Steve Cooper will have been delighted with Forest’s response to eventually falling away in the race for automatic promotion, although they only have a slender lead heading back to Nottingham after Sander Berge’s late goal set this tie up for an intriguing second leg.
The Reds’ start was lively as they stretched Sheffield United’s defensive set-up, picking holes where they could.
Chris Basham had to be alert to intercept a Brennan Johnson cross on only five minutes, with that passage of play an early warning of what was to come.
Sam Surridge broke into the same area shortly afterwards, squaring into the penalty area. Ben Osborn couldn’t quite repeat Basham’s trick, though, slipping and allowing Philip Zinckernagel to nail a shot at Wes Foderingham’s goal.
Foderingham was equal to that but could do little as Jack Colback landed the tie’s first blow on the rebound.
Despite taking a lead early in what will be a 180 minute slog, Forest continued to match the game’s frantic pace, with Surridge heavily involved at both ends, clearing a John Egan header off the line after it had beaten Brice Samba.
That was a chance given up by Forest, but Cooper’s men were playing to win this two-legged affair in its opening quarter.
Surridge and Johnson brought Foderingham back into the game, as the latter’s influence really began to grow. Ryan Yates, meanwhile, was guilty of wasting a golden chance from James Garner’s cross.
As Forest piled it on, Paul Heckingbottom was in-debt to his goalkeeper again as he denied Surridge and Johnson with a super double save
Johnson was thriving whenever he was offered the opportunity to stretch Sheffield United. At the other end, the Blades’ two young forwards, Iliman Ndiaye and Morgan Gibbs-White, struggled to have the same influence.
Gibbs-White managed a couple of brighter moments heading toward the hour, threading Berge into the penalty area for a shooting opportunity and earning himself a crack from distance.
Despite that second-half improvement, it was Nottingham Forest who clinched the crucial second goal.
Joe Lolley’s pressure off the ball was too much for Egan, whose slip allowed Forest to swarm Sheffield United’s area, Johnson eventually getting his goal following up the initial chance.
Egan had a moment of redemption shortly afterwards, throwing his body in the way of Johnson’s shot and, pretty much, keeping the tie alive.
And, if Egan’s intervention kept the tie alive, Berge’s late goal means it’s game on heading to the City Ground as we await to see if the momentum has swung.
FT: Sheffield United 1-2 Nottingham Forest.