Nottingham Forest secured an impressive 2-1 victory over title-chasing Middlesbrough at The City Ground this afternoon.
The visitors took the lead in fortuitous fashion when Grant Leadbitter’s cross crashed off the post and into the net, but Gary Gardner scored a superb equaliser before the break.
That teed up Dexter Blackstock to score a second-half winner to keep Forest’s faint play-off hopes alive.
Dougie Freedman made four changes to the side that lost at Charlton Athletic on Tuesday night. Todd Kane was given his first opportunity to impress his new manager, replacing Danny Fox, while Michael Mancienne, Kelvin Wilson and Blackstock came in for Ben Osborn, Danny Collins and Matty Fryatt.
Young striker Tyler Walker was named on the bench alongside Osborn and Collins, but Fox and Fryatt were absent altogether. Freedman later revealed they both have minor ankle problems.
The reshuffle saw Eric Lichaj fill in at left back, and it was his partner down that side who claimed the first chance of the game. Michail Antonio showed excellent strength on the edge of the area before seeing his shot deflect off a Boro defender. The ball looped towards Dimitrios Konstantopoulos’ top corner but the Greek goalkeeper dived to his right to tip it wide.
From Chris Burke’s resultant corner, Jamaal Lascelles was unable to direct his header goalwards from six yards.
The visitors’ first threat came from Lee Tomlin on 14 minutes when he struck the ball goalwards from 20 yards. A Middlesbrough man got in the way, deflecting it out for a goal kick.
Former Forest youngster Patrick Bamford had been handed a start by Boro boss Aitor Karanka, and the forward looked to open the scoring on 18 minutes when he picked the ball up in space 25 yards out. His shot came through a crowd of bodies but Karl Darlow was able to make a comfortable save.
February’s Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month Henri Lansbury offered Forest’s response with two efforts shortly afterwards. Good build-up play between Burke and Blackstock set up Lansbury to shift the ball on to his left foot before striking it over the bar under pressure from a number of defenders.
Moments later, it was Antonio’s turn to lay the ball off for Lansbury. The end result was the same, with the ball appearing to take a small bobble before the skipper sent it high into the Bridgford Stand.
Forest were the side in greater control, but they found themselves behind on 27 minutes. Boro’s short corner freed up space for Leadbitter to cross the ball to the back post. It soared over everyone, crashed off the inside of the post and may have taken a deflection off a Forest man on its way over the line.
Keen to restore parity as soon as possible, The Reds carved out a good opportunity for Gardner to score. Burke’s corner was half-cleared to Lansbury, who nodded the ball back to the Scotsman. He dinked it back into the middle where Gardner was unable to keep his header down.
It was an open affair and the visitors could have extended their lead through Tomlin. The midfielder turned brilliantly into space in the middle before scampering into Forest’s penalty area. He took his shot with the outside of his right boot but connected poorly, sending the ball harmlessly wide.
And the visitors were ruing that missed opportunity minutes later as Gardner levelled the scores with an effort to rival his strike at Reading.
He received the ball from Lansbury 22 yards out and quickly shifted it on to his right foot before curling it across goal and into the top corner of the net.
The game was anyone’s once more and Boro, despite being temporarily down to ten men with Ryan Federicks receiving treatment, were the next to show their hand. Mancienne had to dive at Bamford’s feet to divert his shot behind for a corner.
Fredericks was substituted for Emilio Nsue and the visitors kept up their pressure as the interval approached.
Panic in the Forest area resulted in Darlow having to punch the ball clear in unorthadox fashion after George Friend’s shot, before Leadbitter sent the ball high over the bar with a wild effort after he had picked it up in space 25 yards out.
Leadbitter will no doubt have been frustrated with his effort, and his emotions perhaps boiled over into his remonstrations with referee Jon Moss four minutes later after he awarded Forest a free-kick for a foul on Blackstock. Leadbitter found himself in the book.
Freedman made a change at half-time as Lansbury, who had received treatment while his team-mates celebrated Gardner’s equaliser, came off for Osborn.
Aside from a Leadbitter strike which drew an easy save from Darlow, it was a low-key start to the second half with both teams struggling to find their rhythm.
It was Boro who eventually took control. They won a corner, from which Leadbitter cleverly picked out Tomlin on the edge of the area. Kane got across well to block his shot, conceding another corner. Forest cleared the immediate danger but back came Boro, working the ball to Bamford. He crossed it low into the middle where Kike produced a neat flick, leaving Forest with their hearts in their mouths as the ball rolled just wide of the far post.
But The Reds were back on the offensive moments later, and they had strong claims for a penalty when Antonio’s low cross appeared to flick up off Tomas Kalas, who had slid to block it, before striking the defender’s hand. Mr Moss was unmoved. All that was forgotten on 65 minutes, however, as Forest took the lead.
Antonio was pivotal again, receiving a through ball from Blackstock and doing brilliantly to get goalside of Nsue. He rolled the ball low into the centre and it looked like Osborn was about to lash it home, only for Blackstock to bring it under control before producing a brilliant finish into the top corner.
Boro, desperate for a goal to keep their title hopes on track, resumed control of the game. Tomlin had a chance to equalise when Leadbitter left the ball from Bamford’s cross, but the former Peterborough man could only fire it over the bar on the half-volley.
Forest reminded the visitors of their own threat when Blackstock rose highest to meet Lichaj’s long throw, glancing the ball wide of the post, before Boro came within inches of scoring an equaliser with six minutes to play.
Friend showed brilliant skill to race into Forest’s area before cutting the ball back for Kike, who struck it against the outside of the post from eight yards.
Boro continued to ramp up the pressure, Bamford flashing the ball wide with a left-footed effort from the edge of the area, before Collins replaced Blackstock with three minutes of normal time remaining.
Both Kike and Adam Forshaw, on for Leadbitter, had unsuccessful efforts at goal before four minutes were added on at the end of the match.
And The Reds held firm to add another victory to Freedman’s impressive tally.
Forest: Darlow, Kane, Wilson, Lascelles, Lichaj, Antonio, Mancienne, Gardner, Lansbury (Osborn 46'), Burke, Blackstock (Collins 87')
Subs not used: De Vries, Veldwijk, Paterson, Vaughan, Walker
Goals: Gardner 34', Blackstock 65'
Fredericks (Nsue 39'), Kalas, Gibson, Friend, Adomah (Vossen 70'), Leadbitter (Forshaw 83'), Clayton, Tomlin, Bamford, Kike
Subs not used: Ripley, Whitehead, Reach, Woodgate
Goal: Leadbitter 27'
Bookings: Leadbitter 44', Nsue 90'
Referee: Jonathan Moss
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