Liam Bridcutt's first goal for the club was in vain as Nottingham Forest fell to a 2-1 defeat against Cardiff City this evening.
In an evenly-contested match, Bridcutt's second-half leveller had looked like giving Forest a deserved point in South Wales but an Aaron Gunnarsson strike with 15 minutes to go proved decisive.
Sean Morrison's header gave The Bluebirds a half-time lead but there will be plenty of positives for Aitor Karanka to take from the game heading into the final few games of the season.
There were four changes to the Forest starting line-up with Stefanos Kapino replacing Costel Pantilimon in goal for his debut, while Eric Lichaj, Bridcutt and Matty Cash also came into the side.
The Reds should have taken the lead on nine minutes as Joe Lolley and Cash linked up well in the Cardiff half, with the latter allowing the ball to run through for the former who charged into the area but saw his right-footed strike drift over the bar.
The home side responded with a half-chance of their own on 12 minutes though as captain Morrison rose highest from a corner but a Forest body got in the way of his header, allowing debutant Kapino to gather on the goalline.
Opportunities continued to fall Forest's way though, as Ben Brereton was denied by a fine block by Morrison, then Tobias Figueiredo – fresh from agreeing to join the club permanently in the summer – saw a volley from a corner blocked as The Reds showed plenty of attacking intent.
A glorious chance came for Karanka's men on 23 as Lolley again led the charge, breaking through the middle and finding Bridcutt on the right of the penalty area, but the midfield-man's touch let him down and allowed goalkeeper Neil Etheridge to smother the ball.
Forest were made to pay for those missed chances though as on 35 minutes as Cardiff took the lead. Joe Ralls' delivery into the box from a corner was inviting for Morrison who towered above everyone at the back post to power a header into the net.
There was a good response to going behind from Forest as Lichaj's early delivery into the box was volleyed goalwards by Jack Colback, but it was straight down the throat of Etheridge.
The home side came within a whisker of doubling their lead straight after the restart as Kenneth Zohore raced through on goal and dinked an effort over the onrushing Kapino. The ball hit the inside of the post and bounced on the line as Danny Fox heroically cleared it, with the expectant crowd awaiting the verdict of the goalline technology which ruled no goal.
There was no doubt just minutes later as Bridcutt hit the back of the net to draw Forest level. Superb build-up play saw Brereton tee up Lolley in the middle of the park, his raking pass finding Ben Osborn charging down the left and he squared it for Bridcutt to volley side-footed past Etheridge for his first goal for the club.
The game was evenly poised, with Forest looking threatening on the counter attack but Cardiff probing for a way through to keep their automatic promotion hopes alive.
The Bluebirds found their breakthrough with 15 minutes to go and it was another set piece which proved costly for The Reds. Junior Hoilett's deep delivery to the back post was headed back across goal by substitute Sol Bamba and Gunnarsson was there to fire home from close range.
Despite his good work to set up their second goal, Bamba almost gifted Forest an equaliser as his wayward pass landed straight at the feet of Osborn who drove at goal on the left. He tried to square for sub Apostolos Vellios who could only tee up Jack Colback for a blocked shot. The second phase then saw Osborn deliver to the back post for Cash but he lost the flight of the ball and the chance fizzled out.
Forest pushed to find the leveller late on but couldn't break down the resolute Cardiff rearguard as the home side held on for three vital points.
Forest: Kapino, Lichaj, Figueiredo (Mancienne 60'), Fox, Osborn, Watson (c), Colback, Bridcutt (Guedioura 71'), Cash, Lolley (Vellios 81'), Brereton
Unused subs: Smith, Dowell, Darikwa, Bouchalakis
Goal: Bridcutt 50'
Bookings: Mancienne 73', Watson 73', Colback 90'
Cardiff: Etheridge, Peltier (Bamba 46'), Morrison (c), Ecuele Manga, Bennett, Ralls, Gunnarsson, Bryson (Paterson 86'), Mendez-Laing (Wilsdchut 71'), Hoilett, Zohore
Unused subs: Murphy, Pilkington, Grujic, Madine
Goals: Morrison 35', Gunnarsson 74'
Referee: Peter Bankes
Attendance: 21,310 (593 away)