Facundo Buonanotte scored on his first Premier League start but Albion’s push for Europe suffered a setback at the City Ground.
The 18-year-old Argentinian gave us a deserved lead with a tap-in in the 38th minute after Jason Steele had kept out Brennan Johnson’s early penalty.
But an own goal by Pascal Gross in first-half stoppage time changed the complexion of the contest and Albion struggled to find their usual momentum in the second half, a legacy perhaps of 120-plus gruelling minutes at Wembley only three days earlier.
Danilo put the hosts in front midway through the second period and although Albion had chances, notably when Kaoru Mitoma brushed the outside of the post, they couldn’t find an equaliser. In the closing stages Forest got a second penalty after Lewis Dunk handled a cross and Morgan Gibbs-White made the points safe.
Roberto De Zerbi had made three changes to the FA Cup semi-final line-up with Julio Enciso and Buonanotte making Premier League starts for the first time while Steele returned in goal and Levi Colwill to central defence.
A febrile atmosphere ramped up in the opening minutes when Gibbs-White manhandled Buonanotte back to his feet on the touchline, sparking a fracas which ended with Felipe being booked for shoving Enciso.
By their standards Albion didn’t start well and they would have trailed on ten minutes had it not been for Steele’s brilliance. Pervis Estupinan got his feet in a tangle trying to clear and Neco Williams went down under minimal contact. It was a soft penalty, but Steele dived full length to his right to push away Johnson’s spot-kick.
His opposite number Keylor Navas made just as crucial a contribution five minutes later. Mitoma left two Forest players in his wake when he got to the bye-line and pulled the ball back to the unmarked Enciso ten yards out. The Paraguayan struck the ball well but Navas stretched to turn it over the bar. Albion then broke down the middle and Mitoma drilled a low drive from 30 yards which Navas dived to his right to save.
The penalty let-off had been the wake-up call Albion needed. Midway through the first half they had already racked up 127 passes to Forest’s 27 and there was a palpable nervousness among the Forest fans every time Mitoma ran at Williams down the left.
Johnson flashed a shot wide from outside the box after Albion sloppily gave up possession in their own half but the visitors threatened every time they attacked. Enciso played a great ball into Mac Allister’s path and his curler landed just the wrong side of the far post.
Albion finally broke through seven minutes before the break. Forest were opened up again and Navas could only push a drive by March from inside the box into the path of Buonanotte, who tapped it in from a couple of yards.
Apart from the first ten minutes Forest had been second best but in stoppage time they drew level. Taiwo Awoniyi did well to funnel the ball out to the left to Lodi, whose low ball across the face of goal took a heavy deflection off Gross and beat Steele at the near post.
Estupinan was only a yard wide with a volley early in the second half after Dunk’s straight pass and Enciso’s trickery created the opportunity while Forest responded through Williams, whose daisy-cutter from the right-hand corner of the box wasn’t far away.
Forest’s goal had certainly galvanised their fans but Albion went close to restoring their lead in the 58th minute. Estupinan won the ball on the edge of our box and sent Buonanotte haring down the right in open space with a lofted pass. Buonanotte spotted Mitoma in space and laid the ball into his path but his right-foot effort brushed the outside of the far post.
Forest suffered a blow when Williams was stretchered off after a scramble in the six-yard box but at the midway point in the second period Albion hadn’t rediscovered their first-half fluency – and on 69 minutes they fell behind. Awoniyi robbed Caicedo on the edge of the centre circle and fed Danilo, who shrugged off Levi Colwill before firing low past Steele into the bottom right-hand corner from 15 yards.
De Zerbi made an attacking change, bringing on Danny Welbeck for Estupinan with March dropping into left-back but Albion were nearly their own worst enemies again when Colwill passed straight to Johnson whose effort dipped only just over the bar from 20 yards.
March forced Navas into another fingertip save from his angled drive and when Albion recycled the corner Dunk headed Gross’s cross well over, but Albion had run out of steam.
Odel Offiah came on for his Premier League debut in the closing stages and moments later Dunk handled a corner at full stretch and after consulting the monitor, referee Jarred Gillett awarded Forest a second penalty. Gibbs-White sent Steele the wrong way to make it 3-1.
In nearly 15 minutes of stoppage time Navas made a terrific save from Mac Allister's strike and substitute Deniz Undav had a goal disallowed for offside as Albion were left to lick their wounds.
Albion: Steele, Gross, Dunk, Colwill, Estupinan (Welbeck 72), Mac Allister, Buonanotte (Offiah 88), March, Caicedo, Mitoma, Enciso (Undav 74).
Subs not used: Sanchez, Veltman, Webster, Ayari, Gilmour, van Hecke.
Referee: Jarred Gillett.
Attendance: 28808 (2531 Albion)