If this does, as the pre-match speculation suggested, prove to Felix Magath’s final game in charge at Fulham, at least the German coach can point to the fact that his side went down fighting. There was plenty of a spirit on show at the City Ground as he side clawed their way back from a two-goal deficit and a staggering refereeing decision, to briefly claim a second-half lead but they ultimately paid the price for the shambolic defending that has characterised their alarming start to life in the Championship.
Nottingham Forest returned to the top of the table following this win, which was certainly patchy at times, but the difference was marked in both penalty boxes. Where Fulham’s defending was abject, Stuart Pearce’s side certainly rode their luck at times, but there were clinical in the opposition’s eighteen yard box. Already, Britt Assamablonga looks like the kind of poacher Forest have been missing in recent years and his goals could well be enough to sustain the serious promotion push the fans have been craving in these parts. Pearce’s side had five shots on target – and scored five goals. There was no escaping that statistic for Magath, who still claimed to have confidence in his job after the final whistle, and laid the blame for the latest defeat at the door of referee Darren Deadman and misfortune.
Magath certainly had a case as the referee’s decision to award a penalty for what looked like a strong, but perfectly judged challenge from Sean Hutchinson, seems even more baffling when television replays suggested that the tackle took place outside the penalty area. The Fulham players were incensed, surrounding the referee, with Dan Burn booked for his part in the protestations, before Assombalonga coolly dispatched the spot-kick. The problem was that Fulham were already a goal down by that point after they had failed to mark properly from an early set-play, allowing Assombalonga to power a header past Gabor Kiraly from Henri Lansbury’s free-kick.
The penalty decision did appear to galvanise a Fulham side, who had played the better football prior to Forest taking the lead. They got a foothold in the contest just after the half hour when Ross McCormack whipped in a splendid free-kick into the top corner after Jack Hunt had fouled Kostas Stafylidis. Hugo Rodallega should have equalised before half-time having rounded goalkeeper Karl Darlow but the retreating Eric Lichaj was able to block the Colombian striker’s goalbound shot. An enthralling second half delivered five more goals and Fulham could briefly dream of taking all three points back to London.
First, Rodallega assuredly converted a fine first-time cross from full-back Fernando Amorebieta to bring the ten man level and the former Wigan forward was most aggrieved when he failed even to get a free-kick having appeared to have been tugged back by last man Danny Fox as he tried to reach Chris David’s through ball. Fulham were now playing more of the football and grabbed their reward twenty minutes into the second period when a swift break saw substitute David and Rodallega free McCormack into the inside-left channel and the former Leeds’ forward deflected shot left Darlow with little chance.
But, despite fielding six defenders in a much-changed starting line-up, Magath’s side crumbled once Michail Antonio cleverly turned Burn and then stroked home a superb finish from the edge of the box to level the contest. They conceded two further goals in the final ten minutes. Assombalonga completed his hat-trick with a simple tap-in from close range after his header had come back off the far post and substitute Jamie Paterson surged through the Fulham defence in the final minute of normal time to give the scoreline a much more convincing look after Scott Parker had lost possession in midfield.
NOTTINGHAM FOREST (4-2-3-1): Darlow; Hunt, Lichaj (Wilson 56), Mancienne, Fox; Tesche (Lascelles 90), Osborn (Paterson 69); Burke, Antonio, Lansbury; Assombalonga. Subs (not used): de Vries, Veldwijk, Vaughan, McLaughan.
BOOKED: Osborn, Tesche.
GOALS: Assomablonga (9, pen 21, 79), Antonio (77), Paterson (89).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Kiraly; Bodurov, Amorebieta, Hutchinson (David 45), Burn; Fotheringham (Roberts 81), Parker, Hoogland, Stafylidis; McCormack, Rodallega. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Kavanagh, Hyndman, Eisfield, G. Williams.
BOOKED: Amorebieta, Hutchinson, Burn, Parker, Fotheringham.
GOALS: McCormack (31, 65), Rodallega (51).
REFEREE: Darren Deadman (Peterborough).