Fulham had to be patient this afternoon at the City Ground but three second half strikes saw them see off a stubborn Nottingham Forest and string together seventh successive league wins as they continue to blaze a trail at the top of Division One.

Louis Saha continued his red-hot form on his return to English football – sweeping home his tenth goal in seven league starts from the penalty spot after Christian Edwards had tripped Lee Clark in the area. Forest had frustrated the league leaders with a disciplined display of defending that was full of determination, but they folded in the closing stages. French winger Fabrice Fernandes thundered in a second with nine minutes left after working a clever one-two with Barry Hayles, who then completed the scoring with a deft chip over Dave Beasant.

The Whites were in the ascendancy from the first whistle and should have been home and dry long before Saha broke the deadlock from twelve yards in the second half. The French forward was the guiltiest culprit as he squandered two glorious chances inside the first ten minutes before Bjarne Goldbaek battered the far post with a venomous free-kick and Clark drove wide. Forest struggled to make much of an impression at the other end, with their best chance coming when Maik Taylor spilled a cross at the feet of Tony Vaughan – only for the Fulham defence to scramble the shot behind for a corner.

And Hayles completed the scoring when he calmly lobbed the ball over Forest goalkeeper Dave Beasant.

Jean Tigana’s side kept making the running after the interval with the home side restricted to speculative strikes from distance, such as the one unleashed by substitute Dougie Freedman that drew a smart save from Taylor. Fulham’s football was more incisive and just when it looked like the pace and power of Saha and company might be thwarted, an ill-judged challenge from Edwards gave the former Newcastle United forward the chance to fire the Londoners ahead. Forest protested that the award was soft but, although Clark might have made the most of the contact, television replays showed he was clearly taken down in the box.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST (5-3-2): Beasant; Louis-Jean (Freedman 70), Rogers, Brennan (Williams 53), Vaughan, Edwards; Bart-Williams, Prutton, Johnson; Harewood (John 77), Lester. Subs (not used): Roche, Blake.

BOOKED: Vaughan, Rogers, Lester.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor; Finnan, Brevett (Trollope 24), Melville, Coleman; Clark, W. Collins, Goldbaek, Fernandes; Saha (Boa Morte 71), Hayles. Subs (not used): Hahnemann, Neilson, Lewis.

GOALS: Saha (pen 58), Fernandes (82), Hayles (83).

REFEREE: Eddie Wolstenholme (Lancashire).