Brice Samba was the hero for Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night as they beat Sheffield United on penalties to reach the Championship play-off final.
Leading 2-1 in the first leg at Bramall Lane, Forest looked to be sailing to Wembley when Brennan Johnson put the home team ahead in the reverse fixture at the City Ground.
But a goal shortly after halftime from Morgan Gibbs-White made it 3-2 on aggregate before John Fleck leveled the tie with 15 minutes remaining in regulation.
Neither team would find a winner in extra time, with the game going to penalties.
Forest goalkeeper Samba proved to be the hero in the penalty shootout, saving penalties from Ollie Norwood, Conor Hourihane and Gibbs-White to seal a dramatic win for the home team.
He first denied Norwood with a diving save to his right before conspicuously staying in the middle of his goal to deflect Hourihane’s penalty into the crossbar.
Samba then held off Gibbs-White with another excellent save to his forehand to send his team to Wembley, sparking a huge pitch invasion at the City Ground.
Throughout the shooting, Samba could be seen checking a water bottle that was wrapped in his towel.
After the match, an image of the bottle was circulated on social media showing that it had a note attached to it with clear instructions on where to shoot for each penalty.
Interestingly, for Hourihane you can see the letters ‘Sta…’, possibly meaning ‘stay’ or ‘stand still’ in the middle of the goal.
In response to the image on Twitter, Samba wrote: “Bring it back,” followed by several laughing and crying emojis. He then added: “I was hiding in a towel until I got to the booth.”
Speaking after the match, Forest manager Steve Cooper praised Samba for perfectly executing his penalty kick plan.
“Brice deserves the headlines. Unbelievable,” Cooper said.
“He was ready. We were ready. He delivered the plan perfectly.”
“He deserves all the praise he’s going to get, and he certainly will get it from the rest of the team. But he’ll be the first to say it’s also about the team.”
“They were great saves. Brilliant. Let’s not lose sight of his saves during the game as well. They were great saves.
“It’s his job, don’t get me wrong. But he had a particularly good night.”
“We had a plan for everything. I don’t want to talk about it too much, because we have another game to go. But we were ready.”
Forest will now face Huddersfield Town in the Championship play-off final on May 29.