After 23 years, Nottingham Forest are finally back in the Premier League after beating Huddersfield Town 1-0 at Wembley in the Championship play-off final. Here’s what the national newspapers had to say
The biggest cheer was reserved for Cooper when he held the winners’ trophy aloft and, as his voice cracked and his eyes watered, he described the emotion of the afternoon.
An own goal by Levi Colwill ultimately proved the difference but those of a Huddersfield persuasion will point towards two peculiar refereeing decisions late in the second half as key moments that went against them. By the end Forest fans, many with hands on heads taking it all in, swayed through six minutes of second-half stoppage time, nerves frayed. Up in the directors’ box, Evangelos Marinakis, superstitious at the best of times, stood hands on hips.
As the final whistle went, Huddersfield’s players collapsed to the turf, some covering their face with their blue-and-white striped shirts. Soon after, confetti rained down and the Forest players were left to drink it all in as Just Can’t Get Enough, Forest’s unofficial anthem, blared around Wembley.
The defender Steve Cook, a savvy January recruit from Bournemouth, guzzled champagne from the trophy beside Brennan Johnson.
Up in the royal box, Forest’s owner Evangelos Marinakis crossed himself. The clock ticked down, through six nerve-shredding minutes of added time, and then the years of hurt ended. Forest fans and players celebrated and 15 minutes after the final whistle it really sank in. “We are going up,” they began chanting. Going up means commercial interest going up, wages going up, global appeal going up. All they have to do now is sign Garner from United and Spence from Middlesbrough and resist all offers for Johnson.
Forest have something special going on under Cooper, and the City Ground will make a welcome return to the Premier League circuit. Huddersfield will feel aggrieved by Moss’s failure to award the penalties, and an angrier club than Huddersfield and head coach than Corberán might have railed at the referee and VAR. Huddersfield deserved extra time at the very least. Forest rode their luck, rode the wave of support from their marvellous following and reached the Premier League. They will need strengthening but with the talismanic Cooper, Forest will believe.
Steve Cooper’s remarkable nine-month reinvention of Nottingham Forest gave birth to a belated new era at Wembley on Sunday. After 23 years of chaos, yearning and heartbreak, and a season in which Forest were rock bottom of the Championship in September, their resurrection to the Premier League was rendered complete as Levi Colwill’s cruel own goal settled a tense and scrappy play-off final against Huddersfield.
Carlos Corberan will have every right to feel aggrieved, having seen two credible penalty appeals waved away in a frenzied second half, but fate – and Jon Moss – refused to budge. They are the fine margins worth hundreds of millions in this unique fixture that wagers all the travails of the season on a knife-edge. On this occasion, no matter how Huddersfield tried to wrestle an equaliser, the game seemed destined to tilt in Forest’s favour.
For Cooper himself, there was the personal satisfaction of at last gaining promotion via the play-offs, having led Swansea City into them in the previous two seasons only to fall short. His reputation is growing – and rightly so. It has been a phenomenal achievement and, memorably, he allowed himself a private moment as he returned to the dugout and sat on his own with his hands over his face as the result sunk in.
Victory means that Forest, who have won 28 of their 45 fixtures under Cooper, including beating Premier League Arsenal and Leicester City in the FA Cup, can hopefully keep much of this team together. There is a powerful sense of momentum, of something rising again on the banks of the River Trent.
Twenty-three years of heartache, pain, underperformance and enough frustration to make Nottingham Forest’s glory years seem as if they belonged to a different club. All of it over in a sharp blast of a whistle and a release that may well last as long as the summer. Steve Cooper had already done more than anyone since Frank Clark in the 1990s to take this club forward. In their eyes, he can now walk on the water under Trent Bridge.
It was frantic at times, as first-half control gave way to second-half pressure; perhaps a little fear too. The six minutes of injury time must have felt like six months for those who desperately tried to shout, chant and sing away their nerves and failed spectacularly. They may not quite believe they have made it until the fixtures are released. But they have ended the hurt.
This victory is satisfying because how could it be anything else. There is no other fixture in English football that demands less analysis; the result is emphatically king. They will look forward to Old Trafford, Anfield and the Emirates, to opponents who they have only faced in infrequent cup exploits. They will be welcomed in the Premier League too. The “proper club” principle is strong here.
Far have they travelled and much have they seen, and perhaps Nottingham Forest have served their time in the footballing doldrums and deserved their good fortune. It certainly felt hard to begrudge any of the wild celebrations at the end of a long exile from the Premier League.
Forest overcame Huddersfield at Wembley Stadium thanks to an own goal by teenage defender Levi Colwill and a generous oversight or two by the officials.
Steve Cooper’s team did not perform particularly well. They were far from fluent. They were out-played for most of the second half and they survived two strong penalty appeals as nerves frazzled in the closing stages.
But they dug in and defended well and they were roared across the finishing line by their fabulous supporters, desperate to see their proud club with its rich history back in the top flight where it belongs.
This proved to be third time lucky for Reds’ chief Steve Cooper. His two full seasons as Swansea City boss ended with a play-off semi-final defeat in 2020 before losing out in the final 12 months ago.
His trajectory continued in just the way he would have dreamed too, with Forest getting the job done in the EFL’s blue riband showpiece in front of more than 80,000 fans.
His impact since arriving in September has been nothing short of sensational, taking the team from the relegation spots to the Premier League. The way they have done it, with a positive, vibrant brand of football has wowed neutrals and means they are sure to be an exciting addition to the top division next year.
Carried by a wave of emotion and propelled by unstoppable momentum, Nottingham Forest are back in the Premier League after a 23-year absence.
One of English football’s grandest clubs have been away from the top flight since the last century – yet under the enlightened management of Steve Cooper, Forest have surged from the bottom of the Championship to the promised land in the space of eight months.
A first-half own-goal from Huddersfield defender Levi Colwill was enough to settle the richest football match on Earth – and the Terriers were fuming at being denied a second-half penalty.
But the Tricky Trees will be back next season – at the Etihad, the Emirates and White Hart Lane, taunting the high and mighty with cries of “Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that!”.