Middlesbrough extended their unbeaten run to eight games courtesy of a late winner by substitute Marvin Johnson who volleyed home a George Saville cross. The win lifted Boro into the playoff spots while Forest ended the day one place above the drop zone after a disappointing start to the season.
STRONG DEFENSIVE PERFORMANCE
Boro changed their shape for this game and added some wrinkles in the game plan to nullify Forest and post their fourth clean sheet in the last five games played. Neil Warnock lined his team up in a 4-1-4-1 shape with the wide midfielders coming forward to press, giving the Forest fullback duo of Gaetan Bong and former Boro player Cyrus Christie little time on the ball.
Warnock accounted for the threat of 2016/2017 league Player of the Year Anthony Knockaert by deploying left back Marc Bola as a man marker for long spells, shadowing Knockaert all over the field and having left midfielder Hayden Coulson and holding midfielder Jonny Howson fill in the vacated space when this happened. Bola produced an outstanding performance to nullify Forest’s key attacking threat and set the platform for Boro taking all three points.
DEBUTANT IN THE HEART OF DEFENSE
The strong display at the back from Boro was made even more impressive by the fact 18 year old center back Nathan Wood was making his first career Championship start due to the injury absence of Dael Fry. Wood’s only previous league experience had come as a substitute last season against Birmingham, also replacing Fry and a late one minute cameo in the recent 1-0 win at Bristol City.
In this game, Wood partnered Paddy McNair as the duo kept veteran center forward Miguel Guerrero in close check, allowing the Spaniard to register only one shot all game.
UNBEATEN RUN CONTINUES
It is beginning to look like Warnock and his team have the ability to make a playoff push and this result, the eighth game without defeat lifts them into fifth place in the table. Having conceded only one goal in the last five games, Boro look to be a tough opponent for anyone in the league at this point.
LACK OF A CENTER FORWARD THREAT
The change in formation bolstered Boro defensively and was a huge part of gaining the win, but did show once more that Boro struggle to play in a lone striker system with their current personnel. At Cardiff, Chuba Akpom led the line alone and registered one shot while failing to complete a single pass all game. In any lone forward system, it is important that the center forward can provide aerial threat and hold up long balls, something the Boro strikers did a poor job of in this game.
For this game, captain Britt Assombalonga started as the lone striker and was restricted to one shot and four touches in the Forest penalty area before being subbed off in the 70th minute for Akpom. Last time out against Coventry, the pairing of Roberts with Assombalonga showed some promise, but if Warnock looks to play a back four he will be hoping for one striker to show the ability to effectively play as a lone target man, something not seen yet this season.
MORSY BOOKING AND EARLY SUBSTITUTION
Tough tackling Sam Morsy has had a growing influence on Boro’s midfield department during this good run of form. In this game, Morsy had limited impact, picking up an early yellow card for an elbow on Ryan Yates that led to Warnock replacing him with Djed Spence before halftime arrived.
THE OPPOSITION – NOTTINGHAM FOREST
BEST GOALKEEPER IN THE DIVISION?
Goalkeeper Brice Samba was named to the 2019/2020 Championship Team of the Season and he showcased himself again in this game as one of the best goalkeepers in the English game outside of the Premier League.
Producing atwon excellent 1v1 saves against Coulson and then Assombalonga in the first 35 minutes, Samba also showed good, quick distribution and the consistent ability to launch counter attacks for his team throughout the game.
POSITIVE RIVERSIDE RETURN FOR CHRISTIE
Republic of Ireland international defender Cyrus Christie played well in his return to the Riverside Stadium. The former Boro right back shackled Coulson well and also got forward, often in an attempt to exploit the space vacated by Bola when he drifted central to mark Knockaert. As the game progressed and Bola continued to mark Knockaert in central positions when required, the Forest forwards also peeled off into the vacated channel but failed to capitalize on the space with a goal.
STRONG DEFENSIVE BASE TO BUILD ON
Chris Hughton will be looking to snap his team out a four game winless streak, and does look to have a strong defensive base to build on having conceded only four goals in their last five games. With proven attacking forces such as Knockaert and Joe Lolley there is doubtless a group of personnel in place to navigate Forest away from the relegation battle as the season progresses.
Boro continue their unbeaten run with this result and move up to 5th place in the table ahead of a trip to face Blackburn Rovers as Warnock looks to hit on his best attacking formula. Boro will see plenty of familiar faces at Ewood Park in the form of manager Tony Mowbray, goalkeeper Aynsley Pears and midfielder Stewart Downing.
Forest will face a pair of home games on their upcoming slate against Coventry City and Wycombe Wanderers as Hughton looks to lift his team away from the bottom end of the table.
81’ MID Marvin Johnson (George Saville) 1-0
MAN OF THE MATCH
#27 LD Marc Bola (Middlesbrough) – Stuck like glue to Forest’s chief threat Knockaert and showed the discipline to sustain a man marking role throughout the game. Key factor in the clean sheet that set the table for Johnson’s late winning goal.
3: LD Marc Bola – Man of the Match.
2: RM Marcus Tavernier – High energy performance from the midfielder who started wide right before moving central after the first half substitution of Morsy. Missed a glaring chance to give his team a lead in the 33rd minute but compensated with a quality performance over the full game.
1: CD Paddy McNair – Strong game in the heart of defense for McNair who won plenty of ball while also helping young partner Wood through his first league start.
3: GK Brice Samba – Fantastic performance from Samba who made two key 1v1 saves to keep the game scoreless and started attacks well with his distribution.
2: RD Cyrus Christie – Defended well against former teammate Coulson and overlapped to take advantage of the space vacated by Knockaert’s movement in front.
1: CD Scott McKenna – Strong ball winner in the ground and in the air who played a key role in Assombalonga being silenced.
MID: Bettinelli, Bola, McNair, Wood, Dijksteel, Coulson (Johnson), Morsy (Spence), Saville, Howson, Tavernier, Assombalonga (Akpom).
NOT: Samba, Bong, McKenna, Figueiredo, Christie, Colback, Yates, Freeman (Cafu), Ameobi (Lolley), Knockaert, Guerrero (Taylor).
Full highlights can be found on the official club website here.