ROVERS’ unbeaten league start to 2014 was ended at the City Ground today as they went down to a heavy, ultimately deserved defeat to one of their play-off rivals.

Forest dominated the opening period and took a two-goal lead thanks to a brace of Henri Lansbury penalties.

But Rovers – seemingly jaded after their battling FA Cup loss to Manchester City in midweek – did manage to halve the deficit before the break courtesy of a Ben Marshall cracker.

The second half was a more even affair.

But there was no way back for Gary Bowyer’s side after man-of-the-match Jamie Paterson struck 17 minutes from time.

And Andy Reid rubbed salt into the wounds with virtually the last kick of the match when he netted in-form Forest’s fourth.

While Rovers remain eighth in the Championship standings they now find themselves four points off the top six going into next weekend’s crucial home clash with Derby County.

One goal separated the teams at half-time.

That, however, did not do justice to Forest’s first-half performance.

Billy Davies’ side, who came into the game on the back of a nine-match unbeaten run in all competitions, were terrific from the off and tested Simon Eastwood twice inside the opening 10 minutes.

Firstly David Vaughan found space 25 yards from goal and sent a stinging left-footed shot toward the top corner that Eastwood – in for the injured Paul Robinson – palmed aside.

The recalled Rovers goalkeeper then made an even better save from Lansbury, getting down low to his right to push the former Arsenal midfielder’s 20-yard strike out for a corner.

Greg Halford also headed a Reid free kick wide while Jamie Mackie’s driven cross from the right hit Simon Cox and went inches past Eastwood’s left-hand upright.

It came as no surprise, then, when the hosts went in front in the 15th minute.

But they needed a helping hand from referee Darren Deadman to get their noses in front.

Deadman – who infuriated Rovers with several of his decisions – adjudged Grant Hanley to have fouled Lansbury in the box when it appeared that the centre-back was guilty of nothing more than a shoulder barge.

Once Rovers’ protests had died down, Lansbury smashed his right-footed spot-kick low into the bottom corner despite the best efforts of Eastwood to keep it out.

The visitors were finding it difficult to retain possession, such was their opponents’ relentless pressing.

But they were given a chance to get back into the game in the 31st minute when Tom Cairney won a free kick 20 yards from goal after showing sublime footwork.

His subsequent effort, however, flew wide.

Two minutes later and Forest doubled their advantage as Lansbury thumped home his second penalty, straight down the middle of the goal, after a clumsy challenge by Adam Henley on Mackie in the area.

But Rovers halved the deficit four minutes later thanks to the vision of Cairney and the composure of Marshall.

A corner broke to Cairney on the edge of the box and he showed awareness to lay the ball off to Marshall who, from dead centre in front of goal, took a touch before curling a brilliant right-footed shot into the top corner from 20 yards.

And two minutes after the restart an equaliser so nearly followed as Cairney’s free kick, chipped to the back past, was headed on by Scott Dann for Tommy Spurr, whose flick was acrobatically turned over the bar by Karl Darlow.

From the Cairney corner that followed, Spurr headed over when he should have done better.

Having survived the double let-off Forest hit back as Gonzalo Jara fired inches past the post after Eastwood’s punch from an Andy Reid cross dropped into the onrushing right-back’s path.

A poor pass across midfield from Jason Lowe then gave Lansbury the chance to complete his hat-trick.

But his 20-yard drive was saved by the excellent Eastwood, who then breathed a huge sigh of relief as Cox headed a pinpoint Paterson cross wide.

Then it was the turn of Darlow to be called into action as he denied Josh King, one of three second-half substitutes for Rovers who felt, with some justification, that they should have been awarded a penalty for a push on Chris Taylor, while Hanley also had a big appeal turned down.

From the follow up Cairney, on the turn, curled just over.

But just when the pressure was building, Forest restored their two-goal advantage against the run of play.

Not for the first time the Rovers defence backed off and after Paterson jinked past Tommy Spurr, the tricky winger angled a super shot across Eastwood and into the bottom corner.

It was a fine finish and one that killed the contest.

But there was still time for one more goal as Reid was given all the time in the world to hammer home from 18 yards.

By that stage Rovers were down to 10 men as skipper Dann had to come off with an arm injury following a challenge by Forest sub Darius Henderson that had boss Bowyer and his coaching staff fuming.

Forest: Darlow, Jara, Halford, Collins, Harding, Vaughan (Moussi 74), Lansbury, Mackie (Derbyshire 73), Paterson, Reid, Cox (Henderson 79). Subs not used: de Vries, Majewski, Abdoun, Miller.

Booked: Harding, Lansbury.

Goals: Lansbury 15pen, 34pen, Paterson 72, Reid 90.

Rovers: Eastwood, Henley, Dann, Hanley, Spurr, Lowe, Williamson (King 54), Cairney, Taylor (Dunn 74), Marshall, Gestede (Rhodes 58). Subs not used: Kean, Kilgallon, Morris, Goodwillie.

Booked: Taylor, Hanley.

Goal: Marshall 37.

Referee: Darren Deadman.

Attendance: 22,456 (1,367 away).