The visitors shot out of the blocks to go 2-0 up courtesy of goals from Pavel Pogrebnyak and Kaspars Gorkss, but strikes from Simon Cox, his third in as many games, and second-half substitute Darius Henderson put the game back in the balance.
Forest looked like the only winners from then on, but Jordan Obita scored out of the blue and, despite Chris Gunter’s late red card on his City Ground return, The Reds couldn’t rescue a point.
Billy Davies was forced into one change from the team that drew with Burnley last weekend as Dan Harding replaced Chris Cohen. The latter will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.
Eric Lichaj was substituted at half-time in the Clarets clash but was deemed fit enough to start this evening, leaving Gonzalo Jara to take a midfield berth. Andy Reid made the bench after recovering sufficiently from an injury sustained on international duty while Jack Hobbs, fully recovered from a virus which had almost kept him out last weekend, captained the side.
The evening heralded the return of three former Forest players as Billy Sharp, Gunter and Garath McCleary were all named in The Royals’ matchday squad.
And The Reds were left to rue the latter’s reappearance when he wriggled into the area on eight minutes before crossing low for Pogrebnyak to tap home at the Bridgford end.
It had been an incessant start by the visitors, who continued their pressure and doubled their lead five minutes later as Gorkss stooped to head home from a corner.
Forest quite simply hadn’t settled into the game, but they soon took a foothold and Henri Lansbury and Jamie Paterson saw long-range efforts blocked.
And just after the half-hour they twice went close in quick succession.
After taking a short corner with Harding, Paterson swung in a cross which found Cox at the back post. The former Reading man was crowded out and his shot was blocked, but the rebound fell to Lansbury on the edge of the area. Under pressure he curled a right-footed effort just wide of Alex McCarthy’s post.
Lansbury offered a similar effort minutes later after at the other end McCleary had sprinted into space and lashed wide from 20 yards.
The hosts were very much in the game and emphasised the point by halving the deficit five minutes before half-time.
Jamie Mackie capitalised on Gorkss’ slip and raced away down the right before crossing low into the area. Cox had sprinted to offer the former QPR man a target and did well to steer the ball home and send Forest into the break with the bit between their teeth.
Paterson and Radi Majewski made way for Reid and Henderson as the hosts began the second period with purpose.
Pogrebnyak was booked shortly after the restart after clashing with Jamaal Lascelles in the air before Henderson’s first-time effort after Cox’s neat lay-off whistled just over the bar.
And the front man went close with another first-time effort moments later when he met Harding’s low cross from the left. Henderson dragged it across goal and could only watch on as the ball ran wide of the post.
It was all Forest, who had shouts for a penalty waved away after Henderson appeared to be barged over on the edge of the area as he looked to get on the end of Reid’s cross. The ball went all the way through to Mackie who controlled brilliantly, spun away from his marker and saw his shot blocked by a defender.
And the energetic forward went close again minutes later after guiding Harding’s perfect first-time cross towards McCarthy’s top corner. The keeper had to scamper to his left to tip it over.
But there was nothing the keeper could do on the hour mark as the rampant Reds got their reward in the shape of an equaliser.
Henderson showed superb footwork to first take Cox’s pass before wriggling his way into a shooting position. His finish was excellent, low and controlled beyond McCarthy.
Still the hosts pressed, and they came within an inch of going ahead five minutes after levelling.
Cox did brilliantly to dispossess Danny Williams in the centre before leading a charge into Reading’s half. Mackie made a lung-bursting run to his right which Cox met with a precise through ball. With a defender hot on his heels, Mackie reached the edge of the area and opted for power with a strike which most in the ground thought was heading in, only for the woodwork to halt the celebrations.
Forest had been nothing short of outstanding after the break, but they were dealt a sucker punch with 16 minutes to play as Obita put the visitors back ahead.
McCleary’s cross from the right somehow reached the Royals Academy graduate, whose powerful finish zipped up off Darlow and into the roof of the net.
A wave of substitutions followed as Matt Derbyshire replaced Harding, while Sharp replaced Obita and Pogrebnyak made way for Nick Blackman for the visitors.
And as one former Red came on, another went off. Gunter, who had earlier been booked for booting the ball away, tangled with Mackie on the edge of the area and was shown a second yellow card.
Obita’s strike had temporarily knocked the stuffing out of Forest, but they began another assault on Reading’s goal as the clock ticked down.
With just over a minute to play, Mackie sprayed a delightful cross-field ball out to Cox. The striker brought it down superbly, took it into the area, cut in on his left and saw his curling effort deflect behind for a corner. The Ireland international appealed for handball but Stuart Attwell was unmoved.
Four minutes of time were indicated, during which Lansbury was booked for a foul, but the hosts couldn’t summon an equaliser.
Darlow, Lichaj, Hobbs (c), Lascelles, Harding (Derbyshire 80'), Jara, Lansbury, Majewski (Henderson 46'), Paterson (Reid 46'), Cox, Mackie
Subs not used: De Vries, Halford, Chalobah, Abdoun
Scorers: Cox 40', Henderson 60'
Bookings: Harding 68', Lascelles 90', Lansbury 90'
McCarthy, Gunter, Kelly, Pearce, Pogrebnyak (Blackman 80'), McCleary, Gorkss, Robson-Kanu (McAnuff 69'), Guthrie (c), Williams, Obita (Sharp 80')
Subs not used: Federici, Le Fondre, Akpan, Cummings
Scorers: Pogrebnyak 8', Gorkss 13', Obika 74'
Bookings: Pogrebnyak 47', Gunter 54'
Sent off: Gunter 81'
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Attendance: 21,199 (Away: 886)