Nottingham Forest manager Steve Cooper has admitted the possibility of automatic promotion seems like a considerable distance away despite making up more ground on AFC Bournemouth last night, speaking to West London Sport.
The Reds weren’t expected to win all three points against league leaders Fulham last night following their 4-0 defeat in the reverse fixture – but travelled to Craven Cottage full of hope after going unbeaten in all but one of their league matches since the end of January.
And they were gifted their opening goal in the 15th minute when a mix-up between Marek Rodak and Tim Ream allowed Philip Zinckernagel to prod the ball home from close range, a potentially crucial goal in the battle for second place.
Quiz: Which club did Nottingham Forest sign these 24 players from in the 1990s?
They were able to hold on to this lead, maximising pressure on Bournemouth who were only able to claim a 3-3 draw last night, though they did come from 3-0 down to secure what could be a crucial point for Scott Parker’s side.
But yesterday evening was still a much more beneficial one for Forest, who now sit just three points behind the Cherries going into the final three games of the campaign with the two sides facing each other early on next season, a potentially crucial game for their top-two hopes.
Despite this gap between the two sides closing once more last night, Forest boss Cooper still feels like his team have a long way to go in their quest to join the Cottagers in the automatic promotion spots.
He said: “It seems a mile away. You saw how intense tonight was against Fulham who were desperate to keep on winning as they have done all season and we had to match that.”
Bournemouth may still be in the driving seat at this stage with their three-point cushion – but it’s questionable whether that can even be called a cushion now considering how far apart the two sides were earlier in the campaign.
In fairness, the Cherries do have the home advantage over the Reds when they meet in May but the former will still be under a huge amount of pressure considering they previously looked destined to be in the top tier next season.
That has now been taken away and Forest can go into this tie with little fear or pressure considering they were next expected to challenge for automatic promotion after winning just one point from their opening eight league matches this term.
But how Steve Cooper handles the pressure will be key – because he has endured play-off heartbreak in the past two seasons with Swansea and will be more desperate than anyone else for his side to sneak into second place.
If he holds his nerve like he has done all season, it would be no surprise if the East Midlands outfit were to displace the south-coast side, something that would be a major achievement for the Welshman.