Nottingham Forest are through to the Championship play-off final after a dramatic ending to their two-leg challenge to beat Sheffield United to a trip to Wembley and potential promotion back into the Premier League for the first time in 23 years.
Steve Cooper’s side went all the way to penalties in a rollercoaster clash that saw Forest go 2-1 down (3-3 on aggregate) after 120 minutes, and the manager will surely be delighted that his team didn’t crumble under pressure.
Despite taking the victory at Bramall Lane in the first leg, the hosts struggled in open play throughout the game with less possession (48%), fewer shots on target and fewer big chances compared to their opponents who were desperate to deliver a response after a defeat at their home ground in the first half of the tie.
Brennan Johnson gave his team the lead early into the game with a 19th-minute strike at The City Ground to give supporters something to believe in, but in the second half of the game Sheffield United came out to prove a point and they put on a phenomenal display to get themselves back into the game.
Morgan Gibbs-White found the back of the net shortly after the second half kicked off, putting one past Brice Samba to even the scoreline and it didn’t end there because John Fleck kept United’s dream alive by scoring a second in the 75th minute to push Forest into extra time.
Neither team were able to find a goal in the added 30 minutes to seal the victory and as a result, a penalty shoot-out was the only way to determine a winner after an exhausting challenge for both sides.
Samba stepped up when it mattered most to give Nottingham Forest the golden opportunity to push for promotion, saving three Sheffield United penalties to send his team to North-West London with only one game against Huddersfield Town standing in the way of Forest securing a spot in the Premier League after over two decades away from the top-flight.
One player who was Cooper’s unsung hero in the second leg of the semi-final was Steve Cook who scored the winning penalty that has destroyed Paul Heckingbottom’s dreams of promotion for another season.
Cook was hailed “unbelievable” by journalist Callum Castel-Nuovo and for good reason as it wasn’t just his winning penalty that stood out on Tuesday evening, with the 31-year-old putting on a defensive performance that oozed resilience, influencing the team to take the game as far as they needed to secure their win.
According to SofaScore, the defender won 12 of his aerial and ground duels combined, making six clearances, two interceptions and two tackles, as well as completing 100% of his dribbles, proving that he was a solid presence in the Forest back-line and committed himself to getting the job done.
Cooper will now look ahead to their difficult final game of the season with Huddersfield Town and the occasion could be an overwhelming achievement for the manager if they win. it could be the ultimate fairytale for Forest who were at the bottom of the Championship table before he arrived in September.