Two goals from Lewis Grabban helped move Nottingham Forest up to fourth in the table with victory over Huddersfield Town, who face the growing prospects of suffering back-to-back relegations.
Grabban took his season’s tally to 19 goals with a stunning first-half volley which was followed up by a coolly taken finish a minute into the second period.
Before Grabban’s decisive brace, Sammy Ameobi hit the post and blocked a goal-bound Karlan Grant effort at the other end, while Huddersfield also had a compelling first-half penalty appeal turned down by referee David Webb after Alex Pritchard was felled by Ben Watson.
Andy King flicked a second-half header onto the woodwork as the Terriers looked for a way back into the game after Grabban’s double, but victory to mark Sabri Lamouchi’s first anniversary as Forest boss was completed by Ryan Yates late on.
Huddersfield, relegated from the Premier League last season and now sitting in the Championship drop zone with seven games remaining, finished with 10 men after Juninho Bacuna was shown a straight red card for kicking out at Nuno da Costa.
They did, however, pull a goal back in the sixth minute of injury time, Grant scoring after Joe Worrall brought Fraizer Campbell down.
The win behind closed doors at the City Ground moves Forest above Fulham in the table, putting them seven points clear of seventh place and to within seven points of the top two.
Grabban scores crucial double
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the league into a 104-day hibernation, was still being felt by Huddersfield in the build-up to the trip to Forest, with confirmation that full-back Danny Simpson would not see out the season with the Terriers.
Just four days after Simpson’s imminent departure was confirmed, he was among three changes made by Danny Cowley following their defeat by Wigan Athletic.
Forest were quick to create the first big chance of the day, with Grabban linking up with Joe Lolley, whose cut-back pass found Ameobi racing free into the box.
While his powerfully-struck low shot had Terriers goalkeeper Jonas Lossl well beaten at his near post, the ball somehow stayed out as it flashed across the face of goal after hitting the woodwork.
Forest captain Watson was fortunate not to concede a penalty on 21 minutes, knocking Pritchard down as he skipped into the box.
A well-worked free-kick routine on the edge of the area just before the half-hour mark led to Huddersfield’s best first-half chance, only for Ameobi to intervene by hacking Grant’s shot over the bar.
Despite the Terriers looking the more industrious for long periods of the first half, it was the Reds that took the lead – Grabban showing brilliant technique with a close-range volley after being picked out by Joe Worrall at the far post.
He found the back of the the net again with supreme poise after the restart, running onto a magnificently weighted through ball from Ameobi before sliding his shot past Lossl.
Grabban went close to competing his hat-trick, while Ameobi, Lolley and Joao Carvalho also had chances for a Reds side that got a deserved third when Yates nodded home from a corner.
As for the Terriers, they remain in the bottom three on goal difference, with their first goal since football’s resumption coming after Bacuna was sent off in the 89th minute.
Lamouchi celebrates anniversary
Forest’s win to consolidate their place in the play-offs came a year to the day since Frenchman Lamouchi replaced Martin O’Neill as boss.
Under O’Neill, who won two European Cups with Forest as a player and lasted less than six months on his much heralded return as manager, the club finished ninth in the table and eight points off the play-off spots.
Lamouchi arrived at the City Ground as the Reds’ 13th full-time boss in just over eight years.
Despite taking the Ivory Coast to the 2014 World Cup as manager and guiding French side Rennes to Europa League qualification during his stint with the Ligue 1 club, his appointment came with none of the fanfare or expectation placed on his predecessor.
But what he has done is instil stability, a sense of excitement at the City Ground and a real belief that the East Midlands club can secure a place in the Premier League for the first time this century.