Two goals from Henri Lansbury weren’t enough to cancel out Ross McCormack’s hat-trick as Nottingham Forest were beaten 3-2 by Fulham at Craven Cottage this evening.
McCormack had fired the hosts into a 3-0 lead after only 35 minutes before Lansbury cut the deficit with a neatly-placed free-kick in first-half injury time.
Lansbury scored again shortly after half-time and The Reds created a number of opportunities to score an equaliser, but they were eventually left to rue McCormack’s masterclass.
Stuart Pearce named the same starting line-up that won at Derby at the weekend.
That meant Dorus de Vries kept his place in goal with Karl Darlow on the bench, while Derby-day goalscoring hero Ben Osborn continued in a left midfield role.
Britt Assombalonga and Michail Antonio’s involvement was in slight doubt ahead of the match but both were deemed fit to start.
Fulham began the match on the front foot and on three minutes McCormack tested de Vries for the first time. The former Leeds man curled the ball towards goal from the corner of Forest’s area but the keeper did brilliantly to acrobatically push it over the bar.
Gary Gardner was making his second start in a Forest shirt, and he set about creating Forest’s first opening with a lofted ball over the top for Assombalonga on five minutes. The striker backheeled the ball for Antonio, who saw his shot blocked.
But the deadlock was broken at the other end two minutes later. Seko Fofana’s pass looked like it had gone astray, but the ball found its way to Hugo Rodallega. The Colombian laid it off for McCormack who swept it into the bottom far corner with a lovely curled effort.
Fulham were well in the ascendancy and had another chance on 11 minutes when McCormack cut the ball back for Alexander Kacaniklic, but the Swede could only send it bobbling into de Vries’ grateful grasp.
There was a half-chance for The Reds shortly afterwards, Gardner picking the ball up on the edge of the area after Jack Hobbs’ header from a corner was cleared. The loanee could only scuff the ball over the bar on the volley.
But it was 2-0 on 18 minutes. Once again, McCormack benefited from a Rodallega knock down to stroke the ball goal wards.
This time it crashed off the base of de Vries’ post, rolled along the line and nestled in the far side-netting.
Forest were struggling to create opportunities for themselves but they were handed a gift on 23 minutes when a Fulham defender’s back-header dropped short of keeper Marcus Bettinelli. Assombalonga was on the scene but the keeper sprung into action to block his shot from point-blank range.
It was de Vries’ turn to be alert shortly afterwards when Scott Parker sent the ball over the top of Forest’s defence. Rodallega was in pursuit but de Vries was out quickly enough to clear the ball.
And the keeper was tested once more on 31 minutes after some excellent Fulham passing in Forest’s final third. McCormack backheeled the ball brilliantly to release Kacaniklic into the area. The winger pulled the ball back for Fofana from the byline but de Vries made an outstanding save to deny the midfielder from six yards.
Pearce made his first change of the evening on 31 minutes, sending on Stephen McLaughlin in place of Eric Lichaj in a like-for-like swap at left back.
But there was nothing the Irishman could do to prevent McCormack from scoring his hat-trick. This time he needed a deflection off Todd Kane to help the ball loop over de Vries and into the net from another well-struck effort.
With half-time approaching, Forest knew they had to act quickly. Gardner spread the ball to Antonio, who brought it down on his chest before firing it high over the bar from range.
But, in the first of two added minutes, The Reds got a goal back after Antonio was fouled 22 yards out. From a set-piece which had clearly been worked on in training, Lansbury played a mini one-two with Robert Tesche before curling the ball expertly round the wall, just inside the post and into the net.
There were no changes for either side at the break but Forest had a fantastic chance to bring the scoreline back to 3-2 within minutes of the restart.
Fulham managed to clear the ball from a corner but it only came as far as Lansbury 25 yards out, who worked it back into the area. The ball rolled into the feet of an unmarked Hobbs, who had to readjust quickly to get his shot away, poking the ball goalwards. Backpedalling, Konstantinos Stafylidis managed to divert the ball around the post and out for a corner.
The Reds were looking purposeful in pursuit of their next goal, and Tesche nearly had a chance to score it when his run towards the area was met by Osborn’s pass. The German did well to keep the ball under close control while running at pace into a crowded box but he couldn’t generate the power or direction on his shot to trouble Bettinelli.
But the keeper was in a world of trouble on 63 minutes when Lansbury received the ball from Antonio after the winger had stretched to control a cross from the left. Lansbury made no mistake in curling the ball into the net from just inside the area.
Forest were now completely dominating proceedings, Assombalonga curling the ball just over the bar from the edge of the box before squandering a guilt-edged opportunity to draw his side level.
Antonio delivered a wicked chest-high cross from the right. The ball flew through a crowd of bodies but found its way to Assombalonga six yards out with the goal gaping. The striker was unable to react quickly enough, however, and it bounced off him before Fulham cleared the danger.
Undeterred, Assombalonga made a surging run behind Fulham’s back line moments later, movement spotted by Kane who produced an excellent pass. Assombalonga controlled the ball well but, running away from goal, his lobbed effort was way off target.
Fulham were looking like a shadow of the team that had controlled the first half but Forest were running out of time to find an equaliser. As the clock struck 80 minutes, Gardner robbed his man of possession in midfield and fired the ball low into the area.
With his left side to goal and his marker tight to him, Antonio clipped the ball first time with his right foot, sending it just wide of the post.
Forest continued their pressure by firing a number of crosses into the box, one of which saw the ball drop to Tesche at the back post. His header was fumbled by Bettinelli but, in a blaze of panic, the keeper managed to reclaim the ball on his own goal line.
Four minutes of added time were indicated as Nikolay Bodurov sprawled to clear the ball out for a corner. This time Bettinelli showed much safer hands, emerging from a crowd to pluck the ball cleanly out of the air from Osborn’s delivery.
With Forest pushing desperately for an equaliser there was always a danger that Fulham would hit them on the break.
And they did - only to be denied by the fourth official’s flag. Substitute Cauley Woodrow, who turned the ball home from close range, was the frustrated party.
But it was The Reds who suffered the ultimate frustration when the referee’s whistle blew for full-time, calling time on a match which they were unfortunate not to turn completely on its head.