Nottingham Forest passed their sternest test of the Championship campaign so far with flying colours as they overcame high-flying Cardiff at The City Ground.Two goals in as many first half minutes from Andy Reid and Daniel Ayala and a Billy Sharp strike secured their most convincing win of the season so far.
Heidar Helguson pulled a late goal back for the visitors and Forest had to play the final six minutes with just 10 men when Adlene Guedioura was sent-off for the second time this season.
But that did little to take the shine off an excellent – and highly encouraging - afternoon for Sean O’Driscoll’s men.
O’Driscoll made just one change to the side that had started against Peterborough a fortnight earlier with Guedioura, fresh from helping Algeria clinch a place in the African Cup of Nations, preferred to Lewis McGugan in midfield.
McGugan dropped to the bench where there was no place for Jermaine Jenas, who had only resumed training on Thursday due to a back injury.
The first half chance of the game fell to Don Cowie but he failed to direct his header from a Craig Conway cross on target.
In truth, the game was a lack-lustre affair until Forest took a firm grip on proceedings with their quick-fire double.
Reid set them on their way as he followed-up his match-winner against Peterborough with a free-kick that oozed quality.
Kevin McNaughton brought down Cox two yards outside the area – and in a central position – and Red stepped-up to curl a left-footed shot into the top right-hand corner of David Marshall’s goal.
The celebrations were still going strong when The Reds extended their lead, courtesy of Ayala’s first goal for the club.
The Spanish central defender rose highest to head a pin-point cross from Greg Halford beyond Marshall’s despairing dive after Cardiff had only partially cleared one of Halford’s trademark long throws.
Sharp came close to opening his Reds goal account on the stroke of half-time but his header from a Chris Cohen free-kick was deflected behind for a corner.
But he didn’t have to wait too much longer as he grabbed Forest’s third goal just two minutes into the second half.
He sprang Cardiff’s off-side trap as he raced onto half-time substitute Radi Majewski’s slide-rule pass and calmly slotted the ball past Marshall from a tight angle.
The shell-shocked visitors attempted to respond but Tommy Smith squandered a golden opportunity as he headed wide from substitute Craig Noone’s exquisite cross from the left.
But they established a foothold in the game with 16 minutes remaining as Helguson got on the end of a high looping cross and beat Camp from close range.
That was just the fillip they needed and they came close to scoring a second five minutes later. Smith fired against Camp’s right-hand upright and in the ensuing melee Noone was denied twice, first by a brave Ayala block and then a smart save from Camp.
Cardiff skipper Mark Hudson blocked on the line from Chris Cohen as Forest looked to restore their three-goal advantage.
They were reduced to ten men when Guedioura, booked earlier in the second half, was shown a second yellow following a clumsy challenge.
Camp made a smart save to keep out the livewire Noone and then produced a stunning injury-time stop to tip behind a Rudy Gestede header that looked destined for the top left-hand corner.
Forest: Camp, Halford, Ayala, Collins, Harding, Gillett, Cohen, Guedioura, Reid (Moussi 74'), Sharp, Cox (Majewski 46' (Moloney 89')).
Subs not used: Evtimov, McGugan, Tudgay, Coppinger.
Scorers: Reid 25', Ayala 27', Sharp 47'
Booking: Cox 45', Guedioura 58', Halford 78'
Sent off: Guedioura 84' (2nd yellow card)
Cardiff: Marshall, McNaughton (Mason 81'), Taylor, Hudson, Whittingham, Cowie, Conway (Noone 57'), Connelly, Smith, Gunnarsson (Gestede 65'), Helguson.
Subs not used: Lewis, Turner, Kim, Rails.
Scorer: Helguson 74'
Booking: Connelly 45', Hudson 90'
Referee: Darren Drysdale
Attendance: 21,491 (Away: 1,856)