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Forest 1-2 Middlesbrough

It was close...very close. But there was much to be optimistic about despite another home defeat.

Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Apart from the result, this was a fun game.

The tone was set by the excellence of the banners raised in the Lower Bridgford prior to kick off, the most notable being the simple old white bed sheet emblazoned with the immortal words: ‘Robbo eats Hamburgers’. Perfect.

The game resembled a quick-fire game of Connect 4 with a timer like the ones on a game of competitive chess. For the click-clack of the counters hitting the yellow or red counters on their way down read the opening exchanges of chances and goals in this game. After early pressure and somnolent defending, David Nugent’s effort trickled over the line. Moments later, Matt Mills’ effort went in – all the way in. Only seven minutes on the clock too.

For Danny Collins, read Daniel Ayala. As the law goes, 'For the central defender who returns to a club for whom he once played, it is decreed that he shall score a header from a set piece.' His goal and towering performance was as inevitable as the Pay and Display machine requiring £3.00 when you only have £2.90 in 10 pence pieces. Some might even go as far as to say that it was as inevitable as a Kelvin Wilson blunder but that would be a little harsh – he’s been better recently. Nonetheless, Wilson’s loss of bearings from a well worked corner kick resulted in him heading the ball neatly for Ayala to head into the Trent End goal.

Speaking of Daniel Ayala, Anthony Vickers of the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette warned us about him:

"Daniel Ayala is an absolute rock. Playing regularly has helped polish him into a very astute defender, physical when necessary but he has great positional awareness and can play a bit too. He added much needed height in the opposition box too and scored a few from corners."

Based on his performance here, it would be a churlish and foolhardy enterprise to argue with a single iota of the assessment above. Damn him to Norwich and all the way back again for his outstanding performance.

Meanwhile, Eric Lichaj was on a mission. Dimitrios Konstantopolous gloriously saved his first half effort; a turn of events replicated in the second half too. Rarely has a man been so pumped up and desperate to open his scoring account for the Reds, reminding those of a certain age of the desire to open a bank account just to get your grubby little mitts on a collection of little piggy banks or a scruffy black bag. If he had scored yesterday, there would have been a display of fist pumping not seen since…oh, you know who.

After being treated to the sight of actual living legends John McGovern and John Robertson at half time, Forest nearly levelled up from the kick off. Ryan Mendes was through on goal but that man saved his effort again.

He should have squared it. He knows it. Nelson Oliveira knows it. The crowd knows it. Even educated fleas know it.

From then on, Mendes had a particularly sticky time of it: he couldn’t control the ball, couldn’t pass the ball, couldn’t head the ball and made choices brimming with wrongness. Nonetheless, he kept going and just about managed to turn it around by the end of the game, hinting at a bravery that will stand him in good stead for a slog of a season in the muck n nettles league.

Then came a gift of a chance to square matters.  What was the boy Ben Gibson thinking? Of course, Henri Lansbury should have gone for placing over power. Sure, he should have gone for some lift in his effort and not blasted it down the middle. We all know that NOW don’t we?

Few things in life are as easy as to be wise after the event. On the other hand, after witnessing a gaggle of Boro defenders whispering into Dimi’s ear just prior to the spot kick, it would be a safe bet to assume that they were reminding the Greek stopper of his previous penalty against QPR which he smashed low and hard down the middle. The Greek stopper clearly listened to them. Lansbury smashed it low and hard down the middle.

Ah well. It should be noted that Lansbury had an excellent game.

Forget about adverts for the Championship, this was a cracking game in its own right. Middlesbrough probably just about had the edge due to their ability to maintain their rigid team shape even under a barrage of pressure towards the end of the game – they defended heroically. For Forest, there were the odd moments when it looked like the wonderfully exciting and newly acquired attacking players didn’t quite know each other’s game yet, like they weren’t quite on first name terms with each other’s runs, foibles, nicks, nacks and tricks – a wholly understandable state of events.

Boro on the other hand looked as well drilled as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman’s unit from Full Metal Jacket. As Vickers pointed out before hand, "this year the back six (two holding midfielders) remains the same". This showed too as Ayala was immense and the pairing of Grant Leadbitter and Adam Clayton got right on the home fans’ nerves by being exactly where they needed to be to mop up every knockdown or half assed clearance before kick starting an incisive counter attack.

Although bitterly disappointing not to have taken at least a point, Freedman’s men went toe to toe with possibly the best team they have played so far – a team that looked not only equipped but utterly determined to put that limp play off final defeat behind them. Perhaps it is worth remembering though that only a few weeks ago, Forest made Cardiff City look like a very good team and succumbed to a 2-1 home defeat.

Those two excellent away wins are the bread that holds the filling in the sandwich – it is important to get the filling right when building the perfect sandwich. But on the basis of this performance, there’s enough evidence here to suggest that the club are on the right road to filling that warm, crusty baguette with a sumptuous Gorgonzola drizzled with an apple and walnut pickle.

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