Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom revealed Billy Sharp required stitches after being “attacked” when Nottingham Forest fans spilled on to the pitch at the end of the Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-final.
The Blades captain was sidelined for this second leg because of injury and was stood on the touchline after Forest secured a dramatic 3-2 penalty shootout victory following a 3-3 aggregate draw, which precipitated a pitch invasion at the City Ground.
Footage shared on social media appears to show one supporter running at the 36-year-old former Forest striker and knocking him to the ground, with Nottinghamshire Police launching an investigation.
Police have launched an investigation after a footballer was assaulted on the pitch at the end of tonight’s Nottingham Forest versus Sheffield United Championship play-off match played at the City Ground. https://t.co/h0QX6eZ7Plpic.twitter.com/Wfz9kTCHHe— Notts Police (@nottspolice) May 17, 2022
Forest have condemned the incident and said in a statement they will “will work with the authorities to locate the individual” and the offender will be subject to “a life ban” from the club.
“It’s assault,” a furious Heckingbottom claimed. “We’ve seen one of our players attacked. He’s shook up, bleeding, angry.
“Bill was minding his own business off the pitch, trying to get our players away. He was blindsided, it was cowardly. He was knocked to the ground (and required) stitches, he was shook up.”
Heckingbottom added on Sky Sports: “There will be something done about that. We’ve seen what happened, we know what happened.”
Nottinghamshire Police assistant chief constable Rob Griffin said in a statement: “Enquiries are under way to identify the offender and we will be looking to make an arrest as soon as possible.
“We have seen the footage, as many others will have who watched the televised match, and we are appealing for anyone who knows who the offender is to please get in contact with us as soon as possible
“We have spoken to the player concerned and we are working with both clubs which are supporting us with our investigation which will continue through the night.”
The incident overshadowed Forest’s win, where the Reds’ victory secured a play-off final showdown against Huddersfield on Sunday, May 29 at Wembley Stadium and the chance of a top-flight return for the first time since 1999.
They were pushed all the way here, though, after squandering a two-goal lead. After leading 2-1 from the first leg Brennan Johnson gave them a cushion but second half goals from Blades duo Morgan Gibbs-White and John Fleck pushed the tie to extra-time and then penalties.
Brice Samba, who produced a special point-blank save from Iliman Ndiaye late on, then kept out the spot-kicks of Oliver Norwood, Conor Hourihane and Gibbs-White to the delight of a packed out crowd.
Forest head coach Steve Cooper, who took charge of the club when they were bottom of the second tier last September, said: “To get through a two-legged play-off semi-final, you have to do everything.
“We’ve managed to come through a lot. I would have loved to have won the game 3-1 and walked off but the fact we’ve done it like we have means we’re more tooled up now to go to the final.
“I promise you I will work even harder than I’ve worked to get this. No days off, I’ll be the first one at the training ground (on Wednesday) and we’ll be ready.
“Don’t come into something and not aim to be the best, there’s no point just competing, especially at this football club – it deserves the best.”
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