Heidar Helguson's ninth goal of the season had given Cardiff the lead before Darius Henderson was sent off for elbowing the veteran striker. Rudy Gestede then came off the bench to seal the victory with a second half double as the Championship leaders ended Forest's 10-game unbeaten run.
Hull kept up their own bid for automatic promotion with a 2-1 win at Ipswich, sealed with an 83rd-minute strike from Robert Koren, who headed home from Robbie Brady's cross. Steve Bruce's side had taken the lead with a first half penalty from Brady before Anthony Wordsworth, who came on at half-time, equalised for Ipswich 10 minutes into the second half.
Hull now have a six-point cushion over third-placed Watford, who left their comeback too late and crashed to a 3-2 defeat at Peterborough. Mark Yeates and Fernando Forestieri scored in the last five minutes as Watford tried to salvage something from their trip to London Road but Peterborough had done enough to move out of the relegation zone.
Danny Swanson put them ahead after 29 minutes and Peterborough then secured their winning lead with second half strikes from Dwight Gayle and Lee Tomlin.
Bolton moved into the Championship play-off places for the first time this season after substitute Craig Davies' late penalty earned a 2-1 win at bottom club Bristol City. Brighton moved up to fifth place with goals from Andrea Orlando and David Lopez sealing a 2-0 win against Middlesbrough, who have now lost six from their last seven games.
Brian McDermott's first game in charge of Leeds ended in a 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday, with two goals from Luke Varney earning them some relegation breathing space.
Huddersfield came from behind to earn a crucial three points against relegation rivals Wolves with a 3-1 victory at Molineux, secured with a brace from Jermaine Beckford after Sean Scannell had drawn them level.
Barnsley slipped back into the bottom three after being thumped 6-0 by Charlton in a game they ended with just nine men with Stephen Dawson and Tom Kennedy sent off. Charlton's goal rout started after four minutes with a strike from Bradley Pritchard with goals from Johnnie Jackson, Yann Kermorgant, Callum Harriott, Salim Kerkar and Ricardo Fuller completing the win.
Blackburn escaped the relegation zone with a 2-0 win against Derby, sparked by Jordan Rhodes' 26th goal of the season and sealed with Scott Dann's header.
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