Fulham needed only five minutes and 18 seconds to drag Nottingham Forest into another collapse in front of their fans.
Forest was reduced to a quivering mess for the second home encounter in a row as Fulham switched the momentum of the game in a stunning second-half blitz to climb into the Premier League’s top six.
This was another uneasy experience for Forest boss Steve Cooper ahead of his first anniversary in command, a near-repeat of their last defeat at the City Ground against Bournemouth. Forest have already lost four games in a row, surrendering 14 goals, and Fulham feels a lot more assured in their return to the top flight.
With their third win of the season, Marco Silva’s squad went above Chelsea and Liverpool, and the only surprise was that Aleksandar Mitrovic did not score. The three goals early in the second half completely transformed the game’s course, and it was the first time a Premier League club had done so since Arsenal scored three goals in four minutes and 45 seconds against Liverpool five years ago.
A year ago today, Forest fired Chris Hughton, and Cooper was recruited soon after to oversee a spectacular comeback that resulted in promotion at Wembley.
Forest has had a record-breaking summer transfer window since that play-off final, with 22 new arrivals and £150 million invested by ambitious owner Evangelos Marinakis.
Although the window has already closed, Serge Aurier joined as a free agent last week when his contract at Villarreal expired. Cooper is still figuring out his best team in a merciless league, and their recent 3-2 loss to Bournemouth was a humbling experience. Forest blew a two-goal lead in that game, igniting the first rumblings of anger on Trent’s banks.
Cooper rested captain, Joe Worrall and Jesse Lingard, probably the summer’s most high-profile addition, in favour of Willy Boly, a £2.25 million transfer from Wolves. Forest began cautiously but was ahead after 11 minutes thanks to a score from one of the newcomers.
Awoniyi was in the ideal spot to nod home Morgan Gibbs-corner White’s after Ryan Yates flicked it on towards the far post.
It was the Nigerian’s second goal since joining from Union Berlin for £17.5 million. Fulham won the Championship last season after finishing 10 points ahead of Forest, and they look to have learned from their previous stint in the Premier League.
They spent £100 million on a plan that was criticised as chaotic two years ago, and the campaign ended in relegation.
Perhaps unjustly, the phrase “doing a Fulham” has come to refer to any promoted team that dares to splash the cash. They signed 12 players this summer, but the business appears to be far more methodical, with an outlay of slightly over £60 million.
Despite the dozen additions, there is no question that Mitrovic remains Fulham’s focal point, and he is only second in the goals chart to Erling Haaland with six already.
Mitrovic was involved in all of Fulham’s dangerous moments here, forcing the first save from Forest goalkeeper Dean Henderson following a close-range header in the 30th minute.
Henderson was called upon again in stoppage time to block Kenny Tete’s low effort, with Forest’s defence constantly seeming tense under pressure.
The game’s momentum then turned dramatically in the first six minutes of the second half. Forest had been living dangerously, and Fulham’s equaliser arrived nine minutes into the second half with an air of inevitability.
The execution was brutally easy, with Tosin Adarabioyo afforded much too much room to forcefully head home from Willian’s corner.
The City Ground became tense, with an anxious atmosphere, and Fulham took advantage in the 57th minute. Palhinha, the Portuguese midfielder, produced a beautiful finish this time, arching a shot into the top corner from just beyond the box.
Fulham scored a third goal soon before the hour mark, tearing open Forest’s defence. Mitrovic found an unmarked Harrison Reed in the area and sent a shot into the corner. Cooper spun around in his technical area, unable to fathom what was happening in front of him.
As the atmosphere in the stadium got tense, he made two substitutes, bringing in Worrall and Lingard.
Forest could have cut the lead in the 66th minute, but Awoniyi missed from four yards out again, this time at the far post. Henderson made a great stop to save Andreas Pereira’s 22-yard free kick from hitting the corner, but the home team did reply 13 minutes from time.
Brennan Johnson surged into the Fulham area, and despite Adarabioyo’s save, Forest replacement Lewis O’Brien converted the loose ball. Six minutes of additional time increased the tension, but Forest was unable to get the equaliser, and Fulham will enter the international break with renewed confidence.
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