This was like the EFL Championship on steroids. Last year’s second-tier champions Fulham deserved their victory over the playoff winners Nottingham Forest after a three-goal burst in six second-half minutes. Forest lost a fourth successive Premier League game on the night Premier League football returned after the Queen’s death.
The fact Aleksandar Mitrovic did not celebrate his 28th birthday with a goal shows there is strength in depth to Marco Silva’s attacking resources but these are worrying times for Forest as they try to get their 22 summer signings to gel.
The City Ground could not manage a full minute’s silence as the players and managers stood respectfully around the wreaths laid on the centre spot.
A couple of cries of “come on you reds” from children during the silence soon triggered other less understandable breaches of protocol as the Premier League’s first chance to show respect for the late Queen descended briefly into a shambles.
Thank goodness this game, moved to Friday night in deference to the one-day cricket final being staged at Trent Bridge on Saturday, was not being televised live. After the promoted clubs’ mixed starts to the season, this had the feel of a significant opportunity for both. The fare was feisty, in an old-fashioned kind of way, tackles and tempers flaring in a volcanic first half.
Three successive defeats meant Forest were grateful to get their noses in front early on. Having conceded a two-goal lead to Bournemouth, the third club new to the Premier League, last time out however, they knew this was only the start. Morgan Gibbs-White earned a corner when his shot at the near post, after Brennan Johnson’s electric burst down the right wing, was deflected behind by Kenny Tete’s tackle.
Forest’s record signing whipped in the corner, Ryan Yates, captain in the absence of Joe Worrall, flicked on, and there at the back post was the recalled Taiwo Awoniyi, who headed home his second goal since his £17m move from Union Berlin.
Steve Cooper admitted on the eve of this game that there was a “sense of the unknown” about how his team would fare whichever 11 players he selected, as his almost entire new squad continue to get to know one another. So perhaps it was no great surprise that Fulham, who had won their previous three Championship visits here, played with greater cohesion for the rest of the half.
The in-form Aleksandar Mitrovic marauded in behind, down the inside-right channel, a couple of times as Forest failed to take control of the game. Running in on to Tete’s fine pass, the Serbian striker dallied, uncharacteristically, and allowed his shot to be blocked as he sought to become the first Fulham player to score in five successive Premier League games.
That area was a rich furrow for Fulham to plough and halfway through the first period Willian, on his full debut for the visitors, accelerated away on to Mitrovic’s prodded pass. Steve Cook, the middle Forest defender, decided to take one for the team, and was probably relieved to see a yellow card as he brought the Brazilian down, especially when Andreas Pereira’s free-kick deflected off the wall and over the crossbar.
Forest were the first Premier League side to be on the end of 100 shots this season and Dean Henderson, their on-loan goalkeeper, showed why he deserves his England call-up as he parried Mitrovic’s header and repelled Tete’s shot at the foot of his near post.
Fulham may have been frustrated in the first half but they soon made amends in the second when their dominance was rewarded with three goals in a six-minute blast. Forest did not know what had hit them. Tosin Adarabioyo, cleverly losing Yates, who was blocked off from marking him by Mitrovic, headed home Willian’s corner in the 54th minute.
Then, after more good work by Willian, Palhinha emerged on the edge of the area to side-foot Tete’s pull-back into the top corner. It was his second goal since his arrival from Sporting.
Forest had not had a chance to come to terms with the game’s changing dynamic when Tim Ream also made a late run from midfield to shoot home first time from Bobby Decordova-Reid’s superb cross from the left wing, following Mitrovic’s superb pass from the halfway line.
There was a minute’s applause to mark every year of the Queen’s reign as the City Ground commemorated her passing in more fitting style with 20 minutes remaining.
Cooper went for broke with his attacking substitutions and Lewis O’Brien ensured a thrilling finale when he slammed home from 15 yards after Adarabioyo could only nudge Johnson’s right-wing cross into his path, but Forest were unable to find an equaliser.