Nottingham Forest 1 Sheffield United 2: Blades crash out of play-offs after penalty shoot-out
Trailing from the first leg, the Blades gave their hosts a head-start on the night, only to take the game to penalties.
Ultimately, though, Forest goalkeeper Brice Samba would be the hero and the Blades were found just short.
The goalkeeper made a huge save at 0-0 on the night and an even bigger one minutes before the end of extra-time, then saved spot-kicks from Oliver Norwood, Conor Hourihane and Morgan Gibbs-White to send his side through 3-2 on penalties after a 3-3 draw over 120 minutes.
It was cruel on the Blades as shoot-outs always are on the losers, after fighting back so valiantly when the tie looked lost, but Forest are going to a play-off final for the first time in their storied history and will do so as favourites.
Huddersfield will like that. Winning when you are expected to is not always as easy as it might seem, as Forest found out in a pulsating game.
It looked like Samba might have done enough to win it just 13 minutes in, but play-offs are rarely that straight-forward.
The City Ground was hugely pumped up, a huge “And We Will Conquer Still” banner unrolled from the Trent End as the teams walked into a deafening atmosphere.
Jack Robinson got dog’s abuse courtesy of his pre-match comments about Forest over-celebrating prematurely but the hullaballoo seemed to help the visitors more.
Robinson rattled into tackles and launched his long throws with gusto, and rather than trying to dampen the atmosphere in the pouring rain, United went at Forest.
John Egan headed wide from a Robinson throw before the latter thumped into a tackle so meaty, it doubled as a pass more than half the width of the field.
In the 13th minute Gibbs-White, regularly dropping off to look for the ball, combined brilliantly with Rhys Norrington-Davies. Gibbs-White picked out Iliman Ndiaye, whose goals were so important in putting his team into the play-offs but Brice saved.
Your mind could not help but flick to the absent former Forest loanee Billy Sharp.
It took seven minutes for his punishment to be served up, but it was brutal, Scott McKenna playing the ball down the left to Sam Surridge, whose cross was smashed in by Brennan Johnson, who ran behind Robinson.
He was only the second person to score for Forest in both legs of a play-off semi-final. The other, his dad David, celebrated in the stands.
The game had turned and the Blades were losing their rag.
Frustrated at the time Forest were taking over throw-ins, Paul Heckingbottom gave the ball to Djed Spence with interest, slamming it into his midriff. The on-loan Middlesbrough wing-back just grinned, knowing it was a little victory but Johnson was less forgiving, running into Heckingbottom before Robinson ran into him, prompting a full-on melee involving just about everyone. Heckingbottom was booked.
If it looked like the game was up for the Blades, they came roaring out after the break.
They needed just two minutes to get a goal back, the previously anonymous Sander Berge picking up a second ball driving to the byline and pulling the ball back for Gibbs-White’s first-time finish.
Just when it seemed Forest had weathered the storm, Robinson heading off target at two corners, John Fleck levelled the tie on aggregate. Huge credit was due to Ndiaye, winning the ball after Berge’s heavy touch and releasing Baldock to chop inside then cut outside his man before picking out Fleck.
Keinan Davis’s introduction from the bench gave the Blades plenty to think about in the final 15 minutes of normal time. The Blades did not use a substitute until the 109th minute, bringing on two.
The 89th minute summed it up, Chris Basham robbing Joe Lolley with a block tackle and carrying the ball deep into Forest territory, only for the move to break down and the hosts to counter, but then they lost the ball and the move see-sawed again.
Norwood kicked off extra-time with a shot and Samba finished it with an outstanding save, stretching out a right boot to deny Gibbs-White.
Only Berge and Ndiaye beat him from 12 yards.
Nottingham Forest: Samba; Worrall, S Cook, McKenna; Spence, Yates, Garner, Colback; Zinckernagel, (Lolley 70); Johnson, Surridge, (Davis 75). Unused substitutes: Horvath, Figueiredo, Laryea, Mighten, Ribeiro.
Sheffield United: Foderingham; Basham, Egan, Robinson; Baldock (Osborn 109), Berge, Norwood, Fleck (Hourihane 109), Norrington-Davies; Gibbs-White; Ndiaye. Unused substitutes: A Davies, B Davies, Uremovic, Jebbison, Osula.
Referee: M Oliver (Ashington).