Peterborough were relegated from the Championship as Nottingham Forest kept alive their automatic promotion hopes with victory at the Weston Homes Stadium.
Posh needed a win and Reading to drop points to maintain their slim chance of escaping the drop, but Sam Surridge’s goal sent them back to League One.
Brennan Johnson’s fine cross to the back post picked out Surridge whose header back across goal found the far corner just before the break.
A seventh win in eight games leaves Forest fourth and cuts the gap to second-placed Bournemouth to five points with four games left after the Cherries’ draw with Fulham.
Peterborough’s defeat means all three relegation places have been confirmed with two games of the season left, with Barnsley having their fate sealed on Friday, and Derby dropping into League One last Saturday.
Forest, meanwhile, need just one more point to guarantee their play-off berth, but Steve Cooper’s side still harbor even bigger ambitions despite Bournemouth’s last-gasp penalty equaliser.
Posh went close early on when Ricky-Jade Jones made space and forced Forest goalkeeper Brice Samba into a fine one-handed save, and the home fans had further hope when relegation rivals Reading fell behind.
But it proved short-lived as Forest – who lacked spark in the first half – went ahead with only their second attempt thanks to Surridge’s fifth goal of the season courtesy of more impressive play from Johnson.
The hosts stepped up their urgency in the second half, but struggled to break down the visitors’ defence, Harrison Burrows going closest with a strike which forced Samba to save at his near post.
Yet it was Forest who went closest to the game’s second goal late on, second-half substitute Lewis Grabban seeing a strike ruled out for offside before firing a first-time shot wide from close range.
Relegation caps ‘difficult season’ for Posh
A difficult season has seen Posh struggle to replicate the form that saw them win automatic promotion from League One a year ago, conceding 84 goals – only Reading have leaked more in the Championship.
With a run of 15 league games without a win between December and March, the club at one point looked resigned to its fate before showing fight which included wins over Barnsley, Blackburn and QPR.
McCann – who himself finished above Peterborough in winning the league with Hull – was reappointed at London Road two months ago after former boss Darren Ferguson resigned and left the club for a third time.
It represented something of a merry-go-round for the club and the Northern Irishman – who played for the club between 2010 and 2015 and previously managed them before being sacked in 2018 after no wins in seven matches.
To rub salt into the wound, McCann lost to Hull in his opening match, weeks after the Tigers sacked him following their takeover by a Turkish consortium.
Injuries to key players including strikers Jack Marriott have depleted their squad, while Jonson Clarke-Harris has scored 11 league goals compared to the 31 that won him last season’s League One golden boot.
Analysis – Poor recruitment costs Posh
Francis Green, former Peterborough striker and BBC Radio Cambridgeshire co-commentator
A lot of people will say recruitment will be probably the main reason Posh have gone down. If you do get that wrong, ultimately it’s going to cost you in the long run.
Most will probably look at this as an opportunity missed because it took eight seasons to get back in the Championship and all of a sudden now, with some of the clubs that may be in League One next season – the likes of Derby, Sunderland, Ipswich – it’s going to be very hard to get out.
It obviously took until February for a managerial switch, with Grant McCann replacing Darren Ferguson, but still as a squad I don’t think they’d have been good enough to stay in the Championship even if they made a change a little bit earlier.
It’s going to be a big, big challenge next season. When Posh did get promoted last season there was no-one in the grounds – you’re not going to get a season like that again – it was a one-off type of season.
These players are obviously capable of challenging for promotion next season, there’s no doubt, and if they implement a way that McCann wants to play – and add a few players – then they’ve got a good opportunity, but they need to get it right from pre-season.
‘A disappointing day’ – post-match reaction
Peterborough United boss Grant McCann told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire:
“Today I couldn’t fault the effort and attitude of the players. They have gone toe-to-toe with probably the best team in the league at the minute and were probably the better team over the first half.
“It’s a disappointing day. I told the players you have got to feel this pain and use it to your advantage because the comeback’s always stronger than the failure.
“I’m proud of everyone since I’ve come in. The help and support I’ve had from everyone at the football club has been great and I know that’s going to continue for the remainder of the season and next season.
“We would love to get to the stage, hopefully under my tenure, where we are a sustainable Championship club and we’re pushing, but one step at a time. We have to make sure we get out of the league (League One) next year.”
Nottingham Forest head coach Steve Cooper told BBC Radio Nottingham:
“There’s work to do (to reach the play-offs). I haven’t looked at it (the table) if I’m honest – I don’t even know what the other results are.
“We’ll just stick to our plans. It’s a busy period, four games left, so concentrate on our work, recover well and get down to Fulham and try and be in the best shape possible.
“Once we got the lead it was always going to be about managing it a little bit. Truth be told we should have probably got a second and third goal, particularly a second because they were always going to throw more players at the top end of the pitch.
“Credit to Peterborough, they really put up a good fight today. They’ve got a lot of good young players. It’s easy to say now, on a day like today, but I have a lot of respect for Grant and he knows that .”
- 42FuchsSubstituted forRandallat 66′minutes
- 8taylorBooked at 25mins
- 16BurrowsBooked at 19mins
- 7SzmodicsBooked at 67mins
- 9Clarke Harris
- 17jonesSubstituted forMarriottat Four. Five’minutes
- 30SambaBooked at 90mins
- 8colbackBooked at 88mins
- elevenzinckernagelSubstituted forlollyat 61′minutes
- 16SurridgeBooked at 73minsSubstituted forGrabbanat 74′minutesSubstituted forRibeiro Daysat 89′minutes
- 18Ribeiro Days
- 27S Cook
- Michael Salisbury
Match ends, Peterborough United 0, Nottingham Forest 1.
Second Half ends, Peterborough United 0, Nottingham Forest 1.
Ryan Yates (Nottingham Forest) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Frankie Kent (Peterborough United).
Corner, Peterborough United. Grant by Jack Colback.
Brice Samba (Nottingham Forest) is shown the yellow card.
Attempt missed. Jack Taylor (Peterborough United) header from the center of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Harrison Burrows with a cross following a corner.
Substitution, Nottingham Forest. Cafu replaces Lewis Grabban because of an injury.
Corner, Peterborough United. Awarded by Tobias Figueiredo.
Attempt blocked. Jonson Clarke-Harris (Peterborough United) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Jack Colback (Nottingham Forest) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Jack Colback (Nottingham Forest).
Josh Knight (Peterborough United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt missed. Lewis Grabban (Nottingham Forest) right footed shot from the center of the box is too high. Assisted by Joe Lolley with a cross.
Offside, Nottingham Forest. Brennan Johnson tries a through ball, but Lewis Grabban is caught offside.
Attempt blocked. Djed Spence (Nottingham Forest) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Joe Worrall.
Corner, Peterborough United. Granted by Brice Samba.
Attempt saved. Harrison Burrows (Peterborough United) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the top left corner. Assisted by Joel Randall.
Foul by Lewis Grabban (Nottingham Forest).
Josh Knight (Peterborough United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.