David Marshall made a string of fine saves in this Championship contest to enhance his reputation – and price tag – before finally being beaten by Michail Antonio in the 86th minute.
However, Russell Slade’s side still hung on for their sixth win in seven meetings between the two sides.
The game did not spring into life until the 10th minute, when the rampaging figure of Antonio found space on the left to deliver a cross towards the far post, where Fabio Da Silva had to clear – almost off the line – as Chris Burke looked to force the ball home against his former club.
The Scottish winger carved out an opportunity from the resulting corner, bending in a cross that was attacked powerfully by Michael Mancienne, who saw his header blocked a few yards from goal. Antonio collected the rebound but sent a curling shot well over the target.
When a poor touch from Kyle Ebecilio gave possession to Cardiff, Joe Mason almost conjured up a fine solo goal, carrying the ball half the length of the pitch before being denied by Dorus de Vries’ smart save.
The visitors took the lead in the 23rd minute. After some probing attacks down the left through Fabio, Peter Whittingham who ultimately delivered a cross from that flank for Jones to head home emphatically, sending the ball fizzing low into the bottom corner.
Mason’s duel with de Vries continued as the Dutchman pulled off a near post save to thwart the forward.
But David Marshall had to be at his best in the Cardiff goal, as Tyler Walker tested him with a forceful shot, angled across the face of goal. While Matt Mills prodded a Burke corner wide of the near post and Burke himself fired wide as Forest toiled for a goal before half-time.
Ben Osborn came on at half-time for Forest and flashed a shot narrowly wide in the first few seconds following the restart. But it proved to be a brief moment of optimism for the home side, as Cardiff doubled their advantage in the 49th minute.
Anthony Pilkington’s curling cross-shot seemed bound for the top corner as he let fly from just outside the box, but Mason made sure, nodding beyond a wrong-footed de Vries.
Antonio, so often Forest’s saviour last season, forced another superb save from Marshall after angling into the box, before the keeper recovered to push away Walker’s effort from the rebound.
Antonio finally beat Marshall in the 86th minute, firing a low shot beyond his reach after darting through the centre of the Cardiff defence, following a flick from Blackstock.
Mason spurned a golden chance to make it 3-1 to the visitors in injury time, failing to control when he only had de Vries to beat.
Mills almost made them pay – but he was inches away from connecting with a curling cross from Antonio at the far post.