Brice Samba was the hero for Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night as they defeated Sheffield United on penalties to reach the Championship play-off final.
Leading 2-1 from the first leg at Bramall Lane, Forest appeared to be heading for Wembley as Brennan Johnson put the home side ahead in the reverse game at City Ground.
But a goal from Morgan Gibbs-White shortly after half-time made it 3-2 before John Fleck tied the score with 15 minutes left of normal time.
Neither team would find a winner in extra time, and the game was headed for penalties.
Forest goalkeeper Samba proved to be the hero in the shootout, saving penalties from Ollie Norwood, Conor Hourihane and Gibbs-White and sealing a dramatic victory for the home side.
He first denied Norwood with a diving save to his right, before remaining remarkably in the center of his goal to tap Hourihane’s penalty on the crossbar.
Samba then kept Gibbs-White out with another excellent save on his right to send his side to Wembley, leading to a massive field invasion at the City Ground.
During the shootout, Samba was seen checking a water bottle wrapped in his towel.
After the match, an image of the bottle circulated on social media, showing that it had a note taped to it with clear instructions on where to dive for each penalty.
Interestingly, for Hourihane, the letters ‘Sta..’ can be seen, possibly meaning ‘stay’ or ‘stand still’ in the center of the target.
In response to the image on Twitter, Samba wrote, “Give it back,” followed by several crying laughing emojis. He later added: “It was hidden in a towel until I got to the post.”
After the game, Forest manager Steve Cooper praised Samba for perfectly executing their penalty shootout plan.
“Brice deserves the headlines. Great,” Cooper said.
“He was ready. We were ready. He executed the plan perfectly.
“He deserves all the accolades he’s going to get, and he’s definitely going to get them from the rest of the team. But he’ll be the first to say it’s about the team too.”
“They were great saves. Brilliant. Let’s not lose sight of his saves during the game. They were great saves.
“It’s his job, don’t get me wrong. But he had a very good night.
“We had a plan for everything. I don’t want to talk too much about it, because we still have a game to go. But we were ready.”
Forest now face Huddersfield Town in the Championship play-off final on May 29.