
Forest fans then applauded striker Keinan Davis onto the pitch as he replaced Surridge up front.
After his earlier mistake, Egan did brilliantly to block a Johnson shot after Djed Spance had pulled the ball back into a dangerous area.
Heckingbottom went back to his bench in the 82nd minute, bringing on attacker Daniel Jebbison for Osborn, with United hunting for a route back into the game.
And they got it in stoppage time when Forest failed to deal with a corner, allowing Robinson to head into the net from close range.
United were beaten at home, but after so many missed chances for the visitors and such a late goal, it may be Cooper and co who are more frustrated.
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