After an intense 90 minutes at the City Ground Boro travelled home with nothing. Britt Assombalonga was always going to be a central part of the day and, after opening his account on Teesside midweek with a double against Burton Albion, who went into the match full of confidence. The man whose goals kept them in the league last year was given a blistering reception by Forest fans all afternoon, and he was clearly desperate to silence the crowd with a goal. But in a day he would like to forget, Assombalonga missed 3 glaring opportunities of the kind he scored for fun last season.
In the first half Middlesbrough struggled to find their rhythm. Forest looked more comfortable on the ball, and Kieran Dowell picked Middlesbrough’s defence with a nice through ball to find Barrie McKay who slotted home the opening goal. Shortly after Assombalonga missed sitter no.1, a great ball over the top from Howson had the Congolese forward 1-on-1 with Jordan Smith only to scuff his shot wide. Middlesbrough were knocking on the door but Forest had the better of the first half.
The second half was much different, due in part to the introduction of Adama Traore. Traore is one of the weirdest footballers I’ve ever seen. He is capable of completely changing a game, while also playing quite badly. Forest panicked every time he made a surging run goal-wards, but almost without fail his final ball was woeful. Either way Forest were on the back-foot for the rest of the game, and Traore was involved throughout.
Midway through the second half Assomabalonga had two great chances in the space of a minute. Both came from longballs flicked on from Gestede. Both times Assombalonga found himself behind the defence in a great position to score. His first chance was saved, the second flailed high and wide. Perhaps feeling the pressure of his hefty price-tag, and with the City Ground faithful clearly getting to him, Assombalonga looked like he was trying too hard to score.
Forest had relief from the onslaught on 79 minutes when they won a soft penalty that was put away well by Murphy. Boro responded 5 minutes later when captain Ben Gibson prodded in a goal from a scrappy corner, and Boro continued to pound the box, including Fletcher having a goal disallowed, but Forest hung on for the 3 points.
Even though Middlesbrough had 17 shots on goal it’s hard to tell Forest they didn’t deserve all 3 points. Middlesbrough were never fluid in their play, and after two comfortable wins at home, the match showed there are still many lessons for this squad to learn. The line-up was unchanged from the previous two games, and perhaps this will show Garry Monk that the 3 up-front of Bamford, Assombalonga and Gestede is less effective away from home. The midfield found themselves pushed back, and the fullbacks were more hesitant to get forward and offer any width. The introduction of Traore and Baker saw Boro fall into a more orthodox formation which was more effective. Much like the Wolves on opening Middlesbrough because they squandered their chances while their opponents took theirs. Monk will be keen to see this doesn’t become a pattern.
Man of the Match: Rudy Gestede wrestled all afternoon with the Forest defence, causing problems all afternoon. A constant threat in the air, there’s no doubt that being such a handful allowed opportunities for Assomabalonga to find space like he did today, and against Burton Albion. If only his finishing had been better today.
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