A brilliant brace from Lewis Grabban secured a smash-and-grab victory for Nottingham Forest at Fulham this afternoon.
Scott Parker’s side were well below the sublime levels of performance that saw them demolish Millwall in midweek and, despite dominating possession, were left to rue defensive errors that proved costly despite laying siege to the Forest goal in the closing stages. Parker took responsibility for young Steven Sessegnon’s poor pass that presented Grabban with the opportunity to double the visitors’ lead – an opening he finished with real aplomb – and this was a reminder that the Championship is an unforgiving league.
Forest were disciplined defensively and incredibly well-drilled and, if there was more than a little gamemanship as they tried to hold onto their advantage, then Sabri Lamouchi’s men should be applauded for the adventurous way they sort to put Fulham on the back foot from the off. They had already threatened to exploit Sessegnon’s inexperience before a beautiful move between Tiago Silva, Joe Lolley and Jack Robinson sent the full back scampering into space down the left. Grabban bent his run beautifully to drift off the back of Tim Ream and coolly converted the cross at the back post to score his second goal of the season.
Fulham were caught cold by their opponents’ strong start. Grabban, an expert goal-poacher at this level, might have made it two from twenty five yards with an audacious effort that drifted wide – and Lamouchi’s side were adept at preventing Fulham’s one-touch football from seriously threatening their penalty area. The hosts were largely restricted to efforts from outside the penalty area, with Joe Bryan and Harry Arter driving speculative shots wide, and league debutant Brice Samba was only troubled once – when an Aleksandar Mitrovic strike lacked the power or placement to beat him. Silva might have done better than hook an ambitious overhead kick wide had he realised just how much time he had in front of the Fulham goal.
Parker replaced Stefan Johansen with Bobby Decordova-Reid at the break, but the former Cardiff and Bristol City forward seemed uncertain of whether to partner Mitrovic or drift into pockets of space behind him. Fulham made a quicker start to the second half, although Reid’s close-range finish was ruled out for a foul by the Serbian striker on the Forest goalkeeper. Samba made a smart save from Knockaert’s downward header on 53 minutes – and the stage seemed set for a concerted period of Fulham pressure.
But the next opening arrived at the other end. Sessegnon sought to play the ball out from the back – in the manner that Parker has asked his defenders to do – but Sammy Ameobi seized on a mistake from the young defender and quickly fed Grabban with Fulham short-handed at the back. The striker had plenty to do as he darted away from Alfie Mawson, but made light of work of his task smashing an unstoppable finish beyond Marcus Bettinelli and in off the inside of the post.
Fulham had little choice but to throw men forward in search of an unlikely comeback. They were frustrated by Forest’s outstanding defence, with Michael Dawson and Joe Worrall delivering a masterclass in how to nullify Mitrovic for the most part, and an inept referee’s inability to retain control of the contest. Samba, who was booked far too late for continual delaying of the restart, produced a brilliant one-handed save to claw away Sessegnon’s deflected volley – but the home side failed to test him enough given they enjoyed 72% of the possession.
The Whites did grab a lifeline with eight minutes to play. Substitute Aboubakar Kamara bulldozed his way down the left flank and cut the ball back from the byline, allowing Mitrovic to arrow a first-time effort into the far corner. There was still plenty of time for a storming finish with Worrall remarkably heading a goalbound Harry Arter volley behind for a corner and a couple of strong handball shouts waved away, but Forest resisted during eight minutes of second-half stoppage-time to claim an outstanding away victory.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon (Kamara 74), Bryan, Mawson, Ream (Christie 87); Arter, Johansen (Decordova-Reid 45), Cairney; Knockaert, Cavaleiro, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Le Marchand, McDonald, Reed.
BOOKED: Arter, Kamara.
GOAL: Mitrovic (82).
NOTTINGHAM FOREST (4-1-4-1): Samba; Jenkinson (Cash 82), Robinson, Dawson, Worrall; Watson; Lolley (Adomah 72), Ameobi, Sow, Silva (Semedo 58); Grabban. Subs (not used): Muric, Ribeiro, Figueiredo, Mir.
BOOKED: Ameobi, Semedo, Samba, Adomah.
GOALS: Grabban (4, 61).
REFEREE: Peter Bankes (Merseyside).