Ander Berge has ensured Sheffield United will travel with something at least to the City Ground when they face Nottingham Forest in the Championship play-off semi-final second leg on Tuesday.
Jack Colback and Brennan Johnson had given Steve Cooper’s side a two-goal lead and were on the verge of a trip to Wembley before the Norway international responded late in injury time.
A raucous atmosphere greeted both groups of players on the pitch as Blades sought a return to the top flight after two years, while Forest sought to end their 23-year absence.
Forest opened the scoring in the 10th minute through Colback’s rebounding effort with their first foray into the opposition half.
The Reds could have been further ahead had it not been for Wes Foderingham in the net for the Blades, who denied clear efforts by Sam Surridge and Johnson to keep it 1-0 before the break.
By contrast, Forest’s attacks were few and far between in the second half but Joe Lolley capitalized on a defensive error to help Johnson make it two, but Blades responded late to give them a glimmer of hope ahead of the second leg with a Berg’s head. .
The opener came when Joe Worrall sent Surridge running downfield, his ball squared off the signature line found Philip Zinckernagel aided by a slide from Ben Osborn. His initial effort was brilliantly saved by Foderingham before Colback hung on to the rebound and finished from close range, which caused confusion among the traveling Reds supporters.
Minutes later, the Blades nearly responded when a corner from the right found John Egan’s header, but his header into goal was cleared off the line by Surridge to hold Forest’s lead.
Neither team fell victim to a stereotypical cautious approach to a two-legged play-off.
Frustration began to build around Bramall Lane and the visitors came close to a second when a neat link-up play found Zinckernagel with the ball at his feet before picking Surridge up in acres of space just 10 yards out, but he could direct his fire only at Foderingham. .
Reds boss Steve Cooper must have wondered how his side was just a goal for good, this time Manchester United loanee James Garner picked Jerry Yates free from eight yards but he threw a close look at the far post.
The hosts had keeper Foderingham to thank for not going into the break more than a goal when he saved Surridge’s close-range effort well before getting up well to deny Johnson on the follow-up.
The second half started in the same end-to-end fashion as presented in the first half.
The Blades responded to Paul Heckingbottom’s words at the break and forced a few chances when Morgan Gibbs-White touched down Sander Berge but he fired from inside the box and Gibbs-White curled an effort straight into the shot. Brice Samba moments later.
With second-half chances scarce for the visitors, they finally doubled their advantage in the 71st minute to calm the nerves to pay for their flurry of missed chances before the break.
Lolley’s first contribution after coming off the bench was to dispossess Egan on the last line of defense before coming face to face with Johnson who finished emphatically in the top right corner.
United scored a goal in the stoppage-time tie when Berge nodded into an empty net after goalkeeper Samba found himself in no man’s land not for the first time in the competition to set up a thriller returning to the City Ground on Tuesday.
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