Nottingham Forest have given their Premier League survival hopefuls a much needed shot in the arm after beating Brighton 3-1 at the City Ground.
Forest were in a seemingly irreversible slide to return to the Championship after a horror run of 11 games without a win dating back to February, but they halted the rot and dropped out of the bottom three.
Another defeat was on the cards after the Seagulls took the lead through Facundo Buonanotte’s goal on his first Premier League start after Brennan Johnson missed an early penalty for Forest.
But a Pascal Gross own goal on the stroke of half-time, followed by attempts from Danilo and Morgan Gibbs-White in the second half, gave them a vital victory.
This will renew belief they can avoid the drop in their first season in the top flight in 23 years and also likely to end any lingering doubts about Steve Cooper’s future.
Brighton were looking to bounce back from their heartbreaking FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester United but this defeat hurt their European ambitions as they dropped to eighth but have games in hand against the sides above them.
With their efforts at Wembley on Sunday, Forest sensed an opportunity and they started brightly in the hope of catching cold for their visitors.
They forged the perfect chance to get the lead they needed when they were awarded an early penalty after Pervis Estupinan clumsily fouled Neco Williams.
Jason Steele was on the bench for Brighton at Wembley and witnessed Robert Sanchez fail to save any United penalties in the shoot-out and showed his team-mate how it was done, beating Johnson’s effort in the 10th minute ‘.
There was a feeling that Forest really needed him to come on as Brighton started to take control.
Kaoru Mitoma was a constant threat and nearly built a lead when he skinned Serge Aurier and Felipe down the left and set up Julio Enciso, whose shot was sensationally deflected over the bar by Keylor Navas.
Forest had struggled to recreate that early energy but had another brilliant opportunity to take the lead in the 32nd minute when Danilo sent Johnson on goal but, under a challenge from Lewis Dunk, the Welsh international put the his shot.
There was no way Forest could get away with missing out on two of these golden opportunities and Brighton took the lead five minutes later.
They have Navas to thank because a double error allowed Buonanotte to enjoy the perfect debut in the league.
The goalkeeper’s poor goal kick gave possession back to the visitors and then could only deflect Solly March’s shot into the danger area, giving the 18-year-old the easiest of tap-ins.
But to their credit, Forest kept going and crucially leveled themselves until stoppage time.
A fine move saw Taiwo Awoniyi set up Renan Lodi down the left and his cross was deflected in by Gross at the near post, with Steele only managing to get a hand into it.
Going into the break level was huge for Forest, although they nearly fell behind just before the hour mark when Brighton cut them off on the break.
Buonanotte was cleared and deftly kept possession before threading through Mitoma, who put his first shot wide in heartbreaking fashion.
A long delay after a badly injured Williams, who was carried off on a stretcher after a collision with Johnson, looked to change the mood at the City Ground and the lid was lifted in the 69th minute when Forest took the lead.
Danilo was good at locking down Moses Caicedo on the halfway line and then lunged at Awoniyi’s pass before ducking into the far corner to send the home fans into raptures.
Gibbs-White had a chance to make the final 20 minutes more comfortable but shot high from the edge of the area and Forest had to defend.
But all nerves were settled in stoppage time when another penalty was awarded after the VAR spotted a hand ball from Dunk from a corner and Gibbs-White did what Johnson failed to do by sending Steele into the wrong direction.