BRICE SAMBA saved THREE penalties to ensure Nottingham Forest survived a Sheffield United comeback to seal a place in the Championship play-off final.
The hosts got off to the perfect start when goal machine Brennan Johnson scored the opening goal with less than 20 minutes on the clock, slamming home a Sam Surridge cross.
Brice Samba saved THREE penalties to send Forest to WembleyCredit: PA
Samba was mobbed by his Forest team-mates after saving the crucial kickCredit: PA
Forest are now just one game away from the Premier LeagueCredit: PA
But after tempers flared shortly before half-time between Blades boss Paul Heckingbottom and Forest stars Johnson and Djed Spence, the visitors came out for the second period a different animal.
Morgan Gibbs-White pulled one back two minutes after the break, stabbing home a Sander Berge cross from close range.
And John Fleck levelled things up on aggregate after Forest’s 2-1 win at Bramall Lane in the first leg, scoring in almost identical style with 15 minutes left to play.
Neither side could force a winner in normal time, so on it went for another half an hour.
Still there was nothing to separate them after extra-time.
That was until Brice Samba made his mark on proceedings, saving THREE Sheffield United penalties to send his team to Wembley.
Brennan Johnson backed up his goal in the first-leg with another strikeCredit: PA
Cue the pitch invasion from jubilant Forest fans.
The two-time European champions know they are now just one game away from a spot back in the big time after 23 years away.
The Blades’ first two takers Oliver Norwood and Conor Hourihane were both brilliantly denied by Samba.
But when Joe Lolley blazed one over for Forest things began to get interesting.
Samba though stepped up once again to deny Gibbs-White and book Forest a first-ever trip to the new Wembley.
Forest, bottom of the second tier after seven games when Steve Cooper took charge in September, held the upper hand after the first leg although they conceded late on at Bramall Lane and were pushed all the way.
The hosts were initially tentative, pushed back into their own half as rain lashed down at the outset.
John Egan fired a warning shot as his bullet header narrowly missed the target.
Samba saved superbly soon after, rushing out of his goal to smother Ndiaye’s shot after he was put through one-on-one by Gibbs-White.
Then from nowhere Forest reclaimed their two-goal cushion.
Scott McKenna’s long ball was collected on the left by Surridge, whose square pass allowed an outstretched Johnson to send beyond Wes Foderingham.
But any thoughts the visitors were becoming desperate were extinguished as this time they punished Forest for again being slow out of the traps two minutes after the resumption to bring the tie to life.
Gibbs-White provided the finish, sweeping across Samba from Sander Berge’s low ball to the near post, moments after Cook had produced a last-gasp tackle to thwart Ndiaye as he ran through on goal.
Morgan Gibbs-White started the comeback for Sheffield UnitedCredit: PA
Nerves around the ground heightened as Sheffield United enjoyed a spell of sustained pressure, with Forest unable to mount much in response.
And they were rewarded in the 75th minute as George Baldock’s cross after an excellent run down the right was turned in by Fleck to level the scores on aggregate.
Matters nearly worsened for Forest when McKenna overhit a backpass past a scrambling Samba and both players were relieved to see the ball drift harmlessly wide.
Sheffield United had the first chance in extra-time as Gibbs-White fired at Samba from an acute angle.
Then Forest substitutes Lolley and Keinan Davis combined, the latter thrusting a leg at a cross which Foderingham kept out.
John Fleck levelled things up on aggregate with 15 minutes left to playCredit: Reuters
Sheffield United might have won it late on but Samba produced an astonishing point-blank save to deny Ndiaye from six yards.
Although the keeper’s heart would have been in his mouth at the death when former Forest defender Jack Robinson went down under his challenge.
Oliver did not point to the spot or issue Robinson what would have been a second booking as the game went to penalties.
Samba guessed right to deny Norwood then tipped Hourihane’s effort on to the bar before saving in the corner from Gibbs-White to spark frenzied scenes on a memorable evening for Forest.
The Insidexpress is now on Telegram and Google News. Join us on Telegram and Google News, and stay updated.