Sheffield United gave a great account of themselves in coming back from 3-1 down, on aggregate, to draw 3-3 with Nottingham Forest, winning 2-1 on the night at the City Ground on Tuesday evening, before losing on a penalty shoot-out.
Paul Heckingbottom’s men produced an excellent second half performance to almost turn the tie on its head with Morgan Gibbs-White and John Fleck finishing from close range.
George Baldock replaced Ben Osborn for the second leg, and provided some much needed width from right wing back, the 29-year-old came up with a superb assist for Fleck’s leveller, latching onto a through ball and dribbling past Jack Colback to deliver an inch-perfect low cross.
Baldock took to Instagram to express his emotions after a disappointing end to the season for the Blades.
He wrote: “Still processing Tuesday night, great effort by everyone involved.
“Team showed incredible spirit and I’m proud of every single one of my teammates and staff.
“From the ones that started the game to those who weren’t involved, we showed togetherness and fight right to the end.
“I’m sorry to the fans we couldn’t quite achieve what we set out to do, you’ve been brilliant.
“Thank you for your support all season.
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It was a surprising decision from Heckingbottom to take Baldock off for Osborn in extra time, given the intensity and creative threat he was offering down the right.
The 29-year-old’s contract runs for another two seasons at Bramall Lane, and he could be in fierce competition with Jayden Bogle for the right wing back berth heading into 2022/23.
Quiz: Can you name which club Sheffield United sold these 23 players to from the last decade?
The Blades will not compete towards the top end of the second tier in the transfer market this summer, and in the absence of Morgan Gibbs-White, who will return his parent club Wolverhampton Wanderers, Heckingbottom has a more difficult job on his hands if Sheffield United are to compete for promotion again next term.
Sander Berge is another very high profile player for Championship level, who could receive offers from the Premier League or other top-flights in the coming months.
The Blades are edging towards a crossroads, of whether they need to move away from the spine of John Fleck, Billy Sharp, Chris Basham and others, that has served them so well since Chris Wilder entered the dugout, but may not have the quality anymore to fire the club back to the top tier.