Sheffield United: Paddy Kenny reveals what happened after 2003's epic play-off clash with Nottingham Forest

“It was my assist you know,” reminds Paddy Kenny as, nineteen years after the event, he discusses Paul Peschisolido’s strike for Sheffield United during their epic Division One play-off semi-final against Nottingham Forest. “I saw him and so I launched it. I got another one that night as well, but I’m not too sure whose that one was.”

By James Shield
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 4:34 pm

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For the record it was Steve Kabba, with the former Crystal Palace centre-forward producing a delightful piece of skill after collecting the goalkeeper’s long punt upfield. But Peschisolido’s finish, and Kenny’s part in it, remains the abiding memory of what proved to be a truly colossal second-leg.

Despite trailing 3-1 on aggregate with only half an hour remaining, Neil Warnock’s side went through 5-4 after Michael Brown had started the comeback and then, following Kabba’s equaliser, the Canadian turned the contest on its head. Two own goals, from Forest’s Des Walker and United’s Robert Page, ensured a momentous encounter got the dramatic ending it deserved.

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The memories

“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Kenny insists. “Every single bit of it. One thing that always comes to mind is after Pesh scored, Jags (Phil Jagielka) and me were dancing around and rolling on top of each other and Pagey came over and said ‘F*****g get back up the pair of you, ‘cos we haven’t done this yet.’ When he put one past me later on in extra-time, I didn’t dare say anything to him because he was as hard as nails.”

The after-show party

Former Sheffield United goalkeeper Paddy Kenny remembers the win over Nottingham Forest: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Speaking as United and Forest prepare to meet again in the end of season knockouts - the first instalment of their double header takes place at Bramall Lane on Saturday - Peschisolido told The Star today that character and camaraderie were the secrets of United’s success in 2003. Kenny agrees, citing Warnock’s no-holds-barred approach and chemistry among a squad also containing the likes of Rob Kozluk and Stuart McCall, now current manager Paul Heckingbottom’s assistant, as critical factors.

“The gaffer had about 24 forwards on the bench as usual, so that helped, definitely. But like Pesch says, we were so tight it was untrue. There wasn’t a point in any game when we thought we were done."

“We all went out afterwards,” Kenny continues. “We were drinking at the ground for ages and then went to Bed nightclub and Napoleon's casino on Ecclesall Road. Then it was back to the hotel. We were having beers when guests started coming down for breakfast.”

Paul Peschisolido celebrates with Steve Kabba after scoring for Sheffield United against Nottingham Forest in 2003

The journey back

Heckingbottom hopes this weekend’s contest with Forest, who finished one place above his team in fourth, marks the start of United’s journey back to the Premier League following last term’s relegation.

Warnock’s men had to wait another three years before going up, losing the play-off final to Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. It proved to be a disappointing end to a campaign which, Kenny reflects, had promised so much more with United also reaching the last four of both domestic cups.

“To be honest, I think the games just caught up with us in the end. When we beat Forest in the league earlier on, we hadn’t even trained because it was two days after the FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal and Neil just told us to turn up at the ground."

Paul Heckingbottom is preparing Sheffield United to face Nottingham Forest again: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Stuart McCall with Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Simon Bellis / Sportimage