EFL Championship playoffs, schedule, scores: Nottingham Forest down Sheffield United in first leg
The richest prize in sport is tantalizingly within reach for the four teams still standing in the EFL Championship. Only one of Luton, Huddersfield, Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest can join Fulham and Bournemouth in next season’s Premier League; the battle to escape the playoffs is now well underway.
The first leg of Luton’s tie with Huddersfield was a customarily nervy affair, an early goal for the visitors at Kenilworth Road cancelled out by Hatters’ captain Sonny Bradley to leave the tie on a knife edge. Away goals do not count in the EFL playoffs meaning the equation is tantalisingly simple for both clubs at the John Smith’s Stadium on Monday. Win and they are off to Wembley.
Elsewhere, Nottingham Forest put themselves in the driver’s seat with a 2-1 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Saturday as the Tricky Trees seek to end a 23-year wait for a Premier League return. Jack Colback’s early close-range finish and Brennan Johnson’s second half strike enough for Steve Cooper’s men to give themselves a commanding two-goal advantage ahead of Tuesday’s second leg at the City Ground despite a late Sander Berge strike.
Here’s the schedule and latest updates:
Schedule and how to watch
All times Eastern
Friday, May 13
Luton Town 1, Huddersfield Town 1
Saturday, May 14
Sheffield United 1, Nottingham Forest 2
Monday, May 16
Huddersfield Town vs. Luton Town, 2:45 p.m. on ESPN+
Tuesday, May 17
Nottingham Forest vs. Sheffield United, 2:45 p.m. on ESPN+
Sunday, May 29
Sheffield United/Nottingham Forest vs. Huddersfield/Luton, TBD on ESPN+
Honours even at Kenilworth Road
Everything is up in the air at the half time stage of the first semi final with Huddersfield travelling back from their first leg at Kenilworth Road with a 1-1 draw to their name, Daniel Sinani’s early strike cancelled out before the interval in a tense affair in Bedfordshire.
Chasing a top flight berth that would have capped eight year rise from non-league to Premier League, it was to be expected that Luton would show nerves early on. Perhaps that explains the leniency of referee Robert Jones when he allowed a shove from James Bree on Harry Toffolo to pass by without blowing his whistle; had the Hatters’ right back got his marching orders he could have had little reason to complain.
Huddersfield would not have to wait long to claim their lead, Sinani driving low past Matt Ingram at his near post. The visitors seemed willing to soak up the pressure that came their way but had few answers for the first half intensity of Cameron Jerome, determined to make an impression against his hometown club. The veteran striker won a free kick in the left channel from which Luton’s equaliser came, an excellent delivery by Kal Naismith guided in powerfully by captain Bradley. Jerome could have had a penalty before the half was out, colliding with Naby Sarr to no avail.
The second half saw both teams rather more concerned with staying in the game ahead of Monday’s second leg at the John Smith’s Stadium, Duane Holmes’ menace down the Huddersfield left just about repelled by the home defense. Carlos Corberan will be marginally the happier of the two managers with his side returning to a ground where they have lost only once this year knowing a win will send them to Wembley.
First blood Forest
Forest are in a strong position heading into their second leg with the Blades after their 2-1 win at Bramall Lane through Colback’s early strike and Johnson’s second half effort on Saturday. Berge pulled one back for the hosts in added time.
The game started well for Paul Heckingbottom’s men in front of a raucous crowd with Sander Berge unlucky to have his shouts for a penalty waved away after tangling with James Garner. However, the visitors took the lead shortly afterwards with Sam Surridge setting up Philip Zinkernagel for an effort which was saved by Wes Foderingham before Colback finished from the rebound.
The home goalkeeper would be needed again in the opening half, but the next opportunity went the Blades’ way with John Egan’s header from a Berge corner cleared off the line by Surridge. Foderingham then produced a superb double save to deny Surridge and then Brennan Johnson in quick succession towards the end of an absorbing opening half in Sheffield which Forest really should have led more comfortably.
Johnson, one of the revelations of the season, doubled Forest’s lead after 71 minutes when the 20-year-old finished after John Fleck had initially blocked a Joe Lolley effort. Brennan’s father, former Reds favorite David, also scored for the club against the Blades in the playoff semifinals 19 years ago.
The drama was not over there with a vital Egan block to deny Johnson a second after Djed Spence had teed him up before Berge got a touch on Jack Robinson’s header with some questionable goalkeeping from Brice Samba which means that there is now all to play for in Nottingham next week.