Arter strike keeps Fulham in the hunt for automatic promotion
The cheers of celebration echoed around an empty City Ground at the final whistle, and this could prove a significant victory for Fulham and manager Scott Parker.
Fulham’s attempt to make an instant return to the Premier League remains on course after a third successive victory maintained their slim hopes of automatic promotion. It is all about momentum at this stage of the season and Fulham appear to be timing their run perfectly, with a disciplined, professional performance at one of their nearest rivals in the play-off positions.
Parker’s brother-in-law, Harry Arter, produced the one moment of true quality last night with the 25yard goal which keeps Fulham fourth and four points behind second-placed West Bromwich, who face Derby at home tonight.
Parker said: “There will be many twists and turns left this season and all we can do is keep putting the pressure on.
“It’s a big time to get wins together because we’re two weeks away from the finish and we’ve shown a different side to us here.
“I’m absolutely delighted with the way we’ve responded since we’ve come back from lockdown.”
Fulham’s hopes of gatecrashing the top two will be further boosted by the return of leading scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic for Friday’s home game against Cardiff. They then face West Bromwich in a potentially pivotal game at the Hawthorns next Tuesday.
Mitrovic has served a threematch suspension after a retrospective ban by the Football Association, while captain Tom Cairney was also absent here with an injury.
This was a first defeat for Nottingham Forest since the restart and a performance head coach Sabri Lamouchi cannot have seen coming. Forest never looked likely to score, but stay fifth and securing a play-off place for the first time since 2011 remains in their hands.
In a scrappy, stodgy match of few opportunities, Fulham took the lead in added time of the first half with their first shot on target.
Arter had appeared to lose possession on the edge of the area to Ben Watson, but the ball squirmed free and the midfielder sent a superb shot into the top-right corner.
Forest were convinced the ball had struck Arter’s arm after Watson’s challenge, and television replays will have only heightened their frustration.
Lamouchi utilised all of his five available substitutions in an attempt to give the home team more impetus, but there was a lack of conviction in front of goal for much of the game.
Alfa Semedo’s tame 68th-minute shot at Marek Rodak, the Fulham goalkeeper, was their only snarl of defiance from an underwhelming performance. Lamouchi said: “We are not machines and we need rest. We stopped playing for three months and then have four games in 10 days.”