Brice Samba was hailed for his penalty shootout heroics in helping Nottingham Forest reach the Championship play-off final, beating Sheffield United.
Steve Cooper’s side went into the second leg of their semi-final leading 2-1 after their big win at Bramall Lane on Saturday, thanks to goals from Jack Colback and Brennan Johnson.
For those who have watched him over the season Johnson’s goal and performance in the first leg will have come as no surprise, with the 20-year-old already being linked with the likes of Leeds United, Newcastle United and Brentford.
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According to reports, Brentford went as far as putting in a bid worth £18m in the January transfer window but it was quickly turned down. However, Johnson could still be playing in the Premier League next season – with Forest.
Looking to build on their advantage from the first leg and boosted by their home support, Forest took the lead after 19 minutes when Johnson slammed in from close range after a quick attack from Sam Surridge. Fittingly it was Johnson’s 19th goal of the season, and possibly the most important so far.
The goal meant that Johnson had mimicked his dad David, who scored in both legs of Forest’s play-off semi-final against Sheffield United in 2003. And fortunately for Forest, Johnson didn’t completely follow in his dad’s footsteps. Back in 2003, David Johnson’s two goals were not enough to prevent Forest from losing 5-4 on aggregate to Sheffield United. But this time around, Brennan Johnson’s brace helped Forest beat Sheffield United and secure their spot at Wembley.
And he has Samba to thank for it.
Including the penalty shoot-out, Brice Samba made seven saves against Sheffield United in the second leg:
◉ 12' (Ndiaye)
◉ 27' (Ndiaye)
◉ 91' (Ndiaye)
◉ 114' (Ndiaye)
◉ Pen 1 (Norwood)
◉ Pen 2 (Hourihane)
◉ Pen 5 (Gibbs-White)
Hero. ? pic.twitter.com/QcqipOFGgy
— Squawka (@Squawka) May 17, 2022
The Congolese goalkeeper fully lived up to the shot-stopper moniker on Tuesday night, keeping Forest in the tie at times with some frankly ridiculous saves. The biggest came in extra time, with Sheffield United pushing for a late winner, but Brice made himself big to deny Iliman Ndiaye from close range with his big toenail. A save worthy of any occasion, it gave Samba another chance to make himself a hero in the shootout. And of course he did it.
Samba’s influence started before the shootout had even begun, taking his time to get to the goal. With Oliver Norwood rushing to the spot to take his first kick, Samba was on a leisurely stroll, cooler than a snowman in a freezer in the North Pole. It took about 90 seconds for the whistle to be blown and Norwood saw his effort well saved by Samba.
The Forest goalkeeper stepped up again with the next spot kick, keeping out Conor Hourihane’s effort with a strong left arm, opting not to dive.
“I don’t know why I didn’t dive for the second one, it was just a feeling,” he told Sky Sports after the game.
He was beaten by the next two, but then pulled off another save on Morgan Gibbs-White to take Forest all the way to Wembley.
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Michael Dawson on Brice Samba: “Brice Samba, take a bow,” former Forest defender Michael Dawson said.
“It really was incredible. We talked about a hero, he’s been made a hero.
“First game, came for a cross in the 90th minute, missed it. Made a save early on in the game tonight and he made a save in extra-time to make it go to penalties.
“I said he’s a ‘keeper who likes to perform, he likes his pressure. I played with him, I shared a dressing room with him, he plays mind games.
“You’ve seen it. Oliver Norwood, taking time, 90 seconds it took for him to take that penalty. And then he turns up with a great save.”
The win puts Forest one step away from the Premier League and a return to the top flight for the first time in 23 years.
“The size of this football club, it needs to be in the Premier League,” Dawson added.
“Twenty-three years, that’s what it means to this city. They’ve got one more big game, one game.
“Steve Cooper, you can be a genius. What a job he’s done.”