Nottingham Forest take step closer to Premier League vs Sheffield United – 5 talking points

The Reds sealed a 2-1 victory away at Sheffield United in the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final at Bramall Lane – Here we look at some of the key points to emerge

Jack Colback celebrates his early strike in Forest’s 2-1 win over Sheffield United in the play-off semi-final first legByRicky CharlesworthEFL writer

  • 16:57, 14 May 2022
  • Updated17:47, 14 May 2022
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It is advantage Nottingham Forest after the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final against Sheffield United.

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Steve Cooper's side sealed a 2-1 win at Bramall Lane with Jack Colback and Brennan Johnson striking in either half – only for ex-Forest man Jack Robinson to pull a goal back in stoppage time. The result leaves Forest in the driving seat to win a place in the final at Wembley, against either Luton or Huddersfield on May 29.

Forest led early doors when Sam Surridge's pull-back picked out Philip Zinckernagel. Although the Watford loanee's effort was repelled by Wes Foderingham, it fell kindly to Colback who had the easy task of tapping in.

Forest should have extended their lead in the first half. Ryan Yates' header was planted just wide whilst the lively Johnson zipped a shot just past the upright. United pushed and probed second half but they just could not break down a resistant Forest backline – and Johnson struck emphatically to double the advantage 20 minutes from time. But Robinson's header late on will give United some hope heading into Tuesday's second leg at the City Ground.

Here, Mirror Football looks at five talking points to emerge from the contest.

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Early advantage silences Lane

Jack Colback celebrates putting Nottingham Forest 1-0 up at Bramall Lane

Bramall Lane, understandably for such an occasion, was a sight to behold pre-match. A full house with fans in fine voice made it an outstanding atmosphere – and the sunshine only added to the occasion. But those expectant home fans had their bubble burst after barely 10 minutes when Forest struck the first blow of this contest.

Jack Colback reacted quickest after Foderingham's parry fell kindly to him. Ben Osborn's slip played its part too, but the early goal set the tone for a Forest performance full of attacking gusto.

They had to ride a storm second half but Johnson's ruthless finish gave them a perfect fillip.

Forest stars shine in South Yorkshire

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.

United's lack of killer instinct laid bare

Brennan Johnson scored Forest's second against United

Billy Sharp, David McGoldrick, Rhian Brewster, Oli McBurnie.

United were without their four main centre-forwards heading into this game. Admittedly, that did not hurt them too much during the end of the regular campaign, winning their final three games including an eye-raising 4-0 hammering of champions Fulham.

But that lack of killer instinct inside the box proved crucial here. In key areas with the goal gaping and where calmness was required, too often shots were struck rashly. Robinson's header in injury time gave them hope but they dearly lacked a potent scorer all game.

Thankfully for United Sharp may well be back for the second leg, albeit with his involvement likely to be limited from the bench.

City Ground advantage clear

Liverpool.

That is the exclusive list of teams to have left the City Ground with a victory in 2022.

Steve Cooper's side have been outstanding in general since his arrival in the early days of the season. But their home form, particularly since the turn of the year, has been something else.

Steve Cooper's side are firmly in the driving seat heading into the second leg

There can be no shame whatsoever attached to that Liverpool loss, which came in an FA Cup quarter-final after Forest pushed them all the way.

It makes United's task on Tuesday night all the more harder. And an extra facet that the Blades will probably not want to hear either is that they've not left Nottingham with a win since way back in 2008.

Heckingbottom's men up against it

United fans will be praying for a comeback in the second leg on Tuesday

Only a handful of sides have ever overcome a first leg deficit in the history of the play-offs.

It is a sobering fact that Paul Heckingbottom's side will need to pull off a memorable comeback on Tuesday night if they are to make it to Wembley for what would be a fifth final.

Add in their wretched record overall in the end-of-season lottery (eight previous unsuccessful attempts) and there may be little to cheer up Unitedites.

But stranger things have happened down the years.

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