Nottingham Forest will vie with Huddersfield Town for a place in the Premier League after beating Sheffield United on penalties following two enthralling legs in the Championship playoff semifinals.
Brice Samba saved three penalties in the shootout after the tie ended 3-3 on aggregate. Forest emerged from the opening match with a 2-1 advantage before the Blades won by the same scoreline at the City Ground.
Brennan Johnson scored to engineer a two-goal advantage in a tempestuous first half before Morgan Gibbs-White rocked Forest with a finish early in the second period.
Just when Forest seemed to have weathered the storm, Sam Baldock’s determined run and cross set up a John Fleck tap-in. The teams fought hard and pushed for a game-winning goal until the referee’s whistle indicated extra time was required.
Sheffield United almost made it 4-3 on aggregate near the end of the additional 30 minutes, but Samba’s outstretched left foot somehow denied Iliman Ndiaye from point-blank range.
Samba was then the hero in the shootout, saving efforts from Oliver Norwood, Conor Hourihane, and Gibbs-White. Joe Lolley, who blazed his penalty over the bar, was the only Forest player to fail with his attempt as the hosts won 3-2 on spot-kicks.
The playoff final is regularly dubbed the richest game in football. Success in the showpiece on May 29 is worth in excess of £170 million due to the increased revenue streams on offer in England’s top flight, according to The Athletic’s Richard Sutcliffe.
Forest, two-time European Cup champions and winners of seven major domestic honors, haven’t been in the Premier League since 1999. They’re now one match away from a spot in the first tier despite suffering their worst start to a season since 1913 before Steve Cooper replaced Chris Hughton in the dugout.
Since Cooper took over in September, Forest collected a league-best 76 points to pull themselves into promotion contention.
Huddersfield overcame Luton Town 2-1 on aggregate in the other semifinal.
Forest and Huddersfield took three points apiece in their league meetings this season. Huddersfield won the last head-to-head 1-0 at the City Ground in December, while Forest beat their Wembley opponents 2-0 in Steven Reid’s solitary match as caretaker manager earlier in the campaign.