Philip Zinckernagel’s lone strike prevented Fulham from securing the Sky Bet Championship title and increased Nottingham Forest’s chances of automatically going up with them.
Marco Silva’s side, who clinched promotion on April 19, had to improve on second-placed Bournemouth to secure a top finish.
Instead, it was Forest who ended up celebrating a win that lifted them to third and within three points of the Cherries, who host them on Tuesday May 3.
Fulham headed possession and fired 20 shots but were left behind failing to find the net in an end-to-end encounter.
It started with Jack Colback testing Fulham goalkeeper Marek Rodak with an early effort from long range before Fulham replied with a Harry Wilson shot that hit Djed Spence and bounced wide.
Tim Ream couldn’t quite get a backheel on target from the resulting corner and it wasn’t long before Aleksandar Mitrovic’s first chance of the night arrived – a header down which he moved five meters away.
Both sides quickly kicked into high gear with some smooth passing, with Brennan Johnson – watched by Brentford manager Thomas Frank – shooting through goal and wide for Forest.
The news that Bournemouth were 2-0 down at Swansea with just 12 minutes played encouraged both sets of supporters, and three minutes later Forest were cheering on an abnormal opener.
Nottingham Forest’s remaining fixtures
- Swansea (H) – Saturday 30 April, 3pm
- Bournemouth (A) – Tuesday May 3, 7 p.m.
- Hull (A) – Saturday May 7, 12:30 p.m.
Fulham claimed there was a foul on Neco Williams in the build-up but centre-back Ream and goalkeeper Rodak got into a terrible tangle in the box and allowed Zinckernagel to sneak in and push Sam Surridge’s pass over the line.
Fabio Carvalho fired an instant chance to equalize directly at Forest keeper Brice Samba before Mitrovic saw a header from a corner deflected over the crossbar. The Serbian striker ended the half with a free-kick shot that was also too high.
Fulham started the second half with intent and Mitrovic regained the lead after Samba touched Wilson’s cross.
But Rodak redeemed himself with a close-range save from Surridge after another error from Ream allowed Johnson to gallop down the right and find the striker at the back post.
Carvalho was denied just after the hour mark but a fine save from Samba, who dived to round the teenager’s curling effort.
Home fans believed referee Keith Stroud had awarded a handball penalty after consulting an assistant, but it soon became clear that Carvalho had been taken offside instead.
The excellent Samba saved from Wilson but Rodak was needed at the other end to prevent Johnson from wrapping up the win for Forest.
The Reds withstood a late barrage of pressure but Fulham can claim the crown with a favorable result at home to another side with promotion hopes, Luton, on Monday May 2.
What the managers said…
from Fulham Marco Silva: “It was not a good game to watch. The players wanted to get the job done tonight but we didn’t play at our best level at all. But the pressure of completion is the best pressure to have. We have to learn At times we didn’t do the basics. We had to control the game in our own way and in the first half we didn’t.”
“The goal was strange. It was a clear foul, the player jumped on Neco [Williams]. I saw it and the fourth official must see it too. It was our fault the goal we conceded, but it was a foul on Neco.”
Nottingham Forest Steve Cooper: “It’s a brilliant victory in the toughest game of the season – I’m sure Fulham will be champions. We attacked the game from the start and forced them to make a mistake. Fulham had more ball, which which is not what I normally do like but I will accept it because we made as many chances as them. It was about doing everything right in terms of defense. We showed heart and soul with blocks to keep the ball out of our net.
“Swansea Saturday is the only thing we are concerned about. We have to recover and see what we can improve. That has been our approach so far and there is no need to change.”