Nottingham Forest – 1
Middlesbrough – 0
Well it certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was a most welcome three points nonetheless after the weekend disappointment at Barnsley. With Billy still signed off with a virus Ned once again took to the technical area to deploy the wee fellas’ instructions as we faced newly managerless Middlesbrough in what the bookies would’ve had us believe was a clash of the promotion favourites.
A reshuffled pack saw Raddy and Anderson restored to a side which had a more balanced feel to it than the Barnsley debacle, and it was a customary sublime goal from in-form Lewis McGugan that was enough to give us the spoils despite occasional scares from the struggling visitors. So the starting line-up looked something like this…
Gunter Morgan Chambers Bertrand
Anderson McKenna Majewski Cohen
Although McKenna aside in the holding position, the midfield was pretty fluid as we’ve come to expect (fluid when it’s working well, shapeless when it’s not working so well!). The Tuesday night crowd was buoyed by a student ticket offer which was well taken up, and whilst the satanic 666 Boro fans is a small number, it’s not a bad effort on a Tuesday night from so far away.
It was Lee Camp – sporting a Peter Sutcliffe-esque beard – who was the first keeper into action though. A shot from McDonald would’ve been fairly routine but for a wicked deflection off Luke Chambers meaning ‘the Ripper’ – as a wag near me dubbed him for the game – was forced into a diving save at the expense of an early corner for the visitors.
Forest did start to build a bit of possession, but were struggling to break down a dogged Boro side who were working hard to close us once we’d hit the final third. A cross from Bertrand opened up half chances for Blackstock and then Gunter on the rebound, but there was very little clear-cut for the Reds and the fans were starting to get characteristically impatient.
At our end Boro were fashioning chances though, Lita flashed a dangerous ball across the goal with nobody on the end of it – whilst on a break a Lewis mis-kick fell kindly for Dex who perhaps didn’t realise quite what an opportunity he had (I think he was looking for the offside flag), and stabbed the ball across the goal and wide with Steele bearing down on him.
Middlesbrough should’ve taken the lead after this – after some fairly clumsy defending from Forest the ball fell invitingly for Lita – in acres of space, no more than ten yards out with the whole goal to go for. He put it wide. A poor miss, and really that signalled the end of the positive play from the visitors in the first half.
The Reds almost took a magnificent lead before half time – a lovely one-two between Majewski and Bertrand saw Raddy unleash an absolute piledriver with his left foot, showing great technique, only to see his shot rebound off the underside of the bar and into play, before being scrambled out for a corner. It would’ve been one hell of a goal.
Forest continued to pressure without too many clear cut chances as time was running out in the first half. We didn’t really want the whistle to come, but it did and gave Boro an increasingly desperately needed lifeline to regroup in the dressing room. The combination of their early chances and our late ones probably meant half time all square wasn’t all that unfair.
The second half began with Forest still in the ascendancy. A decent knock over the top by Blackstock found Cohen who must still be rueing the tame shot he managed straight at the keeper. The Reds fans didn’t have long to wait for something to warm them on the winterish night though, and it was that man Lewis McGugan again delivering the goods.
Lewis had picked up the ball and was fouled down the left hand side. The freekick was a few yards outside the box and wide, my neighbour said “I bet Lewis will fancy a crack from here”, and he was right – the in form midfielder smacked an absolute peach of a shot through the crowded area, past Steele and inside the far post the give the Reds the lead.
The game became scrappy now – Forest looked shaky at the back, often opting to try to play their way out of danger when a hoof would suffice. Neither Wes nor Luke were anywhere near the front of the queue when God was handing out ‘hap’, so they should both definitely opt for safety-first when they’re being harried by opposing strikers. There were a few hair-raising moments for sure.
The referee was a bit rubbish too, but in a generally harmless way – until he decided to book Bertrand for timewasting. The leftback was waiting to take a throw-in as Dele was ready to come on for Blackstock, the jobsworth booked the defender before then gesturing for the substitution to take place. Hapless bastard. That’s four bookings for Bertie now, so one more and a suspension looms.
Dele was immediately involved in his inimitable hustle-and-bustle style – although the header he managed from Cohen’s cross was an easy save for the Boro keeper. Lewis was next to be withdrawn for The Moose – the midfielder naturally receiving a standing ovation from the appreciative Forest fans for his contribution in the game.
The Reds have this worrying habit of making substitutions when defending a setpiece – this was one of those occasions and it’s always nerve-wracking. A header from Wheater almost caused a bit of trouble before Camp was able to gather it. Forest weren’t just sitting back though, and Dele again was on the end of a chance which he made too easy for the keeper to collect.
McGoldrick was our last substitute for Majewski, who’d had a decent game in midfield, however Middlesbrough were starting to press forward, and there was a frankly terrifying moment of ball-pinging-around-a-crowded-area syndrome before we were mercifully able to get it clear after Chambers had done well to close down Boyd.
With four minutes of stoppage time there were a few futile attempts at keep-ball by the Reds in the corner, in the end the final moments petered out into a series of scrappy exchanges from both sides – with the clock running down McGoldrick really should have either hit the target or played the ball across to his waiting colleagues when he was put through but wide – but still. The whistle came eventually, and it was a big relief!
It wasn’t pretty – but it wasn’t likely to be. At times the Reds tried to ping the ball around nicely – and there were moments of genuinely good football, but too often passes were played behind or into the feet of players rather than ahead of them, so we couldn’t always profit from some nice work from many of the lads.
Plenty of positives to take though – as well as warning signs, a clean sheet is more than welcome but we do look shaky at the back. McKenna deserves a lot of credit for filling in some gaps at the back particularly when dealing with pacy wingers threatening to exploit our wandering fullbacks. If Boro had more confidence in themselves they would have proved a much sterner test I feel.
However, we should feel positive – despite their awful record on the road I don’t think Boro are as bad a side as their position suggests, and obviously a change in management can throw up surprises. After recent frustrations it was good to see Forest tweak their tactics and almost start to break through a team doggedly defending.
That said, we were still wasteful with some of the chances that came our way – which is why the return of Robbie Earnshaw can’t come soon enough for me. Whilst the contribution of Lewis has been invaluable we can’t keep relying on him for goals – and our only other reliable source of finishing comes from our little Welsh wizard.