Championship semi-final play-offs

An overview of the Championship play-offs, with Huddersfield Town looking to re-join the Premier League

multiple writers
25th May 2022
Twitter: @BarnsleyFC
On Monday 16th and Tuesday 17th May, the play-offs for four Championship teams took place to earn a spot in the final at Wembley: Huddersfield Town, Luton Town, Sheffield United, and Nottingham Forest battled it out over two legs.

Huddersfield vs. Luton:

The battle between Huddersfield and Luton Town was a fierce if not particularly fruitful one for both sides, with the tie ending in an aggregate score of just 2-1 in favour of Huddersfield. The first leg opened with an instant helping of controversy as, just a few seconds in, a Huddersfield player was nudged in the back inside the box and went down, hoping and perhaps deserving a penalty. This wouldn’t dishearten the side though as Sinani made a blistering run past Luton’s defence and drilled the ball home precisely into the bottom corner of the near post.

Luton Town would reply with a beautiful set piece and a finish from Bradley at close range that gave the keeper no chance, the goal standing despite a hint of offside from when the ball was originally swung into the box. Despite having all the luck regarding refereeing decisions up to this point, Luton found themselves harshly denied a penalty after Jerome was cynically dragged down by his arm in the box. Huddersfield fans were relieved to get away with that one, and had another heart in your mouth moment as Sinani put in a truly exquisite ball over the back line, perfectly not the path of his onrushing teammate, who could only glance it straight at Luton keeper Matt Ingram.

All was square as the teams went into the second leg at Huddersfield’s John Smith stadium. This game would be the story of two heroic goalkeepers, with both Ingram and Huddersfield’s Nicholls producing some stellar stops between the sticks. Huddersfield’s Rhodes saw his weaving run past multiple defenders denied an end result by Ingram, but would not fail upon the second time of asking, dispatching an awkward cross into the box across goal and into the bottom corner. There was nothing the goalkeeper could do as Rhodes got across his man and dived towards the ball, a great display of tenacity earning the result. Luton could not find a way back in and it was at the hands of this goal that they would fall out of contention for promotion. Huddersfield march on, set to play Nottingham Forest in the play-off final.

Sheffield United vs. Nottingham Forest:

After finishing 4th in the Championship, Forest went into the play-offs full of hope. With three goals in the first leg, Forest's hope continued as they contributed to two of these goals at Bramall Lane.

The ball came from Surridge to find, number 11, Zickernagel; however, United keeper Wes Foderingham blocked the ball. Hope came again as the ball fell to Jack Colback's feet for him to get the ball in the net before Foderingham could get his hand for the save.

Another stunner came from in the 71st minute as John Egan (Blades captain) lost possession in his own half, allowing Joe Lolley to run into the box and slip the ball to Brennan Johnson. Johnson scored a terrific goal taking the score to 0-2 on the Blades turf.

Moments before the final whistle blew, Sander Berge put the ball across the line to restore United's hopes and dreams. The goal through replay appears to show Robinson getting a final touch but to everyone's dismay, the 91st minute saw Berge (not Robinson!) play a beautiful ball.

In a very parallel game, Forest was now the losing home side as United pulled the score to 3-3 (on aggregate), taking the match into extra time and penalties.

This wasn't the original story as Johnson played the ball past Foderingham in the 19th minute to give Forest a heavy lead. Going into the second half Berge brought hope one more time as he assisted Gibbs-White two minutes after kick off.

It was down to the Blades to get one more goal to go to extra time and down the Forest to park the bus if they were not determined to score another for safety. Fleck was then the one to save Sheffield's dreams as he was able to get past Forest keeper Samba during the 75th. This took Sheffield United level with Nottingham Forest, the race for Wembley was on.

With no goals in the remaining 15 minutes, injury time and extra time the match went to penalties. The first two taken by United did not find the net as Samba saved some beautiful saves. On the fourth penalty, it was down to Lolley to take Forest through to the play-off final.

Smashing it over the bar, Forest has to wait for the outcome of Gibb-White's penalty. This penalty took an incredible save from Samba, who has been praised by player Steve Cook: "we've got Samba to thank tonight."

After winning 3-2 on penalties, Forest fans stormed the pitch in celebration. Though this was meant to be of celebration, one fan assaulted Sheffield United forward Billy Sharp whilst footage has emerged of striker Oli McBurnie apparently kicking a fan.

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