Could Nottingham Forest Rue Missed Chances After Late Sheffield United Goal?

Forest secured a 2-1 win at Bramall Lane, but they should have been out of sight
17:03, 14 May 2022

Nottingham Forest have taken the first step towards the Championship play-off final after an impressive 2-1 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. Goals from Jack Colback and Brennan Johnson were enough to give Steve Cooper’s side a healthy advantage, but it could have been so much more comfortable, as Sander Berge headed home in added time. 

Forest will take a one goal advantage heading into the second leg at the City Ground, but in truth this tie should already be over.  Play-off semi finals are traditionally tense and close affairs. Teams that have been separated by a handful of points face off and put it all on the line for a place at Wembley. So when Forest pummelled their hosts into submission over a frantic first half, it was clear they hadn’t read the script. 

Having said that, the Blades have one of the worst play-off records in the Football League which has seen them fail at eight attempts out of eight. Their most recent failure came after a thrilling 5-5 draw with Swindon Town in 2015, and now it looks as if this could be their ninth brutal end to a season. 

Ten minutes in, Forest made a perfect start. Joe Worral played the ball into Sam Surridge who played the ball across the box and Ben Osborn slipped at a crucial moment as Phillip Zinckernagel saw his effort stopped by Wes Foderingham, but Jack Colback was there to fire home the rebound. 

John Egan header from a corner cleared off the line by Surridge as the hosts hunted for an equaliser while Forest, with their front three of Brennan Johnson, Surridge and Zinckernagel, were causing all sorts of issues. Surridge himself should have doubled their lead but didn’t get hold of a close range effort.

As they have so many times this season, Forest used their vicious counter-attack to trouble the opposition. Ryan Yates should have scored with a header from eight yards out before Johnson pulled an effort wide. 

Foedringham then denied Surridge and Johnson’s follow up header to somehow keep the Blades in the tie but Bramall Lane was a nervous wreck as they limped towards half-time. They made it, just, but the half-time statistics reflected Steve Cooper’s sides’ dominance. 

The visitors had nine shots, six of them on target while Sheffield United mustered just one effort on goal, despite boasting more possession. The tie should have been over by the time Paul Heckingbottom got the chance to rip the paint off the walls in the home dressing room. 

Whatever the manager said at half-time had some impact as the Blades sharpened up after the break. Sander Berge fired over and Forest simply could not get out of their own half as United pinned them back. Despite this constant pressure, there weren’t too many clear cut opportunities for the Blades to carve out. 

Then, as Forest recovered, they landed a decisive blow. Substitute Joe Lolley, just moments after coming on, nicked the ball off John Egan, and his deflected shot fell into the path of Johnson, who placed the ball into the top corner. If he showed immense composure with that finish, his dad in the away end was anything but composed, as he celebrated wildly with his fellow supporters. 

This is where Steve Cooper has earned his crust with Forest’s turnaround. His substitute slowed the pace of the game down and allowed the away side to regroup, before Lolley made a major impact on the pitch. 

Spence and Johnson combined again and the latter would have made it three, but for a wonderful block from Egan. He may have been at fault for the second, but he certainly prevented the tie from being completely dead in the water late on. Then, that lingering hope turned to genuine belief as they stole a goal from nowhere. 

An in-swinging corner wasn’t dealt with and Berge rose highest to nod the ball into the net. Sheffield United didn’t deserve anything from this tie, but somehow they are still in it after that late goal. Forest will be delighted with the win, but they will be regretting those missed opportunities on the coach back to Nottingham. 

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