What the papers say: Sheffield United 1-2 Nottingham Forest

Advantage Nottingham Forest in the first leg of the Championship play-off semi-final with Sheffield United, as the Reds beat the Blades 2-1 at Bramall Lane. Here’s what the national newspapers had to say

The Guardian

It had been almost a perfect afternoon in the sunshine for Cooper and Forest prior to that, with their biggest gripe how they weren’t further ahead in the tie after goals from Jack Colback and Brennan Johnson gave them a 2-0 lead. Their front three of Sam Surridge, Johnson and Philip Zinckernagel terrorised Sheffield United all afternoon and for a stage of the season which is supposed to be riddled with tension, Forest played with the kind of effervescence and attacking freedom which has got them to this point.


The Times

[Nottingham Forest’s] chances in the first half almost ran into double figures — and a handful of them were gilt-edged — but they managed to convert only one, in the 10th minute through Jack Colback. Joe Worrall’s lofted pass put pressure on John Egan who let Sam Surridge cross the ball from the dead ball line. Crucially Ben Osborn then slipped as he was about to clear the ball and while Wes Foderingham beat away Philip Zinckernagel’s effort, Colback was following up the guide the ball into the net.

Egan attempted to make amends a few minutes later but his header from John Fleck’s corner was cleared off the line by Surridge.

United continued to throw bodies forward looking for an equaliser, but they were disjointed and second to most tackles, which gave Forest plenty of opportunities on the break. Every time Forest worked the ball into the United half, they had acres of space and time to pick out teammates in the box, who should have helped themselves to a glut of goals. Instead, there were a series of misses and some good saves from Foderingham.


The Independent

Neither side fell victim of taking a stereotypical cautious approach to a two-legged play-off tie.

Frustration began to grow around Bramall Lane and the visitors came close to a second when some neat link-up play found Zinckernagel with the ball at his feet before picking out Surridge, in acres of space just 10 yards out, but he could only direct his shot at Foderingham.

Reds boss Steve Cooper must have been wondering how his side were only a goal to the good after Manchester United loanee James Garner picked out an unmarked Ryan Yates, who glanced narrowly wide of the far post from eight yards.


The Telegraph

Forest’s own history in this end of season scramble has proved forgettable in the past, losing their four previous semi-finals which included one against United in 2003.

In truth this could have been more comfortable, with at least four good chances wasted in the first-half.

Cooper said: “We came here to win and have tackled all the challenges in front of us head-on, nothing is going to change because it’s the play-offs.

“It’s a really positive dressing room and to come to a big stadium like this and do what we did tells you we’re in a good place with our mentality.

“We could and should have scored more goals and it’s disappointing to concede at the end but that’s the tension and randomness of the play-offs.”

At times it was Cooper’s vision in high definition, with his team displaying their attacking qualities in a dominant first-half performance while their defensive resilience was evident in the second-half when United mounted pressure.


The Mail

Forest should have scored when Ryan Yates was all on his own and six yards from goal. He sent his free header wide. As did Johnson when trying to sweep his shot into the corner moments later.

The reaction of the home support said it all. They were frustrated and knew this tie might have been dead and buried if Forest were finishing these opportunities.

Further chances followed before the break, with Foderingham forced into a fantastic double save to deny Surridge’s snap-shot and then Johnson’s header.

‘Attack, attack, attack,’ sang a handful of home supporters, pleading with their players, while there were some boos at Bramall Lane as Andre Marriner blew for half-time.

It could have been five to Forest, but it remained only one and so the tie was still alive.


The Mirror

Brennan Johnson dazzled for the visitors, just as many predicted he would. The attacker has long been mooted to star in the Premier League and this result moves his beloved Forest one step closer to a return to the promised land.

Johnson was busy all game and he was right on the money on 71 minutes to provide a classy finish to double the lead. Elsewhere, Sam Surridge and Phillip Zinckernagel also played their part, particularly in the build-up to the opening goal.

Three of this Forest side were voted into the EFL Championship team of the year but it was none of the aforementioned trio – showing the depth of quality that Forest have in their ranks. Playing at a hostile ground Forest’s squad put in a superb, almost perfect, performance to ensure it is they who hold the advantage ahead of the rematch in 72 hours.


The Sun

But really this was a day for Johnson, Forest and Steve Cooper, the manager who has inspired them from relegation zone in September to the fringes of the top flight in May.

A Premier League return after over two decades away is tantalisingly close and if they make it to the final, they will be red hot favourites to finish the job, too.

With Johnson and Sam Surridge such a sharp-shooting attacking double act, no wonder and in truth Forest could have ended with hatful.

Not that they will complain at a one-goal lead on their own patch. Although two slips from Sheffield United defenders did play a key part in both goals.

First Ben Osborn ended up on his backside as he chased back when Forest broke, and could only look on in agony as Jack Colback struck the first.

And then John Egan was guilty of dithering and paid the ultimate price when Johnson delivered a clinical side footed finish.

If it hadn’t been Sander Berge’s last second header, in truth the whole tie would be over already. And if the return leg on Tuesday is anything like this, we are in for a treat.