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  • By Alessandro Schiavone at Craven Cottage

Nottingham Forest edging closer to Premier League return after 23 years following 1-0 win at Fulham

Fulham slumped to a 1-0 defeat at Craven Cottage against Nottingham Forest courtesy of a 15th-minute tap-in by Watford loanee Philip Zickernagel.

It was the Cottagers’ ninth league defeat of the season but a pretty harmless, having sealed a return to the Premier League with four games to spare following a 3-0 drubbing of Preston North End last Tuesday.

For all Fulham’s intensity and bravery on the ball it was Nottingham Forest who took a shock lead through Zickernagel who mercilessly pounced on a defensive mix-up between Tim Ream and Marek Rodak.

The American, on potentially his 254th and penultimate home game in a Fulham jersey, should have cleared his lines instead of expecting the Czech keeper to do it and Zicknernagel took advantage of the pair's dithering to roll the ball into the empty net.

Forest are on a mission called Premier League, where they haven’t been since 1999. And tonight’s unlikely 1-0 not only avenged their 4-0 trashing in the reverse fixture but coupled with Bournemouth’s draw at Swansea keeps their automatic promotion dreams alive.

Manager Steve Cooper’s side are now only three points behind Bournemouth but with three games to go and a rendez-vous with the Cherries at the Vitality Stadium still to come.

Fulham’s promotion to the top-flight officially bears Aleksandar Mitrovic’s name with the Serbia international having scored 41 goals in 42 league games but tonight he was quiet.

It was pretty much one-way traffic in both halves but Fulham failed to break Forest’s steely resistance.

American centre-back Ream had a backheel flick blocked before Mitrovic sent a header wide.

Forest showed a reaction to Fulham’s promising opening minutes with Brennan Johnson flashing an attempt across the face of goal.

But it didn’t take long for Forest to capitalise on a schoolboy error by Ream and Rodak to get their noses in front.

The pair’s lack of communication proved fatal as Forest resisted all attempts by Fulham to get a route back into the game in the remaining 75 minutes.

A minute after falling behind, prodigy Fabio Carvalho had the chance to make it 1-1 but fired his effort straight at goalie Brice Samba.

Fulham were turning the screw against a retreating Forest side but after exchanging passes with Harry Wilson, Bobby Decordova Reid fired over before Mitrovic also headed over an unguarded goal minutes later.

The goalkeeper got a hand to it which was just sufficient to divert it away from the Serbian who was on hand to nod it into the net.

Rodak denied Sam Surridge on 51 minutes from point-blank range after an on-the-money square pass from the lively Johnson.

Liverpool-bound Carvalho then sent a a curling effort into the far corner but Samba heroically clawed it away

Out of nowhere, Nottingham yet again had a chance to score but Johnson scuffed a deflected shot wide.

Rodak, who may see himself frozen out again if Alphonse Areola or Nick Pope join Fulham staked his claim to be to Fulham's first-choice stopper next season.

Tosin Adarabioyo missed a last-ditch chance to deny Forest the three points when he connected wonderfully with a vertical free-kick into the box but his thunderous volley sailed just over.

There’s a real chance both sides will meet again in the Premier League next season and after missing out on back-to-back promotions via the play-offs Cooper hopes that it’s third time lucky for him.

And what a historical achievement it would be to lead two-time European Cup winners Nottingham Forest back to the Premier League after 23 years of pain.



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