Sheffield United: Paul Peschisolido's confession - and plea - after THAT goal against Nottingham Forest

Looking back, as he tries and fails to process what happened after the most memorable goal of his career, the more convinced Paul Peschisolido becomes it was an out of body experience.

Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 1:47 pm

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“Honestly, I wasn’t thinking anything, nothing going through my head,” the former Sheffield United centre-forward says, remembering how he gave it the full ‘Marco Tardelli’ and some following his strike against Nottingham Forest in the 2003 Championship play-off semi-finals. “I wasn’t there. My mind was sort of separated from my body. I’d never taken my shirt off after scoring before and, to the best of my knowledge, I didn’t do it ever again. Seriously, it was like something had taken me over. I look back at it now and wonder ‘What the heck are you doing?’

“Am I embarrassed, though? Definitely not. That’s what it meant so who cares?”

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The scene was set

Almost nineteen years to the day since their titanic tussle at Bramall Lane, the two clubs are preparing to meet again in the end of season knockouts as they chase a place in the Premier League. Inevitably Peschisolido, whose finish helped United progress despite trailing 3-1 on aggregate with only half an hour remaining, has received plenty of invitations since to discuss his role in the mother of all footballing comebacks. But even though he can narrate the flow of the game perfectly, describing how Michael Brown and Steve Kabba put Neil Warnock’s side back on level terms following finishes from David Johnson and Andy Reid, the Canadian’s recollections become more hazy when it reaches the part where, having just been summoned from the bench, he fired home past Darren Ward to edge United in front. Although Forest’s Des Walker and Peschisolido’s team mate Rob Page both turned into their own nets during the closing stages of extra-time, Peschisolido’s mazy run and finish was the turning point of the tie.

“I’ve seen it so many times because it often comes up on television and social media,” he says, before making the first of three confessions. “I’d actually been brought on for penalties. Neil told me when I was preparing to go out there that’s what he wanted me for, but that he wanted me to get a feel for the game.

“Then, all of a sudden, I’m running, weaving and bobbing about before probably mis-hitting my shot a little bit. When it ended up in the back of the net, the place just erupted. I was worried, mind you, that it was going to be the shortest substitute appearance in history. I’d used up so much emotional energy in what were probably just a couple of seconds that I was absolutely knackered. I thought I’d have to come off, genuinely. From then on, everything is just a bit of a blur.”

The search is on

One thing Peschisolido can recall however, thanks to a quick-thinking camera operator, is the reaction of one young spectator in the home end of the ground. “The picture pans to the crowd while I’m running about looking stupid and there’s a young lad in there crying. Everytime I watch it back, that bit always gives me goosebumps. It would be great to find out who he is and what he’s up to now.”

Paul Peschisolido celebrates with Steve Kabba after scoring against Nottingham Forest during the 2003 Championship play-off semi-final

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With the first leg at the City Ground ending in a 1-1 draw, United supporters feared the worst when Reid doubled Forest’s advantage following Johnson’s first-half strike. But on the pitch, Peschisolido insists, there was no sense of foreboding. The squad Warnock had assembled, stuffed to the gills with big personalities and huge characters, remained utterly convinced they would go through. Their successors, Peschisolido hopes, possess the same unshakeable self-belief as they prepare for this weekend’s encounter against opponents who ended the regular campaign in fourth; one place and five points above Paul Heckingbottom’s men.

“The thing was, with that bunch of lads, we never felt out of a game. When that deflected free-kick went in from Browny, I genuinely thought ‘We’ll do this.’ Seriously, that’s what everyone was thinking. Then, when Kabbs produced that brilliant piece of skill - flicking the ball up and volleying it home - I really knew. No doubts. We were certain.”

Paul Peschisolido celebrates his goal for Sheffield United against Nottingham Forest at Bramall Lane.

The great injustice

Peschisolido scored 23 times for United across two spells in South Yorkshire, joining Derby County 10 months after they were beaten in the play-off final by Wolverhampton Wanderers. “If there was any justice, we’d have gone up that year. After all the games, after getting to the semi-finals of both cups, that bunch of lads deserved it.”

Yet, despite the disappointment, he still regards his time at United as the best of a career which later saw him take charge of Burton Albion and now revolves around a project helping head coaches and managers.

“That was the tightest group I’ve ever known in football,” Peschisolido says. “We literally loved each other. Neil, he was brilliant at getting the chemistry just right. He told me, when I went to Burton, ‘The best money you might ever spend is getting rid of someone.’ If he brought a player in who upset things, even if it was a week after, he’d get rid. Some managers might worry about looking daft with the board. He didn’t care. Neil was across everything. He knew how important getting that blend was.”

“I’ll give you an example,” he continues. “Training didn’t start until 10am but you’d have lads getting in at eight o’clock just to listen to Kozzy (Rob Kozluk) ripping hell out of Dennis Pettitt the physio and Derek the kitman. It all started with Kozzy.”

The message

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom (left) is preparing his team for its latest double-header against Nottingham Forest: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.

Peschisolido, now aged 50, will be keeping a close eye on events during Saturday’s match and Tuesday’s return in the east Midlands. The winner will face either Huddersfield Town or Luton Town at Wembley later this month.

“Never give up, ever, that’s my message,” he says. “Because what happened with us in that game, it showed anything is possible.”

Neil Warnock was a master at getting the dressing room chemistry right says former Sheffield United striker Paul Peschisolido
Paul Peschisolido with his wife Karren Brady: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images