|There were no signs of an FA Cup hangover for Sheffield United this evening as they ran out 1-0 winners thanks to Carl Asaba’s 10th goal of the season.
This was always going to be a tough game for both sides, and it showed in a scrappy first half. The game never really got going, and a referee who insisted on blowing his bloody whistle for every tackle didn’t help matters. Some cynics might think this was to make up for the errors of Graham Poll during the Blade’s FA Cup semi-final – I’d like to think it wasn’t true, but I’m a cynic when it comes to referees.
The Forest bench – and the fans – had a scare five minutes into the game when David Johnson pulled up injured. It looked for a moment as if he had a hamstring problem. It can’t have been too serious though as after a few minutes he was back in the game.
During those rare moments in the first half when the ref wasn’t blowing his whistle both sides managed to create chances. The first real chance fell to Peter Ndlovu who looped his header just wide following Michael Brown’s free kick.
At the other end, the ever-impressive Andy Reid fired in a delightful low cross, which David Johnson and Marlon Harewood just failed to connect with.
Chances continued to arrive for both sides, tough few of them came close to being converted. It was, however, something of a relief to get to half time – just so we didn’t have to listen to that bloody whistle for the next 15 minutes.
The second half saw United with a chance in the first two minutes, Ndlovu blasting a rocket of a shot from the edge of the penalty area. It looked to have Darren Ward beaten all the way but it skimmed just wide of the post.
On 51 minutes the referee was still looking to make amends for Graham Poll and after a well-executed and perfectly timed tackle on Dean Windass, Des Walker found himself going into the book. The booking seemed to surprise both Walker and Windass, needless to say, Paul Hart did not look happy about it either.
Walker’s booking looked even more unfair a few minutes later when Windass – telegraphing his intentions in his run – scythed down Andy Reid. To no one’s surprise the referee didn’t even talk to Windass, let alone book him.
Just after the hour mark, the Blade’s made the breakthrough. Peter Ndlovu fired in a shot, which was deflected. The ball fell to Carl Asaba, who made no mistake as he slotted the ball home from 10 yards out.
Forest went in search of a quick equalizer but David Johnson could only lash his shot high over the bar.
Both sides continued to have chances, but it was United’s night. On the balance of play they probably just shaded it, though a draw would have been a fairer result.
Neil Warnock was understandably happy about the result, but he is convinced Forest will be in the play-offs, he said: "I have just said to Des Walker, 'see you in a few weeks'.
"When it comes to the play-offs, it doesn't matter where you finished. You can lose your last six games and still win them, so don't kid yourself about it being the form team that goes on and gets promoted.
"I have won the play-off finals four times and not always with the form team.
"I think Forest were the best side we played earlier in the season and this was a great match between two very good sides.
"I thought there were one or two exciting individual battles tonight. David Johnson forced a good save from Paddy Kenny.
"It was a great First Division game."
Paul Hart was a little more frustrated after the Reds slipped to fifth in the league. He said: "Although we had a couple of chances, I am disappointed with our overall performance.
"That's not to take anything away from Sheffield United because they played very well.
"Obviously, we need some points because I don't think anybody is secure just yet (in the play-offs).
"It's been a very tough fortnight. We have played once every two-and-a-half days since the Ipswich game, and have lost a few players which has disrupted the side a little bit.
"Having said that, I think we're capable of performing better."