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Match preview: Forest v Middlesbrough

Big game on Saturday as the team we'd all like to see get automatic promotion come to the City Ground. We spoke to Boro fan and Middlesbrough Evening Gazette writer Anthony Vickers about the opposition...

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Nick Miller: All going pretty well for your boys at the moment, eh?

Anthony Vickers: Yes. A little bit of a hangover after losing to Arsenal maybe leading into the worst dip of the season - DLWL - and a lot of nerves among fans but they seem back on course with results now, although they are not playing as well as they were.


They battled from behind with 10 men to get a draw at Birmingham and that was a poor game, then they battered Leeds and had 27 shots but lost 1-0 and fans started to get a bit jittery because those two games were a squandered chance to open up a gap  - we've been here before - but then all the results went the right way and so Boro got away with it. They won 1-0 at home against Bolton but it was all frantic disjointed stuff and then got dicked at Sheff Wed in what was the poorest display of the season.

But they bounced back against Millwall in a game that was routine but all three goals were top quality, well worked team efforts.

NM: Every time Patrick Bamford scores a goal it simultaneously makes me sad that he's no longer ours, but draw some comfort in the knowledge that he could well be in the Premier League with someone other than Derby next season.

AV: Yes, he's good. He is 'one of your own'. I interviewed him after the win over Derby and he admitted he was buzzing from scoring against them and said he "celebrated like a Forest fan."


He was a bit frustrated early on as he was kept on the bench for a while as Karanka instilled his "philosophy and methodology" and he only got two in his first nine, mainly from the bench, as he was gradually bedded in. But then he took off with seven in eight and since then has been pretty much the first choice up front.

Karanka plays 4-2-3-1 and Bamford has been used as the striker - the '1' - or on the flanks as a very advanced part of the '3'. And seems comfortable in both. He has a superb first touch, works very hard and knows where the goal is. He's got five in the last ten, including against Man City in the cup win. He's a top player. Boro are very keen to keep him but that will depend on promotion as he quite assertive about playing in the Premier League next season.

NM: What about Lee Tomlin? From what I've seen of him he looks like an absolutely classic 'good in the Championship, will get eaten alive in the Premier League' player.

AV: Tomlinho has some great tricks and flicks and some deft match turning touches and as he showed against Man City he can spin a player with a fantastic twist, but he hasn't always managed to impose himself on games and doesn't always have a presence for the full 90. He can drift in and out of games and hasn't got the consistency to really rip this division up. His fitness levels have increased though and although he struggled at first with the intensity of Karanka's style he seems to last a lot longer in games now.

Obviously the trick that bamboozled Kompany was eye-catching FIFA #tekkers  and probably won him the Championship Player of the Month award for January but ironically he probably wasn't even Boro's best that month. He didn't win the club (I think keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos won theirs) or the Gazette's poll which went to young defender Ben Gibson.

NM: You seem to have a number of different attacking options, which obviously makes you very difficult to combat or even plan for. Who else should we be scared of?

AV: It is hard to second guess Karanka on personnel although the shape is generally 4231.

Up front he has usually gone with either Bamford when he wants to run at the defence or Spanish striker Kike (the big money £2.7m summer buy) when he wants to hold the ball up. Kike is great at that, he twists and turns and uses his body well and keeps the ball until options arrive.

The three can change radically by the week. Bamford has played in the No 10 role as well as Tomlin but there is also the option of Jelle Vossen, a Belgian international striker on loan with a view to buy from Genk. He shows intelligent movement, and drops deep to get the ball and can pick out a good run. He hasn't scored that many and some fans have been critical of the goals return (ditto Kike) but when he plays it seems to give an extra bit of fluidity and zip  up front.

Their are a lot of options on the flanks too. Bamford has played wide in the three and looked potent cutting inside but we also have Albert Adomoah, last year's cavalier top scorer on the right, although he has played a deeper, more conservative role this year. Then there's young Adam Reach on the left who likes to run at the full-back. He makes things happen when on song but is a real winger so inconsistency is in the DNA. Karanka may also look to deploy one of the speed machines from the bench with flying Dutchman Yanic Wildschut absolutely jet-heeled on the wing. Muzzy Carayol is even faster but isn't quite back yet after a year out with a cruciate.

Then there is perennial Forest target Grant Leadbitter, 12 goal top scorer - although only two of those are from open play. Give him a sight of goal from anywhere up to about 35 yards and he'll give it a dig. He also takes penalties and free-kicks.

NM: Let's have a prediction, then...

AV: We've only won ONCE at the City Ground since decimalisation (a late Brian Deane winner in a 2-1 in 1999) and we haven't even managed to draw many. Last time we let slip a two goal lead when I think Forest may have been "in crisis". Again. So you can't trick me into a wildly optimistic, biased prediction of victory. That said, Aitor Karanka has gone through this season  quietly smashing old hoodoos so who knows. Boro need something. And we don't leak many. I'll go for either 0-0 or Football's Former Player Inevitability DRive to kick in and Boro to nick it (Bamford, 88).

You can follow Anthony on Twitter - @untypicalboro