Ross McCormack’s first half hat-trick fired Fulham to victory over Nottingham Forest at Craven Cottage tonight, although the home side had to withstand a fierce away fightback after the interval.
The Scottish striker moved onto ten goals for the season with three fantastic strikes from distance to pile more pressure on Forest boss Stuart Pearce. But Forest almost claimed an unlikely point after Henri Lansbury reduced the arrears with two goals either side of the interval and top scorer Britt Assombalonga missed a glorious chance to bringing the away side level.
Pearce had hoped that Forest might have turned the corner with their weekend win over local rivals Derby, which was their first league success in nine appears, but their plans to improve on that victory lay in tatters after McCormack scored three times in 28 minutes. He gave an early warning of his threat when an early sight from the edge of the box swerved towards the corner and was brilliantly tipped over by Dorus de Vries.
But Forest couldn’t handle one of the Championship’s most potent goalscorers. McCormack made them pay for not closing him down twenty yards from goal when he drove low into the net after latching into Hugo Rodallega’s clever lay-off. He followed up a blocked Rodallega shot from just outside the box on 18 minutes – with his unerring finish flying in off the far post. Forest should have halved the arrears when Assombalonga intercepted a horrid back header from Kostas Stafylidis, but Marcus Bettinelli bailed out the Greek left back with a brave block.
De Vries did brilliantly to keep out Seko Fofana’s close range finish at the other end a minute later, but he was helpless ten minutes before the break when another long-range McCormack effort – this time from the left edge of the penalty area – looped over the goalkeeper off defender Todd Kane. Lansbury’s lovely free-kick on the stroke of half time did give Forest something to work and the nerves were jangling amongst the Fulham faithful when the former Arsenal midfielder poached a second just after the hour mark.
Pearce’s charges kept pushing for an equaliser and, after Fulham fluffed a couple of good chances to put the game to bed, Assombalonga astonishingly headed wide of an empty net from three yards out. It was a lucky let off for Fulham – who were indebted to McCormack for establishing such a strong advantage in the first half.
FULHAM (4-1-2-1-2): Bettinelli; Grimmer, Stafylidis, Hutchinson, Bodurov; Parker (Ruiz 57); Tunnicliffe, Fofana; Kacaniklic; Rodallega (Woodrow 77), McCormack. Subs (not used): Kiraly, Burn, Williams, Roberts, Dembele.
BOOKED: Grimmer, Kacaniklic.
GOALS: McCormack (7, 18, 35).
NOTTINGHAM FOREST (4-2-3-1) De Vries; Kane,Hobbs,Wilson,Lichaj (McLaughlin 32); Antonio, Gardner; Lansbury, Osborn, Tesche; Assombalonga. Subs (not used): Darlow, Veldwijk, Lascelles, Paterson, Vaughan, C. Burke.
GOALS: Lansbury (45, 62).
REFEREE: Andy Haines (Tyne and Wear).