Ten-man Nottingham Forest suffered a 3-0 Boxing Day defeat at the hands of Middlesbrough.
Second-half goals from George Friend, Jelle Vossen and a penalty from Grant Leadbitter blew away a Forest side who had seen Kelvin Wilson sent off on 68 minutes for two bookable offences.
Stuart Pearce made three changes to the side that drew against Leeds last weekend. Ben Osborn, Chris Burke and Britt Assombalonga came in for Henri Lansbury, Jack Hunt and Dexter Blackstock.
The manager continued with a 3-5-2 formation, which he had utilised in last weekend’s 1-1 draw, with Eric Lichaj forming part of a back three alongside Kelvin Wilson and Danny Fox.
And the American international was called into defensive action on five minutes when he blocked Friend’s cross from the left. The ball fell to Lee Tomlin who twisted and turned dangerously in the area before shooting towards goal. Karl Darlow made a good save with his legs to turn the ball behind for a corner.
Forest’s first foray forward resulted in Burke, playing right wing back, crossing the ball dangerously and low towards goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos’ near post. The Greek managed to claim it before Michael Mancienne received treatment following a clash with a Boro player earlier in the move.
It had been a cagey start to the match and Burke found himself feeding off scraps on 21 minutes, receiving the ball on the edge of the area after Danny Fox’s cross was half-cleared. His shot looped up off former Forest youngster Patrick Bamford and over the bar. Osborn’s first corner was headed behind by Boro’s defence but his second cross looked like it had given Michail Antonio the chance to head the ball powerfully at goal. His marker appeared to do just enough to put him off and the former Sheffield Wednesday man could only glance it wide.
Four minutes later, a cheeky Kike backheel in Forest’s area presented Friend with a chance to shoot. Darlow made an excellent save, looping the ball up at the back post where Albert Adomah was unable to meet it. Forest cleared the resultant corner.
The Reds’ response came from Robert Tesche, who received the ball from Danny Fox 22 yards out following a succession of 50-50 challenges in midfield. The German didn’t have much time to set himself before sweeping the it low into the hands of the Boro keeper.
A lull in proceedings followed, during which Mancienne was booked for a foul on his opposite captain Grant Leadbitter.
But as half-time approached, the home side pushed for an opening goal. Friend had been impressive throughout the opening 45 minutes and pounced to take control of a bouncing ball near the corner of Forest’s area, producing a tremendous strike. Darlow did well to palm the ball away and The Reds broke, working the ball to Osborn on the right.
The young midfielder lacked options, opting to lay the ball off for Antonio who could only drag the ball harmlessly wide of the near post from 20 yards out.
Three minutes of added time were indicated at the end of the half, in the final of which Bamford curled the ball over the bar from the edge of the area after Leadbitter had brought it out from midfield.
David Vaughan replaced Assombalonga at half-time as Pearce opted for a change of system, returning to a flat back four with Mancienne and Wilson as centre backs. Vaughan took his place in defensive midfield, with Tesche and Osborn ahead of him. Burke and Antonio were given more attacking roles out wide, supporting lone striker Matty Fryatt. But the change in system couldn’t prevent Boro taking the lead on 53 minutes, when Friend was able to leap unchallenged to head the ball across a helpless Darlow from Leadbitter’s corner.
Two minutes later, Wilson was booked for a late challenge on Bamford. Lichaj had to turn the ball behind from Leadbitter’s subsequent free-kick, but Forest managed to quell their hosts’ threat.
Forest had struggled to find openings in the match but were presented with a chance to test the Boro defence on the hour mark. A pass from a Boro defender went awry and Osborn picked the ball up in the centre circle, spinning away from one of his pursuers and playing the ball to Tesche. Bursting into space, the German carried the ball to the edge of the area before poking it a yard wide with a wall of Boro defenders lining up in front of him.
Osborn had an effort of his own shortly afterwards, striking the ball over the bar from the edge of the area, before The Reds had two headed opportunities in quick succession.
Antonio’s cross from the left was flicked on by a defender, presenting Lichaj with a chance to volley the ball at goal from inside the area. The right back miscued his effort, directing it into the middle of the box, where Fox was unmarked. He opted to head the ball towards goal but could sustain neither the power or direction required to beat Konstantopoulos from eight yards.
A minute later it was Fryatt’s turn when Osborn crossed the ball from the left. Like Fox, however, the tightly-marked Fryatt was unable to properly test the keeper with his headed effort.
And Forest’s frustrations were compounded shortly afterwards when Wilson was given a second yellow card for a foul on Kike.
Kike was replaced by Vossen during the subsequent stoppage, and the substitute had an immediate impact, leading a pacey break down the right. He evaded Mancienne’s lunge before taking the ball into the area. Fox stood firm at the near post to block him off, conceding a corner. Bamford attempted an overhead kick from Leadbitter’s delivery, failing to make contact.
But Boro were 2-0 up shortly afterwards when the ball ricocheted into Vossen’s path on the edge of the area, allowing the Belgian to lash the ball home superbly.
Pearce’s next change allowed Forest to go back to two up front, Veldwijk replacing Antonio.
And his side came close to pulling a goal back when Tesche’s shot from the edge of the area took a deflection on its way just past the post.
But Forest’s fate was sealed when, after Darlow was adjudged to have felled Bamford in the area when sprawling to halt him, Leadbitter sent the keeper the wrong way to make it 3-0 from the spot. The penalty was punishment enough for Darlow, with Bamford taking the ball away from goal when he was fouled.
Boro comfortably kept possession for the five minutes of additional time, sending Forest back to the East Midlands empty-handed.
Forest: Darlow, Lichaj, Wilson, Fox, Mancienne (c), Tesche, Osborn, Antonio (Veldwijk 80'), Burke, Fryatt, Assombalonga (Vaughan 46')
Subs not used: de Vries, Lascelles, Hunt, Laing, Paterson
Bookings: Mancienne 40', Wilson 55', 68'
Sent off: Wilson 68'
KonstantopoulosMiddlesbrough:, Friend, Gibson, Omeruo, Nsue, Leadbitter, Clayton, Adomah, Tomlin (Reach 73'), Bamford (Williams 88'), Kike (Vossen 68')
Subs not used: Mejias, Whitehead, Veljkovic, Wildschut
Goals: Friend 53', Vossen 78', Leadbitter (pen) 87'
Referee: Scott Duncan
Attendance: 32,277 (1,399 away)