In review: Nottingham Forest secure return to the Premier League with victory over Huddersfield Town

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The sun was shining, the Wembley grass glistening with emerald green — the stage was set for the Championship play-off final. A magic carpet ride of emotion and destiny for both Nottingham Forest and Huddersfield Town, as they faced off in the capital with their dreams of Premier League football hanging perilously in the balance. 

With the magnitude of the occasional so significant, teams can be forgiven for making the game a cagey affair, but with teenager Levi Colwill’s own goal in the dying embers of the first half, Forest saw out a 1-0 win laced with passion and sentiment, as Steve Cooper’s side achieved the impossible dream.

Indeed, neither of the sides really looked as if they could do anything special at the turn of the year, and they were hardly the two teams many of the Championship predictions would have favoured to be walking down Wembley way.

Forest were in the relegation zone after the first five games of the season; Chris Hughton sacked after a disastrous start and replaced by Cooper, who turned things around handsomely, climbing the table with each passing month, but even the most ambitious Forest fans would have struggled to fathom how a pursuit for the play-offs came to light. 

As for Huddersfield, a 20th place finish last season ensured very little optimism for the majority of Terriers fans, and since their relegation from the top flight in 2018-19 they barely mounted any kind of resistance against ongoing mediocrity. That was until this year where they finished third, just six points off an automatic promotion spot which Bournemouth ensured by beating Forest in the penultimate game of the season.

The Terriers edged past Luton Town in the semi-finals with a late Jordon Rhodes winner but struggled to create anything at Wembley, failing to get a shot on target throughout the game. Forest took the game by the scruff of the neck and controlled the majority of possession, looking much more comfortable in big-game situations despite the loss to Bournemouth. 

They had beaten Arsenal and Leicester City in a brilliant FA Cup run before taking eventual winners Liverpool to the wire at the City Ground. Cooper has put together an inventive young side, capable of causing plenty of upsets in the top flight after seeing out victory in the final.

There was very little to separate the sides after the Forest opener. Huddersfield trailed but opted for a more conversative approach to breaking the East Midland side down. But two controversial VAR decisions denied the Terriers a couple of penalties after Jon Moss waved away any protests. 

Forest end their 23-year wait for Premier League football thanks to Cooper, and with the likes of Brennan Johnson, who spearheaded the attack, and Djed Spence, who they’ll be hoping to secure on a permanent deal after his stellar performance at Wembley, the City Ground will be booming as it was in the west end of the final. 

‘It’s a magical football club and we’ve just reminded the world of that,’ he said. ‘We’ve been desperate for something like this and I’ve felt it in the last eight or nine months. I’m really proud of everybody connected with the club. It isn’t about individual success. It’s about the club.’

Only time will tell if Forest can be a figure of consistency in the Premier League. It’s promotion for a side with real football heritage, whose passionate fans will back them every step of this fairy-tale journey. You just wonder if it was a flash in the pan or a catalyst for even bigger things for the two-time European Cup winners.

 

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