September 20, 2015 by notjustpumpkinbread
With the City Ground resplendent in late summer sunshine – the Lower Bridgford End sporting banners espousing those heady years of European dominance – we waited with a slight sense of trepidation, wondering whether the Mr Dougie years (you can but hope) would summon forth the same kind of display that saw us take back-to-back-away wins earlier this week.
Our starting lineup saw the welcome return of Ben Osborn and the possibility of seeing two up top with Chris O’Grady and Nelson Oliveira both walking on to the hallowed turf. We were robbed of Tyler Walker (illness), Kyle Ebecilio (slight knock) and Michael Mancienne (Jamie Ward’s hamstring) but the squad still looked strong. Clearly Jonny Williams was fit enough and so made the bench and it was a welcome sight to see young Jorge Grant getting another first team outing.
And so it began, like a lot of our games do these days, with us conceding the first goal. That’s not to say we started badly, for those first 2 minutes we stroked the ball around with an air of confidence. But then the inevitable defensive error handed that man Nugent a Golden Goose he wasn’t about to slaughter in front of the Trent End. 0-1 to the Boro and the substantial travelling support filled the City Ground with noise. They were soon drowned out as our newly galvanised team set about making life uncomfortable for the Teesiders and the City Ground faithful followed suit.
Good work down the right saw Boro concede a corner and the resulting ball into a crowded box was volleyed into the net by none other than Matt Mills. What. A. Goal! And we’d only had 7 minutes of play. With the game continuing at a frenetic pace, the pivotal moment arrived as our goal scorer sat on the grass clearly needing treatment. Let us hope it was only precautionary as Matt Mills trudged off to be replaced by Jack Hobbs.
Now, let’s be honest, that’s not a bad replacement. It’s just that Mills has been by far-and-away our best performing defender this season and his mini-battle with Nugent was developing into a nice little side-show. He was looking solid at the back – partnered by Kelvin Wilson – and had enough about him to ruffle the feathers of those preening peacocks from Middlesbrough. That his contribution to the game was cut woefully short signalled a sea change in fortunes for the opposition. We’d only had 18 minutes of play and barely time to draw breath.
Post substitution, the game settled into an ebb and flow as both teams pressed for the advantage. More great work down the right saw that man Lichaj propelled forward, stinging the palms of the Boro keeper with one of those rifled efforts. Eric is a man transformed and is back to his Garibaldi best. A quick break down the other end saw Wilson outpaced by the enigma known as Downing, but he was denied by a great save from Dorus. Unfortunately, on 32 minutes, another defensive brouhaha graced the Mighty Reds penalty area, this time allowing Ayala to put Boro back in front. What is it about former Forest players?
Two mistakes, two goals against (probably) the strongest team in the Championship and we weren’t doing ourselves any favours. But we were by no means second best. At times I had to remind myself that the return of Boro’s prodigal son was more than just a rumour. He floated in and out of the game, never really setting it alight – a bit like his faltered England career. So 1-2 at half time but we were definitely in the hunt.
While the first half could be seen as a very good team performance, the second half was an exercise in the cultured ways of our Henri. Oozing class from every tattooed pore, Lansbury elevated himself above the level of everyone else on the pitch. Time slowed as he took possession of the ball, evading oncoming Boro players with enough guile to bring this game home. All it needed was a goal. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Once Mills left the pitch we lost that ability to get under the collective skin of our opposition. Cue Jamie Ward and his terrier-like manner. The only disappointing aspect of his introduction into the fray at the start of the second half was the loss of Ben Osborn.
And so it came to pass that “Our Henri” became to most influential player in Garibaldi on the pitch. Falling deep to retrieve the ball, leaving Boro players on their backsides (literally) and generally running the show, his importance to our overall team ethic cannot be denied. We worked our collective socks off in that second half. Another penalty area screamer from Eric, good interplay between Ward, Vaughan and Lansbury, Chris O’Grady showing once again what an asset he’s going to be – we worked well enough to be awarded something from the game (other than more injuries). As for new boy Nelson Oliveira, well, he became a bit of a passenger – and Ryan Mendes wasn’t much better. All credit is due to Mendes though, for having played himself out of the game for a spell, he played himself right back into it. All he needed to do was square the ball to Oliveira after a great run into the box – and with far too much time on his hands for Aitor Karanka to be filled with anything other than dismay – his final choice for personal glory was a poor one. Squaring it for Oliveira to tuck one home (you could have put your mortgage on it) would have not only improved his City Ground stock but also that of Oliveira’s (and he certainly needed it).
But cometh the hour, cometh the man. The cherry on top of Henri’s personal cake was the penalty awarded against Boro for a handball by Ben Gibson with a scant 12 minutes until full-time. We’d seen him bury one against QPR in our previous dalliance with live Championship football from Sky and there was no reason to expect anything other than a well deserved equalizer. The problem was Boro’s keeper, Dimi Konstantopoulos (no I can’t pronounce that either), had also seen that game. (Pretty much) down the middle again, with power, wasn’t going to be good enough. Damn and blast! And with Middlesbrough’s squad reading like a who’s who of Championship quality, the game was seen out by the visitors.
That’s the fourth game I’ve witnessed at the City Ground so far – the fifth if you include the TV game against Brighton – and week-on-week we’ve improved. Boro are probably the strongest team in the division, with a squad as deep as the Mariana Trench, but we still managed to push them all the way with our own squad put together (partly) while under FFP and containing some very talented youngsters. That is no mean feat and Mr Dougie should be applauded for the additions he’s made. Time is of the essence in this modern game, but that’s what we need to truly see how good we can become through the tutelage of our manager and his staff. Next it’s Huddersfield away on a Thursday, which by the choice of day of the week can only mean one thing – Sky have decreed it, so it shall pass. If we play to the same kind of level, then we should be OK. I know it’s Forest, but my glass is always half full.
COME ON YOU REDS!!!