Middlesbrough 1 Nottingham Forest 1

by Dave Hearn

Nottingham Forest at home under the lights is one of those games that still has a certain appeal about it, like playing at home to Liverpool in the eighties perhaps, or Sheffield Wednesday in the early-nineties even, and last night was no different in that respect as I strolled down to the stadium in fairly high spirits after Saturday’s routine victory over Ipswich Town. The signs were good as I settled into my seat and heard that the gaffer had named an unchanged eleven and confidence grew further when I noticed that a thirty-eight year-old Jonathan Greening was going to be playing in the middle of the field for Forest. Surely our lads would have the beating of old man Greening, wouldn’t they?

Those feelings of confidence and optimism lasted for about seven minutes, however, as it became obvious that Forest were very adept at keeping the ball with Greening, 45, being allowed far too much room to play his simple little passes from side-to-side. In fact, Boro started the game in very poor fashion and there was no sign of the pressing game that Karanka favours, no tempo to our play, no urgency about what we were doing and lots of sloppy passing going on, with Omeruo, Chalobah and Leadbitter being particularly wasteful in possession. By the twenty minute mark, Forest were firmly on top of things and Greening, 49, seemed to be enjoying his return to the Riverside as he orchestrated most of their good stuff by way of providing a link between Djamel Abdoun, Jamie Paterson and Marek Majewski across the middle of the pitch. Boro’s best hope of creating something of interest was getting it out to Muzzy Carayol and letting him have a run at their full-back but, as the half wore on, he quietened down and Forest started to work a few chances at goal; Simon Cox’s feeble header from six yards was the best of their chances, with everything else they did being relatively tame and causing Konstantopoulos very little bother.

From our point of view the half petered out, the best we could do was a header from a corner that needed clearing off the line and also a shot from Carayol from outside the box that rolled past Karl Darlow’s right-hand post. We’d resorted to just lumping it in the vague direction of Danny Graham by the end of it and Ledesma couldn’t get into it at all. Losing Lee Tomlin to injury just after half-an-hour didn’t help us, certainly, though he’d barely had a kick before being replaced by Albert Adomah. So it was a very poor forty-five minutes for us and it was clear Karanka would have to get stuck into them at half-time. The way we started the second-half suggested that Karanka had indeed got stuck into them as the defence was pushed much higher up the pitch and the lads, Graham, Leadbitter and Ledesma in particular, began to press Forest and disrupted their rhythm to the point where we actually got on top of them.

Muzzy Carayol broke away down the left and cut inside his man before unleashing a splendid curling effort into the far corner to put us 1-0 up and the lads didn’t stop there, they kept the tempo up and pressed Forest’s centre-halves into playing several aimless balls straight onto Omeruo’s bonce. Dean Whitehead came on for Ledesma and made us more solid in the middle of the pitch, showing exactly why he should always be selected ahead of Nathaniel Chalobah, though it was frustrating to watch Leadbitter trundling around the place trying to play the ‘no.10’ position when he clearly isn’t capable of it. The central cog of Forest’s decent first-half showing, Jonathan Greening, 56, had disappeared from the game and the Boro pushed on for a second, with Carayol breaking away down the left once again only to send the latest effort, which actually looked a little easier than the one he scored from, sailing past Karl Darlow’s left-hand post. Forest then made some changes; barrel-chested play-maker Andy Reid replaced Jamie Paterson and the big daft lump Darius Henderson and that young boy who always scores against the Boro, Matt Derbyshire, came on for Simon Cox and Djamel Abdoun respectively.

Those substitutions brought with them a feeling that it was only a matter of time before Forest would equalise and, for me anyway, it was no surprise to see a goal slide past Konstantopoulos to make it 1-1. The big Greek bloke was furious with Forest’s goal though as I was at the other end of the stadium it was difficult to know exactly what he was so upset about(it’s only when I got home and saw a Vine video of the goal that I realised that we’d been the victims of some appalling cheating on Henderson’s behalf, what with him using his forearm to tuck away a cross into the box). Feeling somewhat aggrieved, the lads tried to rally and find a winner and we almost pinched it via a stabbed effort from Danny Graham that came back off the post. Graham then scuffed a left-footed shot past the post when he perhaps should’ve done better, though a 2-1 win would probably have flattered us really.

A 1-1 draw was probably a fair result and it’s a decent point for us when you take into account the fact that Forest were one of the better teams we’ve seen on Teesside this season and are obviously fifth in the table for a reason. It’s also satisfying to take a point from a game in which we’ve played so poorly for long spells, with the passing from the back alarmingly out-of-sorts and the two central-midfielders, Chalobah and Leadbitter, being so underwhelming throughout. I left the stadium feeling a bit disappointed with things but looking back now it feels like a decent return for us, though knowing that the referee and his assistant(s) have missed one of the most blatant handballs you’re ever likely to see only adds to the feelings of frustration because we really should be talking about a 1-0 Boro victory right now. But these things will even themselves out, as they say.

And, in a break from tradition, I’ve put some player ratings on this one just to see what happens.

Konstantopoulos 6, Varga 6, Friend 6, Omeruo 6, Gibson 6, Chalobah 5, Leadbitter 5, Carayol 7, Ledesma 5, Tomlin 4, Graham 6. SUBS: Adomah 5, Whitehead 6, Kamara 5.