Fourth-placed Nottingham Forest will play Sheffield United in the Sky Bet Championship play-offs after they were held to a dramatic 1-1 draw at Hull.
With the game going nowhere, Forest substitute Brennan Johnson converted a stoppage-time penalty after Tom Huddlestone was adjudged to have fouled Sam Surridge.
But with Forest’s fans in party mode, Hull equalised just two minutes later through Keane Lewis-Potter, who impressively powered home Lewie Coyle’s cross from the right.
A draw was a fair result as the visitors, who – having made seven changes from the defeat to Bournemouth earlier in the week – were short of enterprise against a Hull side with nothing to play for.
But with manager Steve Cooper understandably keen to protect his big players from injury and suspension, this result should not be taken at face value.
Forest would have presented a far bigger threat to Hull had they fielded their best starting XI, but this was a textbook end-of-season encounter – until the game exploded into life during stoppage-time.
Hull, embarrassed by their 5-0 defeat at Bristol City last weekend, at least tried to make a game of it early on.
But they were largely held at arm’s length by a Forest team clearly preparing – mentally and physically – for a crucial few weeks in the club’s recent history.
Hull were marginally better than their rivals in the first half, with Allahyar Sayyadmanesh a continual menace up front.
Indeed, Sayyadmanesh had the best chance before the interval when he cashed in upon a defensive mix-up between Brice Samba and Tobias Figueiredo after 26 minutes.
The Iran international was not well placed to make a clean connection in a good position and toe-poked the ball wide for a goal-kick.
Man-of-the-match Sayyadmanesh was also out of luck after 58 minutes when he came within a stud’s length of connecting to Callum Elder’s dangerous cross from the left.
Cooper might have hoped for a positive response from that near-miss, but the collective mindset of his players was to remain diligent rather than dynamic.
That was until their manager brought on Johnson and Surridge just after the hour mark.
Forest were immeasurably better thereafter – most significantly after 75 minutes when Hull goalkeeper Nathan Baxter did well to parry Johnson’s awkward, low cross from the right.
Surridge was well positioned to convert the rebound, but Baxter stayed big and strong to deflect the danger.
Forest’s enthusiastic supporters might have expected their side to have kicked on.
But Hull were a persistent threat on the break and perhaps should have done better when Lewis-Potter could not accurately control Sayyadmanesh’s strong cross just outside the six-yard box.
Substitute Tom Eaves should also have done better with a wayward header off Lewis-Potter’s lofted dink towards the back post after 82 minutes.
By contrast to the match in normal time, the game finished with a flourish, with Brennan scoring from the spot before Lewis-Potter equalised in the dying embers.
Semi-final first legs
Friday May 13, 7.45pm – Luton vs Huddersfield
Saturday May 14, 3pm – Sheff Utd vs N Forest
Semi-final second legs
Monday May 16, 7.45pm – Huddersfield vs Luton
Tuesday May 17, 7.45pm – N Forest vs Sheff Utd
Sunday, May 29 2022
What the managers said…
Hull’s Shota Arveladze: “The last five minutes was crazy, but I think the whole 90 minutes was a good game with chances for both sides. They are a good team, but we were organised, had our chances and didn’t give much away. Generally, it was a good game and, for the supporters, it was nice for us to score a late goal.
“The club tries to find the best way to get supporters back and even though we didn’t have a great run at home, we have brought them something at the end. They can see the boys fighting for every point and doing the best that they can.”
Nottingham Forest’s Steve Cooper: “We go into the play-offs feeling really good about ourselves. We are looking forward to it. We wanted to finish third, but to come from bottom of the league to fourth place is great. We look forward to the game – two big stadiums, two big clubs and two passionate groups of supporters.
“You’ve got to get excited about it. We gave automatic (promotion) a really good go and, by going for that, we secured a play-off place with maybe three or four games to go. It’s an unbelievable achievement and it shows how good these guys have been. I’m disappointed not to win – that’s just me – but I’m naturally not naive or narrow-minded. I know that we go into the play-offs in great shape.”