Philip Zinckernagel’s solitary strike prevented Fulham from clinching the Sky Bet Championship title as well as boosting Nottingham Forest’s chances of going up automatically with them.
Marco Silva’s side, who clinched promotion on April 19, had to better the result of second-placed Bournemouth to make sure of finishing top.
Instead it was Forest who ended up celebrating a victory that moved them up to third and within three points of the Cherries, who host them on Tuesday, May 3.
Fulham bossed possession and fired off 20 shots but were left to rue failing to find the net in an end-to-end encounter.
It began with Jack Colback testing Fulham goalkeeper Marek Rodak with an early long-range effort before Fulham replied with a Harry Wilson shot that hit Djed Spence and bounced wide.
Tim Ream could not quite get a backheel attempt on target from the resulting corner and it was not long before Aleksandar Mitrovic’s first chance of the night arrived – a downward header he put wide from five yards.
Both sides quickly went up the gears with some slick passing, with Brennan Johnson – watched by Brentford manager Thomas Frank – firing across goal and wide for Forest.
News that Bournemouth were 2-0 down at Swansea with only 12 minutes played encouraged both sets of supporters, and three minutes later Forest were cheering a freak opener.
Nottingham Forest’s remaining fixtures
- Swansea (H) – Saturday April 30, 3pm
- Bournemouth (A) – Tuesday May 3, 7pm
- Hull (A) – Saturday May 7, 12.30pm
Fulham claimed there had been a foul on Neco Williams in the build-up but centre-back Ream and goalkeeper Rodak got themselves in a terrible tangle in the box and allowed Zinckernagel to nip in and poke Sam Surridge’s pass over the line.
Fabio Carvalho fired an instant chance to equalize straight at Forest goalkeeper Brice Samba before Mitrovic saw a header from a corner deflected over the crossbar. The Serbian striker ended the half with a shot from a free-kick move that was also too high.
Fulham began the second period with intent and Mitrovic headed over again after Samba had got a touch on Wilson’s cross.
But Rodak redeemed himself with a point-blank save from Surridge after another Ream error had allowed Johnson to gallop away down the right and find the striker at the back post.
Carvalho was denied just after the hour mark but a fine save by Samba, who dived to tip round the teenager’s curling effort.
Home fans thought referee Keith Stroud had awarded a penalty for handball after consulting with an assistant but it soon became apparent that Carvalho had been caught offside instead.
The excellent Samba saved from Wilson but Rodak was needed at the other end to stop Johnson wrapping up victory for Forest.
The Reds resisted a barrage of late 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…
Fulham’s Marco Silva: “It wasn’t a good game to watch. The players wanted to get the job done tonight but we didn’t perform at our best level at all. But the pressure of completion is the best pressure to have. We have to learn from this. At certain moments we didn’t do the basics. We had to control the game in our way and in the first half we didn’t do that.”
“The goal was strange. It was a clear crowd, the player jumped on Neco [Williams]. I saw it and the fourth official has to see it as well. It was our fault the goal we conceded, but it was a foul on Neco.”
Nottingham Forest’s Steve Cooper: “It’s a brilliant win in the toughest game of the season – I’m sure Fulham will be champions. We attacked the game from the start and forced them into a mistake. Fulham had more of the ball, which is not what I normally like but I will accept it as we made as many chances as they did. It was a case of doing everything right in terms of defending. We showed heart and soul with blocks to keep the ball out of our net.
“Swansea on Saturday is the only thing on our minds. We have to recover and look at what we can improve on. It has been our approach up to now and there is no need to change.”