Kieran Dowell’s brilliant hat-trick lifted Nottingham Forest to within a point of the Championship play-offs as they won 3-2 at Hull City on Saturday night.
The England Under-20 international smashed a brilliant opener from 25 yards in the first half before doubling the lead after the break with a crisp half volley which went in off the post.
Forest looked to be well on course for their third away of the season in the league, but Jarrod Bowen rivalled Dowell for a goal of the month contender with a curler into the top corner with 14 minutes to go.
Dowell completed his treble from the penalty spot with seven minutes left, however, there was still a tense finish after Michael Hector made it 3-2 with two minutes of normal time to go.
Forest showed good resolve to see out five minutes of injury time as they moved up to 11th, just a point behind sixth-placed Aston Villa in a condensed Championship.
The Reds were forced into three changes from the side which beat Burton Albion, with Daryl Murphy (hamstring), Danny Fox and Armand Traore all missing out through injury.
Tendayi Darikwa came in at right-back with Eric Lichaj moving to the left flank. Joe Worrall started in central defence in the week he signed a new four-and-a-half year contract and Dowell came in as an attacking midfielder.
Both Worrall and Dowell were tremendous.
Matt Mills, Zach Clough and Tyler Walker were named on the bench, having not featured in the 2-0 win against the Brewers.
Forest were afforded time to pop the ball around comfortably early on with Hull content to sit off. However, the hosts were the first to threaten when Bowen beat Lichaj with Darikwa doing well to get round on the cover.
Darikwa then got back in again minutes later to put danger man Kamil Grosicki off when he volleyed wide from the penalty spot.
The game was briefly held up in the 19th minute when Hull fans behind Jordan Smith’s goal hurled hundreds of tennis balls onto the pitch as part of a protest against the club’s owner, Assem Allam.
Forest were not thrown by the unusual method of disruption as they took the lead after 29 minutes.
Barrie McKay did exceptionally well in the corner to wriggle free and break forwards. The ball was worked to Dowell, who for the first time in the match drove at Hull’s backline.
He rode one challenge and with options left and right chose to go it alone. It was a wise decision, as he ripped an unstoppable shot past Allan McGregor.
The hosts had chances to equalise. Most of them fell to Grosicki, with Worrall blocking brilliantly in first half stoppage time.
Hull’s best opening of the half came through David Meyler though when he was allowed to turn and shoot in the six-yard box with Smith made a fine save.
Forest were desperately unlucky not to take a two-goal lead into the break as they strung together of flowing move of around 20 passes. It culminated in Jason Cummings crossing for Ben Osborn, who saw his side-footed volley hit the top of the bar.
It would have been a goal to eclipse Dowell’s.
Hull made two changes at the break with Grosicki surprisingly replaced. One of the substitutes, Jon Toral, lasted just eight minutes before injury forced him off with Nouha Dicko coming on.
The Tigers had stepped up a gear by this point and looked the more likely. Cummings, who struggled to make an impact upfront on his own, did fantastic work at the other end to head Hector’s header off the line from under his own crossbar.
Forest looked to be in need of a change and Mark Warburton responded with two in the 70th minute.
It paid immediate dividends with the second goal coming a minute later. Walker replaced Cummings and did well to lay the ball back to Osborn. His cross was taken down by McKay at the back post and when the winger played it in low, Dowell was there to sweep in a left-footed effort across McGregor.
It was another brilliant finish, this time from 10 yards. In a game of fine goals, Hull reacted quickly.
They needed to as they looked dead and buried after going two down. Bowen gave them hope though with a sublime left footed curler into the top corner from 20 yards.
Walker was in the thick of the action again as he won a penalty with eight minutes left after Michael Dawson flew into him with a body check in the box.
Dowell stepped up and swept the ball past McGregor, who dived the wrong way, to complete his hat-trick.
Once again, it looked like the points were secure. But this is a Forest team that had already conceded 21 league goals this season.
It became a nervy finish when Hector swept the ball in from eight yards as Forest were unable to clear.
Dowell should have had his fourth as the game entered stoppage time when he ran on to Jamie Ward’s cross and saw a right footed effort saved.
Hull: McGregor, Hector, Grosicki (Irvine 46), Meyler, Larsson, Bowen, Dawson (c), Henriksen (Toral 46, Dicko 53), Clark, Campbell, Alina; Subs not used: Marshall, Diomande, Tomori, Stewart
Forest: Smith; Darikwa, Mancienne (c), Worrall, Lichaj; Vaughan (Bouchalakis 70), Bridcutt; McKay (Ward 78), Dowell, Osborn; Cummings (Walker 70); Subs not used: Henderson, Mills, Clough, Brereton
Referee: J Simpson