With seven minutes left of normal time in a fractious, frayed encounter that they had dominated, Bournemouth were close to squandering their first chance to confirm automatic promotion. Then Kieffer Moore, a substitute who has largely been sidelined through injury after his move from Cardiff, finished a cunning free-kick routine with panache and the celebrations could begin; Nottingham Forest, so hopeful of taking three points that would tilt the race in their favor, did not ultimately do enough and will seek to atone in the playoffs. It is a triumph for Scott Parker, relegated with Fulham last season but now able to lead Bournemouth back into the big time after two seasons away.
If Bournemouth had needed an extra boost at the outset, it came through an announcement from their midfielder David Brooks that he is clear of stage two Hodgkin’s lymphoma with which he was diagnosed in October. Brooks is a talent worthy of the Premier League and it will be a joy to see him back on the pitch; above all, though, the Wales international’s good health was worth celebrating.
Forest would happily face him in the top flight next season. This had been billed as their biggest game in the 23 years since their relegation to the Premier League: it was not hard to see why, given their lack of alliances with automatic promotion in the interim. Steve Cooper’s side were seen off from their training ground on Monday by several hundred fans and a smog of red flares; they were raucously backed here, too, by a contingent who sensed the shedding of all those disappointments.
Their players began as if encumbered, Bournemouth settling quickly and coming close when Brice Samba pawed away Philip Billing’s curled effort. Steve Cook, the center-back who was a crucial component of the Cherries’ rise last decade but was allowed to join Forest in January with a showdown of this magnitude presumably not in mind, turned the polite applause that greeted him into boos when he chopped down Dominic Solanke.
When Forest calmed down, they came within inches of scoring through another familiar face to the locals. Sam Surridge never quite caught light here and, via Stoke, arrived at Forest soon after Cook. He had scored seven league goals since then, three of them against Swansea on Saturday, and sensed an eighth when Djed Spence drove infield and played him through on the left. His rasping drive twanged the top of the bar but Bournemouth had been warned.
The sides having traded those blows within 10 minutes, proceedings became scratchier. It was as if everyone had belatedly realized what was at stake: the tempo grew fitful and neither goal was troubled again until just before the half-hour. Jack Colback’s marvelously-timed intervention denied Ryan Christie a goal at the far post and then Forest came closer, Jordan Zemura blocking Brennan Johnson’s low shot in front of the line after Philip Zinckernagel’s center had found him unmarked.
Johnson then tamed Spence’s high pass masterfully before shooting at Mark Travers in the home goal. That was as deft a move as anyone managed during a half whose tension had become increasingly palpable. But Forest could go in feeling aggrieved after Surridge was clipped by Travers in the box as he rounded him; he was ruled offside, but replays showed the decision to have been incorrect and fortunes can turn on such calls.
Cook was fortunate not to be booked when, soon after the restart, he crudely halted Solanke again. The striker hit the side netting in the next significant action and there was a sense Parker, surely frustrated by his Bournemouth side’s slow opening period, had sent them out with resounding instructions to complete the job.
Now they looked far crisper, although Christie shot wastefully after a strong run. Parker introduced the 6ft 5in Moore to give Solanke an accomplice and Forest, convincing when they showed adventure before the interval, had barely mounted a second-half attack as the final quarter dawned. Billing should have exposed them after picking Ryan Yates’s pocket but, with time and space on the left, allowed Samba an easy block as teammates queued up.
Samba then repelled Jaidon Anthony’s shot and, if a goal was coming, only one side looked capable of it. The only surprise was that Forest seemed to have steadied before Moore’s clincher. But they were unsettled by a darting run from the left by Zemura, who was fouled on the 18-yard line by Scott McKenna. From the most inviting of positions, Billing shaped to have a crack; instead, with perfect choreography, he slipped the ball left to Moore and the resulting first-time, slide-rule finish sent Bournemouth to the promised land.