A single goal was enough to give Nottingham Forest the points in a top-of-the-table clash at Griffin Park. Brentford were beaten 1-0 to slip to a first home defeat in almost three months as a deflected shot from Joe Lolley settled the game. And it meant that it was the team that started the day in fourth rather than the one that started in fifth that was able to pick up the three points.

It was a largely forgettable game settled by a goal that will only be cherished for its importance, not its quality. With it coming early on, Forest were able to sit back, defend deep – and very well, and invite Brentford to break them down. That was something The Bees were unable to do, and the visitors got over the line.

There was a frenetic start to the game. Brentford tried to get forward with a large quantity of players and at high pace from the first whistle while Forest looked to counter-attack whenever they could turn the ball over. The visitors sat in with a deep defence but had pace in attack and were happy to commit players in behind Brentford when they could.

The early stages were generally played in Forest territory, but Brentford were unable to create anything of note. Goalkeeper Brice Samba held on to one cross from Bryan Mbeumo that could have posed his defence a problem and Rico Henry sliced a shot wide from 15 yards when the ball dropped loose in the box. And while The Bees might have felt they had the initiative, it was Forest that struck first with the goal that proved to be the winner.

They won a corner when Sammy Ameobi worked his way free from Henry and saw a shot deflected wide by Ethan Pinnock. The first was cleared but when the second came in, it dropped on the edge of the penalty area to Lolley. The Forest man had time to set himself and his shot deflected in to the net. Julian Jeanvier was the first Brentford defender to react and got out to Lolley, but his touch took it past Raya and put Forest ahead.

With something to hold on to, Forest were content to take the sting out of the game. They tried to slow it down when they could and kill any momentum Brentford tried to build. Referee Tim Robinson was unimpressed and cautioned Samba for time wasting inside the first 25 minutes, but many other occasions went unpunished and Forest were mostly comfortable through the first half.

But even with a fine defensive display from the visitors, Brentford should have been level by the break. They had a great chance when Mbeumo beat Yuri Ribeiro in a race and was able to release Watkins on the edge of the penalty area. Watkins worked his way free of the covering defenders but dragged a shot wide from 18 yards rather than releasing Saïd Benrahma to his left, who would only have had Samba to beat.

Samba saved from Benrahma after a one-two with Watkins and the same man saw a shot deflect wide when a free kick dropped loose later in the half. Mbeumo saw a shot blocked and Christian Nørgaard failed to convert from 15 yards when he arrived to meet a Jensen cross with the goal at his mercy. Ameobi dragged a shot wide for the visitors late in the half but they were in defensive mode for most of the first period.

Watkins hooked an effort wide late in the half for The Bees while Henry also had a shot blocked for a team that failed to put together the incisive attacking play required, particularly in the final third. And they couldn’t open Forest up in the early stages of the second half either. There was lots of possession for The Bees, and lots in attacking areas, but they often played in front of the visitors and chances were not clear-cut.

A Benrahma shot flew across the face of the goal and a Josh Dasilva effort from a half-cleared corner was blocked before Pinnock headed a deep cross wide. Benrahma saw another shot blocked and Mbeumo failed to connect with a Henry cross. There were two more good openings in quick succession but both Benrahma, from a Mathias Jensen cross, and Mbeumo, when Dasilva delivered after the ball had been recycled, failed to make a clean connection when 12 yards out. Both would have been firing through a crowd of players but could not get their feet in the right order to test the Forest defence.

The slow nature of the game was helping Forest. They were able to pack men in behind the ball and Brentford were not moving it quickly enough to pull them out of position. The visitors were also able to counter-attack and arguably had the better chances in the early stages of the second half. The best came just after half time when a corner was cleared and then knocked back in to Lewis Grabban ten yards out, but he failed to beat Raya when he really should have done.

Lolley had a shot blocked for the visitors and the delivered a great cross from the left after a superb run that Grabban headed wide when well-positioned. Ameobi pulled a shot wide and a vicious effort from Lolley bent off target as Forest showed signs of looking for the second goal that would have sealed the game. A low free kick from Tiago Silva was then deflected just past his own post by Pinnock.

Emiliano Marcondes was introduced in the later stage as Brentford chased an equaliser and he upped the energy in the centre of the field. He also tested Samba with a dipping free kick that was tipped over the bar. A low Henry shot was saved as Brentford pressed but time ran out and Forest had the win.

Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Jeanvier, Pinnock, Henry; Dasilva, Nørgaard, Jensen (sub Marcondes 74 mins); Mbeumo, Watkins, Benrahma

Subs (not used): Daniels, Roerslev, Racic, Yearwood, Valencia, Dervişoğlu

Bookings: Benrahma (39 mins) (third of season)

Nottingham Forest: Samba; Cash, Worrall, Figueiredo, Ribeiro; Sow, Watson; Ameobi (sub Adomah 90 mins), Lolley (sub Diakhaby 76 mins), Silva; Grabban (sub Yates 90 mins)

Subs (not used): Smith, Jenkinson, Semedo, Dawson

Bookings: Samba (23 mins)

Attendance: 12,274 (1,642 away fans)