Nottingham Forest fell to their first league defeat of the season with a 2-1 loss at the Cardiff City Stadium this afternoon.
It was a frustrating afternoon for The Reds, who came within inches of opening the scoring through Chris Burke a minute before Federico Macheda put the Bluebirds ahead in the first half.
Peter Whittingham made it 2-0 five minutes later and, despite huge pressure in second-half injury time, Forest couldn’t equalise after Britt Assombalonga’s 89th-minute strike.
Kelvin Wilson’s recovery from a brief illness enabled Stuart Pearce to name an unchanged starting 11 from the one that earned a draw against Ipswich before the international break.
Dexter Blackstock was named in a Forest league squad for the first time since last October, an absence caused by a long-term injury he suffered while on loan at Leeds United. He was joined on the bench by David Vaughan, who had recovered from a hamstring problem.
It was Russell Slade’s first game as Cardiff manager and the former Yeovil boss witnessed his side claim the first shot of the game on six minutes. Anthony Pilkington twisted and turned with the ball after coming in from the right before striking it towards goal from 25 yards. Darlow pushed it away.
Forest’s response was immediate and came courtesy of Matty Fryatt. The forward brought down a long ball, played a one-two with Tesche before producing a tremendous strike from just outside the area. The ball arrowed towards David Marshall’s bottom corner but the keeper dived to his left to make a terrific save, pushing it wide.
The Reds had made a bright start to the game but were almost caught on the counter attack on ten minutes. Marshall claimed a Henri Lansbury corner before punting the ball forward for Adam Le Fondre to hold up. He brought John Brayford into play after the full back had made a burst from right back, but the former Derby man could only drag the ball across goal and comfortably wide of Darlow’s far post.
Burke received a warm reception from the Cardiff faithful before the game, and he was making a menace of himself on his return to his former club. On 20 minutes he came within inches of handing Forest the lead, receiving a short corner, skillfully beating two men in the area before shooting with the outside of his boot. The ball beat Marshall but not winger Craig Noone, who exhibited terrific defensive instincts by racing to the line and clearing the shot away.
Within a minute of Noone’s heroics, his side took the lead. Macheda received the ball as the home side broke, ghosting past Lichaj and guiding the ball with precision beyond Darlow from the edge of the area.
If Forest were feeling frustrated at that point, their displeasure was only compounded five minutes later when Whittingham doubled the lead. He struck the ball sweetly from 20 yards, sending it through a crowd of bodies and into Darlow’s left-hand corner.
The goals had put the hosts in the ascendancy, and Whittingham was in the mood for a second. His vicious half-volley after Brayford’s shot had been blocked whistled a yard over the bar.
Forest regained their composure, however, and ended the half on the front foot. Jack Hunt found Assombalonga with a cross towards the back post. The striker was adamant he had headed the ball against a Cardiff man but referee Mike Jones, who had earlier booked Kelvin Wilson for a foul on Macheda, gave a goal kick.
Pearce made a like-for-like switch at half-time, replacing left-back Lichaj with Dan Harding.
It was a quiet start to the second period, with Cardiff claiming the first chance on 56 minutes. A cross from the right went all the way to Sean Morrison at the back post, whose header was well blocked by Darlow.
Shortly afterwards Lansbury, who had been booked, was substituted for Vaughan. The Welshman looked to make an immediate impact but could only blast the ball over from range after receiving it in space.
Forest thought they had pegged a goal back on 63 minutes when Assombalonga tapped the ball home from six yards after Marshall had parried Antonio’s shot. The striker had been in an offside position according to the assistant referee.
Minutes later, Fryatt ensured The Reds kept up their pressure with some excellent footwork in the area. He crossed the ball dangerously into the middle, where it bounced up nicely for Jack Hunt. The full back smashed it towards goal but a Cardiff defender got his body in the way.
Lars Veldwijk entered the fray with 13 minutes left, replacing Hunt as Forest opted for a more attacking style.
But clear-cut chances were proving hard to come by for The Reds. Dangerous corners from Antonio and Vaughan provided fleeting opportunities with ten minutes to play, but Pearce’s men were unable to capitalise.
That wasn’t the story with a minute of normal time remaining, however. Antonio embarked on a brilliant run down the right and sent a vicious cross into the middle from the byline. The ball bypassed Veldwijk but Assombalonga was there to fire home.
All of a sudden it was a nervy Cardiff City Stadium as four minutes of added time were indicated.
If Forest were to get an equaliser, it was likely Antonio would be involved. His dangerous cross from the right was brilliantly headed away by Bruno Ecuele Manga, before the winger became the latest player to curse Marshall, who saved his shot on the turn to kill The Reds off once and for all.
Forest: Darlow, Hunt (Veldwijk 77'), Mancienne(C), Wilson, Lichaj (Harding 46'), Lansbury (Vaughan 56'), Tesche, Burke, Antonio, Assombalonga, Fryatt
Subs not used: De Vries, Lascelles, Blackstock, Osborn.
Bookings: Wilson 41', Lansbury 54', Assombalonga 87',
Goal: Assombalonga 88',
Cardiff: Marshall, Brayford, Ralls, S Morrison, Manga, Whittingham, Noone, Gunnarsson (Adeyemi 66') , Pilkington, Le Fondre, Macheda (Jones, 61').
Subs not used: Moore, Gabbidon, John, Daehli, Maynard.
Goals: Macheda 22', Whittingham 27'
Bookings: Noone 45',
Referee: Michael Jones