A heroic performance from Dimi Konstantopoulos helped Middlesbrough claim a fourth consecutive victory and take top spot in the Championship, as Nottingham Forest were beaten 2-1 at the City Ground.
The Boro keeper made a string of saves - including a Henri Lansbury penalty - as Forest’s own recent good form was brought to an end.
A seventh-minute Matt Mills volley had cancelled out an early strike from David Nugent in the third minute.
But, while Konstantopoulos denied both Eric Lichaj and Ryan Mendes twice with a quartet of saves, Dorus de Vries was beaten when a defensive slip allowed Daniel Ayala to ghost in to score in the 32nd minute.
The match got off to a flying start, with Albert Adomah already having come close to a goal by the time Middlesbrough took a third-minute lead.
George Friend had advanced down the left flank to deliver a driven, low cross into the centre, where Nugent found the space to prod home.
When Nelson Oliveira’s shot was deflected wide, Forest took advantage of the resulting corner, with Lansbury’s delivery picking out Mills, who powered home a volley, high into the back of the net, from six yards out, four minutes later.
It was keeper de Vries who was the key figure for Forest however, as he twice made saves that denied Middlesbrough the lead for a second time.
A quick break saw Stewart Downing surge clear, only for the big Dutchman to thwart him by spreading himself and getting a foot to his low shot. Nugent forced De Vries into another save with a powerful, driven strike before the Forest stopper regained his feet to save again, after Adomah had pounced on the rebound.
The visitors did force their way ahead again however. When Grant Leadbitter drove in a cross, Kelvin Wilson only managed to head the ball back towards his own goal, with Ayala reacting quickest to beat de Vries to the ball and head home from a few yards out.
Forest almost hit back immediately, as full-back Lichaj cut inside from the right flank and let fly with a left-footed screamer that was bound for the corner until Konstantopoulos saved acrobatically.
Forest brought on Jamie Ward for Ben Osborn at the interval - but it was Mendes who should have dragged them level for a second time, only to see Konstantopoulos made an outstanding save to thwart him, after the winger had ghosted through on goal.
Lichaj was denied again by the brilliance of Konstantopoulos, after hammering a shot towards the near post.
If De Vries had been a key figure for Forest in the first half, it was Konstantopoulos who earned his corn after the break, with the Boro keeper reacting again to push a Mendes volley around the post - and then saving a penalty.
That was given after Ben Gibson had inexplicably handled Lansbury’s high ball into the box - but Konstantopoulos came to his rescue, diving low to his left to palm away Lansbury’s spot kick, in the 78th minute.
“We have made a mistake for the goal and the game was difficult, but we got the second goal and we got the result. We lost here last season in a similar type of game,” said Aitor Karanka.
“But we have won this time because we have the quality, because we have experience; we have experienced players on the pitch and, in the end, that helped us to collect the three points.
“It was a surprise to see us look vulnerable from set pieces. Because it is not like us. I can understand it at the end of the game, when you lose concentration because you are tired.
“But this was at the beginning of the game and we had discussed, an hour before the game, Forest’s movement (from set pieces). It was a difficult goal for me. But we have made a mistake and we have still won the game, so hopefully we can learn from it.
“Sometimes when you make a mistake you lose. Today we have made a mistake and we have still won the game, which is the main thing. We have to play with more concentration in the future.”
As well as scoring the winning goal - and becoming a father in the week - Ayala also briefed Konstantopoulos over where Lansbury would place his penalty.
“He told Dimi that Henri Lansbury would put the penalty down the middle as well as scoring the goal. It was a good day for him and an important day for us,” said Karanka.
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