Middlesbrough 0 Nottm Forest 1: Ross McCormack remains top target as Boro lack an attacking spark

Middlesbroughs Emilio Nsue reacts after missing a chance against Nottingham Forest (Picture: Richard Sellers/PA).Middlesbroughs Emilio Nsue reacts after missing a chance against Nottingham Forest (Picture: Richard Sellers/PA).
Middlesbroughs Emilio Nsue reacts after missing a chance against Nottingham Forest (Picture: Richard Sellers/PA).
JUST when it was all going so well.

After chiselling out result after result in an imposing winter run, Middlesbrough’s tools are suddenly looking blunt, with head coach Aitor Karanka grateful for a fortnight’s break between games, in his words, to fix a few problems.

But it is likely to be new additions – more particularly in the final third – that will be occupying Karanka’s thoughts every bit as much as finding in-house solutions.

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Top name on that list, probably circled in red ink several times more after Saturday, is Ross McCormack after Boro were overhauled at the top by Hull City on Saturday, when they could have done with his attacking nous .

Karanka is desperately seeking a predatory deep-lying forward for the No 10 role to fine-tune his 4-2-3-1 formation, which he steadfastly will not change.

Rightfully so as plenty had been made of late of Boro’s iron defence, which narrowly missed creating a new Football League second-tier record of 10 clean sheets by conceding late on at Bristol City nine days ago.

It was also finally breached in the league at the Riverside for the first time in around15 and a half playing hours on Saturday.

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But it is two more pertinent statistics that have suddenly assumed rather more importance. Boro, under Karanka, have not come from behind to win a game since August, 2014 – and have not scored in any of the six league games they have lost this term.

Predictable Boro’s attacking deficiencies are being exposed against well-drilled, tactically astute opponents, which Nottingham Forest most definitely were, with Michael Mancienne policing the area in front of the back four authoritively.

He harassed a below-par Stewart Downing so much that the latter was replaced at the break.

Boro captain Grant Leadbitter ruefully said: “We are disappointed and all upset and feeling it. But the two weeks is crucial now, I do believe.

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“But let’s not get carried away, we are in a good position. Everyone would have taken this at the start of the season.

“We will rally the troops around. But you have to learn quickly and defeats are something to look on in terms of how we do better. We are hurting, but we move on.”

In truth, Saturday’s result and performance had been coming on closer inspection.

In their previous two league games against Brentford and Bristol City, Boro had laboured in an attacking sense and also produced a below-par display in being knocked out of the FA Cup by Burnley.

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Forest, for their part, arrived on the back of an 11-match unbeaten run and proved compact and committed opponents who were given encouragement during a first half in which they restricted Boro to virtually nothing.

The most significant development came when key left-back George Friend succumbed to a shoulder problem – which saw him leave the Riverside wearing a sling – with Boro deprived of one of their most potent attacking outlets.

On the restart, Forest, growing in confidence, fired an early warning when Ben Osborn’s rising shot crashed against the inside of a post with Dimi Konstantopoulos beaten.

Boro’s best moment arrived on 55 minutes when a nifty free-kick routine saw Albert Adomah set up Leadbitter, whose fine volley struck the bar.

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A huge chance in the context of proceedings then arrived midway through the half when Adomah’s deep cross found the onrushing Emilio Nsue at the far post, but he headed over.

The hosts were made to pay soon after in the 70th minute when a slick move ended with Jamie Ward clinically firing home low past Konstantopoulos after being found by Osborn – becoming the first visiting player to score in the league on Teesside since Brentford’s Lasse Vibe netted on September 15.

Middlesbrough: Dimi; Nsue, Ayala, Amorebieta, Friend (Kalas 40); Leadbitter (Kike 81), Clayton; Stuani, Downing (Forshaw 45), Adomah; Nugent. Unused substitutes: Mejias, De Pena, Fry, Kike Sola.

Nottingham Forest: De Vries; Lichaj, Mills, Hobbs, Jokic; Mancienne; O Burke (Oliveira 77), Gardner (Wilson 89), Tesche, Osborn; Ward (Mendes 84). Unused substitutes: Evtimov, Cohen, Blackstock, O’Grady.

Referee: F Graham (Essex).

Man of the match: Michael Mancienne.