Nottingham Forest are in control of their Championship playoff semi-final with Sheffield United after goals from Jack Colback and Brennan Johnson gave them a deserved lead heading into Tuesday’s return leg at the City Ground.
Forest, who narrowly missed out on automatic promotion in the final week of the Championship season, are now favourites to reach the final at Wembley later this month after deservedly beating the hosts here, though a late goal credited to Sander Berge means the second leg is no formality. Forest will perhaps be wondering how they are not even further ahead at the halfway stage of this tie.
The visitors had a litany of chances throughout the course of a pulsating encounter but could only convert two, and Berge’s stoppage-time goal means the tie is still firmly in the balance. Sheffield United have never won a playoff campaign in eight attempts, and they still face an uphill task to keep their hopes of an instant return to the Premier League alive.
They were much improved after half-time here, having been dominated by Forest in the first half, but ultimately were left to rue individual errors from Ben Osborn and John Egan which directly led to Forest’s two goals.
Steve Cooper’s side were exceptional in a one-sided first half at Bramall Lane. They led when Colback fired home from close-range after Philip Zinckernagel was denied by Wes Foderingham following a slip in the area from Osborn. However, they could and perhaps should have been further ahead by the interval with a litany of chances coming their way.
Foderingham produced a wonderful point-blank save to deny Sam Surridge, Ryan Yates headed wide from six yards out before Foderingham made another double save which prevented both Johnson and Surridge from making it 2-0 before the break as the pressure intensified on Paul Heckingbottom’s side.
However, despite the hosts returning from half-time much the better of the two sides, they were unable to make any of their initial pressure count. And as the game entered the final quarter, Forest struck a potentially decisive blow as Egan dallied with the ball on halfway, allowing Joe Lolley to go through on goal.
His shot was blocked by John Fleck but only into the path of Johnson, who cooly converted past Foderingham to put Forest in control of the tie. However, Sheffield United scrambled home a corner in injury time to halve their deficit ahead of the second leg in Nottingham.