Sheffield United boss reveals what sparked his row with Nottingham Forest's Djed Spence

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom has explained what sparked his row with Nottingham Forest’s Djed Spence when the two clubs met in the second-leg of their Championship play-off semi-final at the City Ground.

Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 6:21 pm

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Heckingbottom was cautioned by referee Michael Oliver for his role in the confrontation, sparked by what the 44-year-old later described as Spence’s “gamesmanship” as he prepared to take a throw–in.

When one of the Forest defender’s team mates also became involved, United’s Jack Robinson could be seen racing across the pitch to protect Heckingbottom before a number of other people joined the melee.

Nottingham Forest's Djed Spence (right) celebrates the opening goal from team mate Brennan Johnson: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire.

“Gamesmanship, whatever you want to call it, okay, but not against my team,” said Heckingbottom, whose side were eventually beaten on penalties. “It was all about the throw-in and the gamesmanship.

“Sometimes, you need to defend your players. We needed that spark and that intensity and I thought we showed that.

“You protect your team like a family. I won’t have anyone taking the Michael out of them.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is booked by the referee during the Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-final, second leg match at the City Ground: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

“I did my bit to highlight it and got a yellow card. Fair enough. I thought Michael (Oliver, the referee) and his officials were excellent all night and also after that.”

The turnaround

Trailing 2-1 following Saturday’s match at Bramall Lane, United appeared to be dead and buried when Brennan Johnson stretched Forest’s lead in the return fixture. But goals from Morgan Gibbs-White and John Fleck levelled the score on aggregate, with Forest’s Brice Samba making a number of fine saves before the tie eventually went to spot-kicks. Oliver Norwood, Conor Hourihane and Gibbs-White all missed for United while Forest’s Joe Lolley also failed to convert.

Billy Sharp, who was not selected despite apparently making progress in his battle to overcome a muscle injury, required medical treatment afterwards having been attacked by a supporter as Forest’s fans invaded the pitch to celebrate reaching Wembley - where they will face Huddersfield Town for the right to compete at Premier League level next term.

“Huge congratulations to Forest and Steve (Cooper, their manager),” Heckingbottom said. “No disrespect, but I thought we had the better players on the night. No disrespect whatsoever.”